Byzantine Music in Cyprus

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestManuscripts of Byzantine chant copied through the middle of the fifteenth century show that Cyprus remained closely tied to the musical mainstream of Byzantium. The two hymns (stichera) from the Greek office for St Hilarion included on the present recording are excerpts from a longer sequence of hymns interpolated on the eve of his feast between the verses (stichoi) of the Lamplighting Psalms of Byzantine Vespers. Their melodies have been taken from standard collections of medieval Orthodox hymnody and, like all the Greek chants on this disc, have been edited by Dr Ioannis Arvanitis in the light of his groundbreaking research on rhythm in Byzantine chant of the Middle Ages (2010). One of our sources is the Sticherarion Sinai Greek 1471, a volume that consists mainly of through-composed hymns (stichera idiomela) that Oliver Strunk (1977) identified as having been copied on Cyprus during the fourteenth century and, perhaps because of the island’s proximity to the Middle East, includes rarely notated hymns associated with the rite of Jerusalem.

Cypriot cantors from the period of Lusignan rule not only maintained existing traditions of Byzantine chanting, but also contributed works in the new kalophonic style to musical anthologies copied on the mainland. What little we know about these musicians comes mainly from brief headings to their compositions mentioning their names, the fact that they were from Cyprus, and perhaps also their musical or clerical posts. For the present recording we have selected three works partially or wholly attributed to Cypriot composers from the manuscript Athens, National Library of Greece 2406, an encyclopedic volume of Byzantine service music copied in the northern Greek town of Serres and dated to the fateful year of 1453.

Byzantine musical manuscripts record the musical activities of three members of the Asan family of Cyprus, two of whom appear in Athens 2406 (the third is the priest Manuel Asan, whose works are transmitted in other early fifteenth century sources). To Konstantinos (Constantine) Asan are ascribed several texts set to music in the kalophonic style by John Kladas, a Lampadarios of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia and the leading Constantinopolitan composer of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The present recording offers one of their two hymns that honour the Holy Trinity in fifteen-syllable verse, a metre employed widely in Byzantine sacred and secular poetry. The music of Kladas is generally meditative in character, but gradually builds in tension through a series of textual repetitions. This tension is released with teretismata that culminate in vocal imitations of brass fanfares that herald the final exclamation: ‘Save me, Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!’

In Athens 2406 the Communion Verse for Saints (and ordinary Tuesdays) by Nicholas Asan follows another setting of the same text attributed to the daughter of Kladas. Nicholas begins with a brief quotation of a formula for the syllabic rendering of psalms, after which he shifts into a melodically florid style for the remainder of the piece, about two thirds of which is devoted to repetitions of the refrain ‘Alleluia’ extended through the intercalation of consonants within the melismas and the insertion of the command ‘Λέγε!’ (‘Say!’). These extensions not only helped to fill the time required for the distribution of Communion, but also reflected sonically the Byzantine theological understanding of earthly worship as an icon of that celebrated perpetually by the angels.

Byzantine cantors who wished to further prolong a liturgical moment were able to do so by inserting a musically independent kratema (‘holder’), a composition consisting entirely of teretismata. Although their vocables were rendered exclusively with the human voice, kratemata could serve liturgical functions analogous to those of the organ preludes, interludes, and postludes found in later Western liturgical traditions. On the present recording we demonstrate this by appending to the Communion Verse a kratema by Paul Kasas, a priest-monk who was Protopsaltes (First-Cantor) of Cyprus during the early fifteenth century. Copied in Athens 2406 among festal psalms for evening prayer, this kratema is labelled a katavasia by its scribe. This technical term denoting some kind of descent was traditionally applied in Byzantine liturgy either to the concluding stanzas of poetic canons at the morning office or, in the old rite of Jerusalem, the short festal hymns known in modern use as apolytikia (‘dismissal [hymns]’). Composers of kalophonic chant, however, tended to use the term to refer to short kratemata that could be added as codas to other works (Anastasiou 2005). The katavasia of Kasas is divided musically into three large sections of melodically related material, each of which is formed of sequences of phrases that climax an octave above the base (final) of the mode. Athens 2406 includes two endings for this kratema, the second of which is recorded on this disc: a lightly ornamented version of Neagie, the intonation for the Fourth Plagal Mode; and an alternate version in which this intonation is dramatically stated in octaves, labelled ‘doubling’ (‘diplasma’) in the manuscript, after which the upper voice executes a gentle descent to the base of the mode.

During the final decades of the Lusignan dynasty and then subsequently under the administration of Venice, Greek Orthodox cantors in Cyprus began to shadow the musical developments of their colleagues in Venetian-ruled Crete. While continuing to transmit the central repertories of Byzantine chant, Cypriot musicians also wrote new chants and selectively arranged older compositions in ways that reflected shifting musical sensibilities. As in Crete, the changes included alterations of melodic style and the extension of modal variety to a broader range of liturgical genres. An example of these new directions in melody and modality is the Trisagion (‘Thrice Holy’) Hymn composed as a conclusion to the Great Doxology (Gloria in excelsis) of the Byzantine morning office of Orthros. This hymn appears amid the older musical layers of Sinai Greek 1313, a Cypriot manuscript of the sixteenth century featuring the hands of multiple scribes. Probably the latest of these scribes is Hieronymos Tragodistes, a composer and theorist who left Cyprus in the middle of the sixteenth century for Venice where he became a pupil of Gioseffo Zarlino (Strunk 1974).

—Alexander Lingas

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