Merry Christmas from Cappella Romana!
With so many Cappella Romana “stars” we couldn’t decide on just one tree-topper this year! (And yes, we “Put a bird on it” – several, in fact) 😁🎄
A reprise of Cappella Roman’s debut performance, which was given in 1991! The program includes selections from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, rarely heard Byzantine chants from Constantinople, and Greek American choral works.
25th Anniversary Features in the News!
Free 30-minute talks given one hour prior to each performance
Following Orthodox Music: Ancient & Modern the opening performance of Cappella Romana’s 2016-17 Season
Make a gift today in honor of our 25th Anniversary:
Listen to Artslandia’s Susannah Mars interview with Alexander Lingas about our 25th Anniversary and this weekend’s New Mystics program on “Adventures in Artslandia”:
Our season closes with a program of music by two important modern voices: the Greek Orthodox composer Michael Adamis and Scottish Catholic James MacMillan. The choral works of both composers share a deeply personal quality and a rare devotion to ancient chant: Byzantine for Adamis and Gregorian for MacMillan. Colorful sonorities and intricate structures give the music of each an unmistakably mystical quality.
Seattle’s Classical King FM 98.1 will feature Cappella Romana recordings this week in the lead up to our Maximilian Steinberg: Passion Week concert series in Seattle and Portland!
8:06pm — Monday, Feb 8: Sticheron (Medieval Byzantine Chant)
8:08pm — Tuesday, Feb 9: Tikey Zes: Introit of Pentecost
Tune in at www.king.org
Cappella Romana presents Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week, a collection of choral hymns for Holy Week in the Russian Orthodox tradition. The last major sacred work to be composed following the imposition of Communism, Passion Week continues the movement in early 20th-century Russia that sought to give new birth to its spiritual and musical roots. Steinberg became the student and son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakov, a classmate of Stravinsky, and the teacher of Shostakovich.
“Hearing this Orthodox and Roman Catholic music side-by-side is quite enlightening. Saturate yourself in either for about an hour and then switch for another hour, and you’ll swear they are the most disparate genres ever. Listen to both, sometimes alternating as here, and the similarities are striking. … Cappella Romana is at its sterling best, well-disciplined and highly focused readings of authority, clarity, and, most importantly, genuine empathy and feeling. Couple that with ingratiating sound and you have a highly desirable disc.” —Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
Manuscripts 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).
Latin and Greek sacred music of the Middle Ages shared both roots in the Christian psalmody of Roman Late Antiquity and a common inheritance of Ancient Greek musical theory. Despite centuries of troubled relations between Byzantine Christianity and the Church of Rome that went from bad to worse with the Crusader sack and occupation of Constantinople in 1204, Western and Greek writers continued to describe favourably encounters with the music of their counterparts well into the fifteenth century (Lingas 2006). One reason for this is that musical expression in the two traditions of worship remained, at base, stylistically similar. Although differing in liturgical language and the particularities of their respective systems of worship, music in the Roman and Byzantine rites consisted mainly of the unaccompanied singing of psalms and other sacred texts, a practice that we call today ‘chant’, or ‘plainchant’. Furthermore, the ways in which Byzantine and Roman (Gregorian) chant were sung seem to have been aurally compatible, even to the point of allowing simple techniques practiced by Western singers of spontaneously adding unwritten vocal parts to a chant according to basic rules of consonance – that is, the performance practices of organum and cantus planus binatim (‘plainchant twice’) – to be adopted in some circumstances by Greek cantors, especially those serving regions with religiously mixed populations.
Even as these traditional styles of chanting continued to dominate Latin and Greek worship throughout the Middle Ages, during the fourteenth century the musical elites of West and East developed strikingly different approaches to the composition of technically advanced music. In the West, circles of theorists and composers fostered what some of them labelled a ‘New Art’ (Ars nova) of writing music in multiple parts that further distanced the practice of polyphony from its origins in improvisation. They accomplished this through the introduction of French and Italian systems of ‘mensural’ (‘measured’) musical notation that were capable of recording the relative durations of sounds with unprecedented precision, thereby allowing privileged groups of court musicians to create sacred and secular polyphonic works of great formal sophistication and rhythmic complexity.
Currents of artistic renewal in the Greek East took a markedly different route, being channelled into the elaboration of Byzantine chant. The most influential figure in the musical revolution that Edward Williams (1972) called ‘A Byzantine Ars nova’ was the composer, editor, music theorist, and Saint, John Koukouzeles (late 13th–early 14th c.). His Life identifies him as a native of Dyrrhachium (modern Dürres, Albania) who was educated in Constantinople, where he became a musician at the imperial court. Koukouzeles eventually left the capital to take up the life of a contemplative (‘hesychast’) monk of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos. He subsequently spent his weekdays in solitude practicing hesychia (literally ‘quietude’), but returned to his monastery for weekends and feasts to assist with the chanting of the All-Night Vigil. Byzantine musical manuscripts reveal that Koukouzeles contributed to the codification of older repertories while pioneering a new kalophonic (‘beautiful sounding’) idiom of chanting that spread rapidly throughout the Orthodox world. Kalophonic singing is characterised generally by vocal virtuosity, but individual chants may display different combinations of the following techniques: textual repetition, the addition of new texts (troping), melisma (the melodic extension of a single vowel), and the composition of teretismata, wordless passages on such strings of vocables as ananenes and terirem.
The present recording offers a sampling of the Byzantine and Latin sacred music that someone could have encountered during the fifteenth century by walking the short distance between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic cathedrals of Nicosia. Selections of Byzantine and Latin chant in traditional genres are situated among kalophonic and polyphonic works representing the most technically advanced forms of vocal music performed on the island. The singers of Cappella Romana render this music in the light of the literary and musical witnesses to the aural compatibility of medieval Greek and Latin chanting noted above. Their vocal aesthetic is further informed by the oral traditions of received forms of Byzantine chanting (including those practiced on the Ionian Islands, which remained under Venetian control after the Ottoman conquest of Crete in 1649; see Dragoumis 1978), as well as the documentary evidence for melodic ornamentation and other forms of embellishment in sacred music of the Western Middle Ages (McGee 1998).
Located at a strategic point in the Eastern Mediterranean close to the coasts of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Middle East, the island of Cyprus has been a site of commercial and cultural interchange since the dawn of civilization. Christianity came to the island with the apostles Paul and Barnabas, the latter of whom was himself a Cypriot and, according to local legend, the island’s first bishop. The Church of Cyprus was granted the right of self-governance (autocephaly) by the Emperor Zeno (474–91) and remained a powerful institution after the island came under joint Byzantine and Arab rule in the late seventh century.
Constantinople reasserted full control over Cyprus in the tenth century, but by the early twelfth century it had become a way station for Crusaders journeying to the Holy Land. During the Third Crusade (1189–92), King Richard I the Lionhearted of England diverted his fleet to Limassol in 1191, captured the island, and promptly sold it to the Knights Templar. The Templars soon proved incapable of administering Cyprus, so in 1192 Richard sold it to Guy de Lusignan, who had been displaced as Latin King of Jerusalem by the Muslim reconquest of the Holy City led by Saladin in 1187. The dynasty founded by Guy governed the island for nearly two centuries, with the later period marked by ever-closer relations with the city-states of Italy. In 1489 the Republic of Venice added Cyprus to its empire, of which it remained a part until the Ottoman conquest of 1571.
Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians remained in the majority under Lusignan rule, but the island also hosted significant minority communities of Armenians, Syriac Christians, Jews, and Western Europeans. The latter included traders and refugees from Crusader states recently captured by the Arabs, some of whom came to occupy positions of power in the island’s feudal system of governance. Whereas early members of this imported aristocracy attempted to suppress the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, toleration became the rule in succeeding generations marked by increasing rates of intermarriage between the Greek and Latin communities. In both the capital of Nicosia (Leukosia) and the coastal city of Famagusta (Ammochostos), Roman Catholic cathedrals in the Gothic style were constructed in close proximity to their Eastern Orthodox counterparts.
After attending Dr. Alexander Lingas’ Kilkenny Arts Festival lecture “The Lost Music of Byzantium” last Saturday, blogger Patrick Comerford previews Cappella Romana’s upcoming Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil concert series:
“This year marks the centenary of the All-Night Vigil, the a cappella choral composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff, his Op. 37. … To mark this centenary, Cappella Romana is opening its 24th Annual Season with Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, with performances in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, that will include psalms and hymns by Tchaikovsky and others to place Rachmaninoff’s work within its larger context.
Cappella Romana is an ensemble celebrated for its recordings of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, dating back to the great church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, built by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Some performances by Cappella Romana feature music from this tradition that has never before been heard by many, sometimes with new or rediscovered works brought to audiences by leading contemporary composers.
Cappella Romana’s Founder and Artistic Director, Dr Alexander Lingas, spoke in Kilkenny Castle yesterday [15 August 2015] about ‘The Lost Music of Byzantium’. … In his lecture, Alexander Lingas explored the traditions of Byzantine music dating back to before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453. … He introduced us to a mediaeval musical tradition of the Greek Orthodox and Byzantine world based in Constantinople, the “New Rome,” and its Slavic neighbours. Its languages include Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Arabic, Slavonic, Romanian, and, today, French and English.
He quoted Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote: “For nothing so arouses the soul, gives it wings, sets it free from the earth, releases it from the prison of the body, teaches it to love wisdom, and to condemn and all the things if this life as concordant melody and sacred song composed in rhythm.”
And the soul was aroused and given wings at yesterday’s lecture.”
Alexander Lingas, artistic director and soloist; Stelios Kontakiotis, principal soloist; Spyridon Antonopoulos, John Michael Boyer, Constantine Kokenes, Mark Powell, melodists; Theodor Dumitrescu, David Krueger, Adam Steele, David Stutz, isokrates; Ioannis Arvanitis, performing editions;
Produced since 2004 by GRAMMY Award-winning producer Steve Barnett, Cappella Romana performs “music of purity and radiance” (Gramophone) in concerts of “luminous beauty” (Washington Post). Appearances in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Athens, Utrecht, Regensburg, and in the US Northwest all demonstrate how Cappella Romana “continues its ascent” (Wall Street Journal).
With Good Friday in Jerusalem, Cappella Romana’s intrepid male ensemble features international cantors from Greece, the UK, and the US, with Stelios Kontakiotis from Tinos, Greece, as principal soloist. Together they perform these chants with captivating modal inflections that underscore the deep pathos and personal drama of Good Friday. These profound selections for the 8th- and 9th-century ceremonies invoke an elaborate stational liturgy in Jerusalem’s most sacred Christian sites. Recorded in the splendid Stanford Memorial Church and sung in Byzantine Greek.
Extensive scholarly article by founding artistic director Dr. Alexander Lingas (City University London, University of Oxford), with full texts in Greek and translations in English.