Introdution to Byzantine Music and Hymns

byzantine-music-of-greeceByzantine music is the development and cultivation of ancient Greek music. It took its name from the region of Byzantium which is the first name of the capital of the new empire. It was created for the worship of Christianity, mainly, that is why it is considered church music, chanting art of the Orthodox church.

It is possible that in the beginning there was a development of ancient Greek music, although now Byzantine music is considered as an independent musical genre, with elements coming from Syrian, Jewish as well as Greek sources. Its beginnings are dated by some scholars to the 4th century AD, shortly after the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople by Constantine the Great.

The surviving Byzantine music is entirely church, with the exception of some imperial hymns, which also have religious elements.

byzantine-chantByzantine chant was monophonic, in free rhythm, and often tried to melodically illustrate the meaning of the words. The language used was Greek. The Byzantine hymn, of which there were three types, was the maximum manifestation of this musical genre.

The first time that western music was taught (widely) in the Greek area was with the arrival of Otho. Until then, the music that was performed, heard, recorded and taught (empirically and/or in music education) was Byzantine.

Our Byzantine Church Music is art and science. Greek and foreign historians agree that church sounds and church music in general have a direct relationship with the ancient Greek system.

All the musicians and hymn writers from the 3rd to the 7th century, where John appears. the Damascene, were deeply imbued with Greek education and knew ancient Greek music in depth, as can be seen from their works.

This music, like any other art, appeared at first imperfect, but evolved and developed through the centuries until today.

Peiods of Byzantine Music

Byzantine music is divided into two main periods. In the pre-notification period (1st – 10th century) and in the notation period (middle of the 10th century until today).

The periods of Byzantine music are divided into 4:

A) the “early Byzantine notation” (mid-11th century to 1177). B) the “middle full Byzantine notation” (1177 – ca. 1670). C) the “post-Byzantine expository notation” (ca. 1670 – 1814), and

D) the “analytical notation of the New Method” (1814 to the present).

Heyday of Byzantine Music

hayday of byzantine musicThe heyday of Byzantine Music, together with the Hymnology of the first centuries, begins at the end of the 7th century with Romanos Melodos, the “Pindar” of ecclesiastical poetry in Byzantium.

In the Byzantine period, excellent musicians and hymn writers flourished, such as: John the Damascene, Cosmas the Melodos, Theodore the Studite, Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, Leo the Wise, Constantine the Porphyrogenitus, emperor, Kassian Nun, John the Koukouzelis, who is considered the greatest figure after Damascene, Xenos the Koronis, Protopsaltis of I.N. of Agia Sophia, Ioannis Kladas, Lampadarios of Agia Sophia et al.

After the fall of Constantinople (1453 AD), Byzantine Music remained essentially the same. Christians rallied around the Patriarch and the Patriarchate. The Patriarch was the religious and political leader of the Genus. The Patriarchate, the Patriarchal Temple, the Great Church of Christ, was the ark where the Byzantine member found refuge and was saved until today.

A primary role in this was played by the succession of the Lord Chancellors and the Lord Lampards of the Great Church of Christ, who preserved all the liturgical and formal order and tradition from the times before the conquest until today.

In this period, outstanding musicians are distinguished: Manuel o Chrysafis, Valassios the priest, Georgios Raidestinos, Panagiotis Chalatsoglou, Petros Peloponnesios, Iakovos Peloponnesios, Petros Byzantios and others.

In the year 1814, the Great Church of Christ decided to set up a Musical Committee with the mandate to devise and invent new sign writing easier.

Thus, the music preserved to this day is the work of Chrysanthos, Grigorios and Kourmouzios, the three inventors of the new musical writing, who transcribed and gave us the sacred melodies of our old musicians. Since then we do not see all the classical musical texts of Byzantine Music being approved by the Great Church of Christ, and published first in Bucharest, Trieste, Paris and then in Constantinople.

Byzantine Music is the Music of John of Damascus, John Koukouzelis and Xenos Koronis, which in the days of Byzantium was the music par excellence of the emperors and patriarchs.

In the Churches until the 4th AD century all the people sang. But because the hymns with the spread of Christianity were increasing, and because there was usually yawning, it was decided to replace the people with the chanters with the two dances.

Genres of Byzantine Music

The creations of Byzantine music can be distinguished into three major Genres:

a) Papal Genre of members, which developed on David’s psalmic poetry, and concerns the fixed parts of the Orders
b) Lyrical Genre, which constitutes the musical clothing of the lyrical Peculiarities
c) Hymnological Genre, contains the hymns, the first tropes – standards of the nine odes, the poetic Byzantine genre of “Canons” and the automatic tropes. Modes of psalmody

These three genres of music can be distinguished into various types, depending on the melodic development of the meanings and depending on the style that prevailed at different times and places.

The evolution of the genres of music was helped by the contribution of the great composers, who imposed this or that evolution, always within the ceremonial rules of the Church and with the aim of the best way of beautifying the liturgical services.

Each Genre of the member is sung in three basic ways, different in terms of the development of the member or the melodic treatment of the composition:

a) short way,
b) slow way
c) slow callophonic and more melismatic mode.


Byzantine Notes

Pa the first note corresponds to the Te of Ancient Greek, the Do of European and the Sa of Indian music.

Vu the second phthong corresponds with the Ta of Ancient Greek and with the 3rd phthong of any major scale and the 2nd of any minor scale.

Ga the third note corresponds to the Ancient Greek T, the 4th note of any major scale and the 3rd note of any minor scale.

De the fourth note corresponds to the To of Ancient Greek, to the 5th note of any major scale and the 4th note of any minor scale.

Ka the fifth note corresponds to the A of the C natural major scale

Zo the sixth note

Ni the seventh note is the base of the lateral D sound and the base of the B sound scale.


The first sound is tonally identified with the phrygian of ancient Greek music and with the Dorian ecclesiastical manner of the Gregorian organ. It belongs to the diatonic genus.

The scale formed by the note PA forms two identical disjointed tetrachords that coincide with the tetrachords of the natural D scale of European music.

The b’ sound and the lateral b’ belong to the chromatic genus. The scale is purely chromatic, consisting of two tetrachords NH GA, DI NH.

The 3rd sound belongs to the enharmonic genus and its ending in the chants is in the descending 6th step PA of the scale.

The fourth sound is identified with the dorion Ancient Greek and with the phrygio of the Gregorian member. It belongs to the diatonic genus. It coincides with the natural E scale (without alterations) of European music.

The oblique of the fourth sound belongs to the diatonic genus, it follows the N scale.

Protobaris comes from the 1st sound and the final ending of the asma takes place in the descent from the normal base of the sound, 3rd (phothogos Zo).

Byzantine Hymns

Troparion simple and easy to set text to music

Short hymn with many stanzas (intro and 20-40 stanzas)

Kanon consists of several stanzas (irms) sung to the same tune (modes)

Apolytikio refers to Saints and holidays




Hymns of the Divine Liturgy: Liturgical- Cherubic- Social

Verse-like formulaic melodies applied to different verses

Self-contained compositions

The liturgical hymns are included in special liturgical books

Eirmologikon contains irms (odes of the rules) arranged by sounds.

Sticherarion idioms, tropes, large antiphons

Kontakarion et al. such as Asmaticon contain more elaborate and free members called Papadians.

Irmological and Lyrical members are syllabic with few melismas on important words.