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Byzantine Empire Notation

Byzantine chant has developed overtime through the incorporation of early Greek music forms, the development of a formal and structured chant tradition, the development of a unique notation, and continuity into modern times as the liturgical music form of the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Cyprus, Greece, Jerusalem, Romania and parts of Serbia.

Greece music is of unbelievable diversity due to the creative Greek assimilation of different influences of the Eastern and Western cultures of Asia and Europe. Music and Greece have a long history dating from the Antiquity, during which poetry, dancing and music were inseparable and played an important part in the ancient Greek's everyday life. The Greek tragedy used music as one of its component elements. The Greek music got reborn only in the 19th century with the opera compositions of Nikolaos Mantzaros (1795-1872), Spyridion Xyndas (1812-1896) and Spyros Samaras (1861-1917).

It is only in recent studies of Byzantine music that composers of medieval Byzantine chant have been examined. Not unlike composers of Western medieval music such as Leonin, Perotin, and Machaut, little is known about most Byzantine musicians. Nevertheless, renowned Byzantine musicians and composers of the late Middle Ages did exist, even though a majority of these musicians will forever remain only as names in the folios of the musical manuscripts.

A few of the composers most frequently mentioned are Ioannes Koukouzeles, Ioannes Kladas, Xenos Korones, and Manuel Chrysaphes. As might be expected of medieval times, the composers from both the East and the West were predominantly men. However, women composers did exist.

Chant music was transmitted with a neumatic notation, parasemantiki, from the late Byzantine period (12th century) forward. Parasemantiki underwent different developmental changes as far as musical neumes and interpretation from the late Byzantine and post-Byzantine era until early 19th century.

While the national or regional scripts were mostly standardized with the Carolingian reform around 800, musical notation continued to be regional during most of the remaining medieval ages. There are no standardized consequent designations. The notation is named after countries, regions, cities and even monasteries, scriptoria or monastic orders, while others are named according to their appearance. The following presentation is mainly based on the tables in Riemann: Musiklexicon, and The new Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed.

In 1814, a three member committee appointed from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Ottoman Empire) systematized parasemantiki into a new music notation, New Analytical Method (a.k.a. chrysanthine notation); this notational system is still in use today by cantors and composers in Byzantine rite churches. Chourmouzios (1840) the archvist, a prominent member of the committee, transcribed a vast repertory of Byzantine and post-Byzantine composers using the New Analytical Method. Byzantine chant is performed antiphonally by two choirs that seat in the right and left side of the solea.


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