1. Context and Sources

The term “Byzantine Music” or “Psaltiki” today denotes, the religious music of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as it evolved during the times of the Byzantine Empire. The term “Byzantine” (Byzantine history, art etc.) certainly derives from the ancient Greek name of Constantinople. However, it is a term coined by German philologists of the sixteenth century, and it was deliberately adopted by the political powers of nineteenth century Europe, to replace and forbid the truly accurate terms of those times: “Romania”, “Romaikos” and “Romeos”. The periods of the history of Byzantine music in Constantinople are defined by the city’s establishment, by Constantine the Great, as the capital of the Eastern Roman state (330 A.D.), its conquest by the Turks in 1453 and the beginning of the “New Method” era in 1814. A classification of sources on ecclesiastical Byzantine music produces the following categories: a. liturgical texts of hymnography and typikon, b. musical manuscripts (ninth-twentieth century), c. printed music books (from 1820), d. theoretical writings on music and e. various references in other texts (philological, theological or legal). A great percentage of the approximately 7,500 extant musical manuscripts were written or used in Constantinople.

2. Prominent Personalities

a. Byzantine Period

Following the religious tolerance decreed by Constantine the Great, and for 11 centuries onwards, Constantinople becomes the pre-eminent capital of Christendom, and one of the basic centres of cultivation for Byzantine music. The church Fathers, who established hymnography and the introduction of music into the church, such as Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, served also as patriarchs of Constantinople - “New Rome”. John Chrysostom (fourth century) from Antioch composed a Divine Liturgy and allowed the introduction of folk melodies in troparia, as a means to oppose the similar practice of the heretic Arius. Chrysostom’s extensive commentaries constitute a precious source on the first Byzantine centuries, and contributed to the development of psaltiki as vocal music without musical instruments. In the sixth century, Romanus Melodus, of Syrian origin, the finest hymnographer of all time, poet of the kontakia and probably of the “Akathist Hymn”, lived and worked in Constantinople. The form of the kontakion and its division into the parts “oikos, prooimion or koukoulion, and epodos or ephymnion”, exerted great influence throughout the East, even in terms of secular repertoire. Among the remainder of the musicians associated with Constantinople, remarkable persons include: Andrew of Jerusalem, Bishop of Crete (late 7th – early 8th century), one of the first to shape the form of the canon, the Stoudites, such as Theodoros, Anatolios, Joseph of Thessaloniki, as well as Patriarch Germanus (8th century), Joseph the Hymnographer and Patriarch Photios (9th-10th century).

Whole chains of emperors, that is, persons of the highest social rank, are occupied with psaltiki. Justinian issues a special law for the staff of Hagia Sophia (a sizeable 325 clergymen), which also includes twenty-five chanters. Moreover, he establishes the “cheroubikon”, and he is alleged to have composed the hymn “The Only Begotten Son…”. In a miniature, Leo V is depicted conducting a choir of chanters, using the art of “cheironomia” (gesture). Leo VI is the composer of “Eothina”, Constantine Porphyrogenetus wrote the “Exaposteilaria”. John Vatatzes composed a “Polyeleos”, his son Theodore II Laskares is the creator of the “Great Parakletic Canon”, and Andronikus II Palaeologos is thought to have composed two “kratemata”. The majority of Byzantine theoretical writers worked in Constantinople, both on ancient Greek musical theory and on the theory of Psaltiki. Examples are Michael Psellos (11th century), John Zonaras (13th century), George Pachymeres (13th century), Nikephoros Gregoras and Manuel Vryenios (14th century) Moreover, Gabriel Hieromonachos and Manuel Chrysaphes (14th-15th century) bequeathed to us the two most important Byzantine theoretical writings on psaltiki. There are also references to a small number of women hymnographers and composers, Kassia the Abbess, being the most important.

The golden age of psaltiki is the fourteenth century. It is marked by the flourishing of John Papadopoulos Koukouzeles of Dyrrhachium, later a monk in the Great Lavra of Mount Athos, who is considered an unparalleled musician in the whole history of psaltiki. He was nicknamed “Angel-Voiced” and “The Second Source of Psaltiki”, the first one being Damascenus. Writer of decapentasyllabic verses, composer, theoretician and chanter, he was granted the title of “Maistor”, i.e. professor in the Pandidacterion or University of Constantinople. He studied together with Xenos Korones under John Glykys. Along with Nikephoros Ethikos, they form the first great group of four men in Byzantine music. Around them, at least one hundred accomplished musicians, such as Agathon Korones, Dokeianos, Panaretos, Kontopetres, Michael Ananeotes, Manuel Agallianos and others, leave their imprint as musical “Maistores” of their time. Their compositions were recorded and preserved in thousands of manuscripts. Among their followers, an outstanding figure is John Kladas the Lampadarios, possibly a student of Koukouzeles (14th-15th century), also known as “The Third Source of Psaltiki”. In 1453, Gregorios Bounes of Alyates, who later became a monk in Mount Athos, was Protopsaltis (Chief Chanter) in Hagia Sophia. Doukas Manuel Chrysaphes, composer and theoretician, who subsequently fled to Serbia, Mystras and Crete, held the position of Lampadarios. Manuel Argyropoulos, Gerasimos of Xanthopoulon Monastery and Gerasimos Chalkeopoulos, are among the most well-known composers of this era in Constantinople.

b. Post-Byzantine Period

The most prominent figure of the sixteenth century is Protopsaltis and later Patriarch Theophanes Karykes. His work reveals traces of an opening towards the secular music of the new Ottoman environment. Georgios Raedestenos, the Protopsaltis, lived in the seventeenth century. His student Panagiotes the New Chrysaphes, who served as protopsaltis of the patriarchate for 30 years, along with Bishop Germanos of New Patras, Balasios and Petros Bereketes (known for the genre of kalophonikoi heirmoi) compose the second great group of four men of seventeenth-eighteenth century in psaltiki. Other significant chanters and composers of the period are Protopsaltis Ioannes of Trapezounta, Protopsaltis Daniel, Protopsaltis Iakovos and Protopsaltis Petros Byzantios. The leading figure of the eighteenth century was Petros Lambadarios the Peloponnesian, outstanding composer, also known for his occupation with secular music, while in the field of theory we find Panagiotes Chalatzoglou, Kyrillos Marmarenos, Vasileios Stephanides and Apostolos Konstas of Chios. The latter is the most prolific known Greek codex writer. In his Theoretikon, which he names “Technologia” (Constantinople, 1800-1820), he summarizes all Post-Byzantine musical theory on psaltiki.

c. The “New Method” Era

In 1814, the system of musical reading, notation and theory undergoes a reform. Chrysanthos of Madytos, Bishop of Proussa, along with Chourmouzios the Archivist and Protopsaltis Gregorios, are considered the “Three Teachers of the New Method”. Chrysanthos was a student of Protopsaltis Petros. Deeply learned in languages, in European and Arabo-Persian music and instrument playing, as well as in ancient Greek musical literature, he undertook the documentation of the theory of music, writing the “Theoretikon Mega tes Mousikes” (Trieste, 1832), which formed the foundation for all the following theoretical texts. Among the remaining important contributors of the nineteenth century are: Georgios the Cretan, Theodoros Phokaeus, Petros Manuel Ephesius, Protopsaltis Konstantinos, Stephanos Lambadarios, Philoxenes Kyriakos, Protopsaltis Violakes Georgios, Georgios Raedestenos II, Panagiotes Kiltzanides, historian Georgios Papadopoulos and Patriarch Ioakeim III. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Konstantinos Psachos, having been invited to Athens from Constantinople, contributed to the systematization of the teaching of Byzantine music in the State Conservatory of Athens. The twentieth century is marked by the presence of three great protopsaltes of the patriarchate, Iakovos Nafpliotes, Konstantinos Priggos and Thrasyvoulos Stanitsas. Other notable persons are Neleas Kamarados, Konstantinos Klavas, Georgios Progakes, Eustathios Vigopoulos, Ioannes Palases, Theodosios Georgiades, Michael Chatziathanasiou, Demetrios Voutsinas, Nikolaos Danielides, Athanasios Panagiotides, Eleftherios Georgiades, and, among the last of the Patriarchate, Vasileios Nikolaides, Vasileios Emmanouelides and Fr. Panagiotes Tsinaras, along with the current (2013) Protopsaltis Leonidas Asteres.

3. Forms, Notation, Liturgies, Instructions

The first forms of Byzantine music, such as the troparia, stichera, kontakia or kanones, are directly related to the older centres of Jerusalem and Antioch. However, Constantinople soon becomes the heart of development. The era of the kontakion coincides with a period of flourishing in the Byzantine state. Justinian builds the Hagia Sophia, regains Italy and Ravenna from the Ostrogoths, and makes peace with the Persians. In the early seventh century, Heraclius completely Hellenizes administration and defeats the Persians, losing Syria and Palestine, however, to the Arabs. Consequently, the centre of music and hymnography is gradually transferred to Constantinople. The form of the Canon is shaped by Andrew Bishop of Crete, John Damascenus and Kosmas Bishop of Maiuma, however the brilliant development and the completion of the repertoire is mainly credited to the Stoudites in Constantinople, from the eight to the eleventh century, when Iconoclasm is followed by the golden age of the Macedonian Dynasty. In the same era, there is a great spreading of the Byzantine musical culture towards Slavic peoples. From then on, the most notable alterations and new creations in terms of form took place in Constantinople, mainly in the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, a period which is known as the “Palaeologian Renaissance”, after the recapture of the city from the Franks. From the fourteenth century, the newly produced material is recorded in a new book, the “Papadike”, named after the term “papades”, since chanters were seen as lower clerics and had the rare privilege of literacy and learning musical notation and reading. Terms and forms such as “kalophonia, lessons and anagrams, kratemata, polyeleoi, decapentasyllabic hymnography” before the Conquest of 1453, then “exegeses, doxologies, kalophonikoi heirmoi, neo syntomo sticherariko eidos” during the Post-Byzantine period (especially the eighteenth century) and the “leitourgika” - the last flare before the demise of the Greek population in Constantinople in the twentieth century - are born and evolve in this very city. Numerous terms in the repertoire fittingly carry the name “politikon”, meaning “of The City”.

Constantinople is directly linked to the changes in notation, cross-influenced and co-formed along with the theoretical system. The oldest extant manuscripts with a complete system of parasimantiki (early or Old Byzantine notation, 10th–12th century) such as Lavra C.67, originate from Constantinople. The development into Middle Byzantine or “Round” musical notation (12th–17th century) took place mainly in Constantinople at the time of the maistores, and the system remained unchanged until the middle of the seventeenth century. It was a stenographic system, and from the seventeenth century up to 1814 it gradually underwent the so-called “Exegesis”, or a transition into a more detailed and easier notation. The last phase of development, with a full analysis, the “New Method”, took form in Istanbul as well, and is still prevalent today. As the centre of the Empire, Constantinople was pivotal in the formation of the typikon (rules pertaining to the religious services), especially of the celebratory “asmatikon” (parish) typikon as opposed to the “monasteriakon” (of monasteries) typikon. The time and place, form and duration, structure and number of the services are influenced by the presence of important persons and the corresponding ceremonies in the palace. The very chanters or “papades” are included in the large choirs, together with monks and educated laymen, their roles clearly defined in the “offikia” and their attire adhering to a defined dress code. The roles and offices of “protopsaltis, maistor, lambadarios, domestikos, primikyrios, vastaktes, laosynaktes, orphanotrophos, protopapas, protocanonarhos, adontes and adouses (mainly nuns), and, earlier, “eunuchs” corresponding to the Western “castrati”, are formed in this environment, the primary location of activities being the imperial and patriarchal church of Hagia Sophia. After the Fall, the bright typikon of parish services shrinks and is reduced to the standards of the “monasteriakontypikon. However, many of the roles and titles survive even today.

In the Byzantine period, the instruction of chanters was the responsibility of the churches, monasteries or the palace (for the so-called “Chanters of the Royal Clergy”), but could reach the highest level in the “Pandidacterion” (University) of Constantinople, where some of the most renowned chanters worked and taught as “maistores”, or professors. During Ottoman Rule, the authority for the correct instruction in psaltiki stayed mainly with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which founded and ran six patriarchal music schools, from the early eighteenth century until 1872. One of those schools established the New Method in 1814, while the Patriarchal Music Committee of 1881-1883 systematized the teaching of modes and scale intervals. At the same time, the Patriarchate supported both the effort of transcribing the old stenographic repertoire, and the printed editions to meet the musical needs in churches and monasteries. Despite the less influential role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in today’s Constantinople, its impact on Orthodox churches chanting Byzantine music as regards musical tradition is characteristically the formation of the so-called “patriarchal style of expression”, which is considered as being of high aesthetic accomplishment in composition and performance.


1. Beginnings

The earliest mention of musical activity in ancient Byzantium dates back to the third century B.C. Lyrical poetess Myro (ca. 300 B.C.), daughter of the kithara player Homer the Tragic and wife of philologist Andromachos, is referred to as “of Byzantium”. According to Pausanias, Myro composed epic songs and elegies. Furthermore, a great philologist of the Hellenistic times, the literary scholar and director of the Library of Alexandria, Aristophanes of Byzantium (267-187 B.C.), also comes from Byzantium. Aristophanes is linked to Greek musical history, as he is considered to have introduced the diacritical marks (accents, quantities, breathings and vowel/consonant changes), through which the Greek language was taught to speakers of other languages. These marks, the names of which clearly reveal a musical terminology, (acute accent, grave accent, apostrophe, macron, breve etc.), relate to the fundamentals of sound and music, that is, to the vocal articulation of the Greek language, and laid the foundation for the birth of the neumes and signs of Byzantine notation or parasimantiki.

2. Sources

Little is known about secular Byzantine music. The intense opposition it suffered during its first centuries by the church, the decline of ancient Greek notation, the lack of any other practical system of notation for secular music, the disruption due to the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the loss of numerous sources during various catastrophes – such as, in particular, the Sack of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, the Iconoclastic Controversy, the rebellions etc., events which resulted in the destruction of imperial or private libraries, contributed to the salvage of only indirect references to secular music, and in particular, to secular art music in Byzantium. What little information exists is scattered in texts of Byzantine literature, especially in theoretical writings, and very few pieces recorded in Byzantine parasimantiki. The main source are the extensive descriptive accounts of palace ceremonies by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (10th century). Among other important sources are the various depictions of scenes from musical life, mainly in manuscript miniatures, and also in frescoes, reliefs, mosaics and embroidery. Scenes of secular ceremonies, symposia, as well as instruments and musical ensembles can be seen. Unfortunately, no intact Byzantine instruments survive.

3. Folk Music

The literature confirms the existence of folk music throughout the whole era of Byzantine Constantinople. For example, John Chrysostom (4th century) clearly refers to “chelidonismata” (songs for the coming of the swallows), and “vaphkalismata” (nursery songs), work songs, laments and “nanismata” (lullabies.) From the ninth century there have survived the Akritic folk ballads, a source of inspiration for the later epic composition Digenes Akritas. A fair number of folk love songs, such as the “katalogia”, have been preserved within poems by known authors. A listing of the categories of the various songs produces all those kinds which are also known today: nursery songs, love songs, songs of mockery, work, lament, songs for singing around the table, theatrical, matrimonial songs and “epasmata”(incantations), epic songs and magical invocations. The folk repertoire, supported by folk instrumentation, seems to have constituted a solid foundation that maintained and re-kindled the other musical genres, including even Byzantine chant. Chrysostom himself used folk melodies, so that he could oppose the corresponding hymnography of the heretics. Numerous popular ceremonies of a specifically pagan character, such as carnivals or oracular rituals like Kledona, were interposed covertly into the Byzantine festivals of Brumalia, Vota, the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist and others, despite the church’s Holy Canons and its polemic against them. However, there is mention of the “Martyria”, meaning the temples of commemorated saints, as new festival venues with approved musical activities.

4. The Hippodrome

Even before the city of Byzantium became a capital and the New Rome-Constantinople, the Emperor Severus had bestowed the city with a theatre and a hippodrome, central places in the musical life of a city. There were also three smaller theatres, where “theamata” (festivities) took place, usually accompanied by music. A considerable number of names of musicians in the theatre are known, as well as those of some female “mimades”, orchestrides” or “avletrides”, (women who mimed, danced or played the “avlos” which is a reeded aerophone - a type of pipe), whose reputation was so low that they were essentially regarded as prostitutes. Also mentioned are “parasitoi”, that is, parasites, (meaning those living parasitically on society), orchestai (meaning dancers), “jokers and flatterers, mimes, dwarves”, all of which are engagements intrinsically connected to music. In 526 A.D., Justinian cuts theatrical expenditure. The Code of Justinian forbids theatre people from raising animals for sacrificial purposes in pagan rites, as they were considered prone to this occupation. The hippodrome prospered until the first Fall of the city (1204), after which it gradually declined and was ransacked and deserted. It served as the preferential venue for the demoi (political parties), with a pivotal role in the support of imperial ceremonies. Numerous celebrations (horse races, triumphs, imperial inaugurations) took place or culminated there. Horse races, which were held at specific times throughout the year, were watched by emperors from a special seat, the “senzon”. The demoi had their own artists: the poet wrote the acta, (facts), the melistai (composers) made music for them, the organarioi (organ players) played the two silver organs (predecessors of the well-known ecclesiastical organ), the physontes (blowers) were responsible for producing the air for the organ’s pipes, while there were abundant panduristes (pandouris players) and avletes (aulos - pipe players.)

5. Music of the Palace

In his work On the Administration of the Empire, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus gives a detailed account of ceremonies taking place in the hippodrome, in the palace and in other venues related to the presence of the emperor and his court. “Kalendai, the first of March celebration, Maiuma, Vota, Brumalia, Rosalia, Inauguration of Cities”, are a few of the regular festivals of Byzantine Constantinople, at which the emperor was present. Imperial feasts include: birthdays, weddings, baptisms, coronations, victory celebrations, receptions and triumphs. From the rich terminology regarding ceremonies, it is easily inferred that music played a role: “kletorion” (invitation to ceremonial dinner), “deximon” (reception), “doche” (reception), “proelephsis” (parade), “euphemia” (praise to the Emperor), “proodos” (parade, pompous ceremony), “demosiai ilariai” (public feasts), “pompe” (parade), “prokypsis” (devotion), “nymphagogion” (a matrimonial parade), “stepsimon” (wedding or coronation of an emperor), “hippodromia” (horse-race), “gevma” (dinner). In Porphyrogenetus’ work, there are detailed descriptions of about 60 cases of regular and occasional celebrations, where the Byzantine organ bears a specific role in the ceremony. The basic musical genre mentioned in Porphyrogenetus is the acta, which are sung in a predetermined order by the demoi and their leaders. There is also reference to the multi-piped organ, to several lyrics of acta and praises, as well as to echos (mode) settings in the terminology of the Octoechos, the Byzantine modal system, in some acta. Tens of titles for officers who are eligible to be present in ceremonies, exhaustive rules and instructions pertaining to attire and movement depending on the occasion, specifically distributed musical roles, appointment of special venues –especially within the palace rooms where dances, receptions and dinners were held– compose a picture of wealth, luxury, power and prestige, even more so when it comes to the reception of ambassadors or visitors of high rank. Thymelike (music of the theatre), as well as folk music, plays a role particularly in dinners, imperial weddings etc., as a part of the entertainment.

It is of tremendous significance that sometimes, in the palace celebrations, there is participation of the so-called “agiosofitai” and “apostolitai”, i.e. the chanters of the two most prominent churches of the city, who chant the “vasilikia”, or songs of praise to emperors, through a repertoire corresponding to each event: “dromika, horephtika, euphemies, pastika, epivateria, polychronia” (that is, street processions, dances, accolades, weddings, welcoming of naval travelers ashore, impartment of longevity wishes, and others). It is a fact that the palace maintained a group of clergymen and chanters known as “The Royal Clergy”. Occasionally they are included among, or identified with, the “vokalioi/vukalioi” or “phonovoloi” or “kraktes” (criers) of the demoi. Unfortunately, no names of Byzantine court music composers are known. However, there are references to the remuneration of some artists, such as the actuarioi (acta lyric writers), the melistai (music composers) and the organarioi (organ players.) Especially popular at the palace were long epic songs, apelatikia or akritika, which narrate the feats of the akrites (guards and warriors protecting the borders.) Throughout the last two centuries of Byzantium, traces of mainly Persian influence are found. These are evident in certain compositions, notated in parasimantiki, recorded a little before the Fall, and also through some names of famous kratemata such as “persikon” and “atzemikon”, (both terms meaning “Persian”). This makes clear that, by means of the kratemata, elements of secular music were interposed into the chanting repertoire. The court ceremonies in Constantinople, with the exception of an interruption at the time of the Frankish occupation (1204-1268), seem to have occurred up until the final days of the empire.

6. Instruments

Information on musical instruments in Constantinople is found both in the literature and in illustrations. The church Fathers refer with disapproval to the instruments of theatre musicians, owing to their connection with obscene or pagan rituals. The obelisk of Theodosius bears depictions dating back to the fourth century, of two imperial organs - developments of the former Hellenistic and Roman hydraulis (hydraulic organ), while a pandouristis (pandouris player) is depicted in the sixth century in the mosaics of the Great Palace. A fundamental distinction can be made between instruments for folk use, and instruments for use in art music, like those intended for music of the palace. A special category includes instruments for military purposes, while there are also references to the comprehensive use of some instruments as teaching aids during theoretical education. We also find a special categorization of “lepta”, meaning “thin”, instruments, this term appeared in the West as “bas”, alongside its opposite, “haut”. Both can be seen in the Ottoman tradition as “ince-saz” and “kaba-saz” respectively. At the palace and the hippodrome, the four multi-piped organs, two of them golden and belonging to the Emperor, the other two silver and belonging to the demoi, play a dominant role. The presence of ‘‘paigniotes’’ (players), that is, musicians in instrumental ensembles who play at ‘‘saxima’’, ‘‘dexima’’ and ‘‘kletoria’’ at the royal weddings and other ceremonies, is considered a given. The pre-eminent instrument of the palace, the ancient hydraulis, was developed into an organ with blowers. A special case of instruments are the musical contraptions associated at least with Michael III, which imitate the calls of birds, roars and growls etc., accounts of which exist in literature from the ninth century, in which they are described as being a means of impressing foreign royal visitors.

The Byzantine instrumentarium is associated exclusively with secular music. To a great degree the instruments were seen to be various developments, with changed names, of the familiar ancient Greek instruments. Around the ninth century, the bowed stringed instruments originating from India are introduced into Constantinople. The application of the simple technique of the usually one-stringed Eastern bowed instruments, on the more advanced instruments in the lute family seems to be a Byzantine innovation, resulting in the Byzantine and European bowed instruments. Instruments such as the lute or oud, the zourna and the anakara bear foreign names, although the form of the short-necked lute and the double-piped aulos as well as the drum already existed in Greek tradition. The study of Byzantine, Arabic, and to a lesser degree, Western-European texts and illustrations has yielded more than twenty separate categories of Byzantine musical instruments, which include dozens of instruments with many variations and names. Many of the instruments are well documented. For some others, however, such as ‘‘oxyvaphon, achilliakon, psaltynx, plinthion, pektis, sambyke, pandoura, navla, kinyra, pteron, plektron, cheirorganon, kavithakanthion, nadion, rax tetroreon’’, the discernment of their identity is no mean research feat. The same can be said for the identification of certain instruments in artistic depictions. Auloi, kithares, lyras – both ancient Greek and bowed, askauloi, single and double-piped syringes, salpinges, touves and voukina, tympani, cymbals, seistra and other percussion, pandouras and lutes, the multi-stringed psaltery, harps, and of course the famous multi-piped organs, constitute a rich instrumentarium with extensive development and modification. Salpinx and tympani makers are mentioned as independent occupations. The Byzantine instrumentarium disseminated gradually into Europe, mainly; the most significant example being the introduction and development, from the eight century, of the ecclesiastical organ. The contribution of the Byzantine tradition upon the modifications of the European multi-stringed and brass instruments is easily discerned, as can be seen in the names of the instruments as well (psaltery, harp, voukina-bouzina, kerata - korna or horn, tuba etc.). Almost the whole of the modern Greek instruments, as well as many of the instruments of the Eastern Mediterranean can be seen to have developed from Byzantine instruments.

7. Dance

A multitude of illustrations in manuscripts and frescoes confirm the information in the literature on the subject of dance, addressing details such as the dominant circular formation, the joining together of dancers by the holding of hands, also at the wrists, shoulders and belts, the use of handkerchiefs or sleeves, the dance venue, the gender of the dancers, clapping and acrobatic moves while dancing, and of course the use of specific instruments according to the occasion. One of the earliest representations of the manner of holding onto the other dancers in a syrtos dance is found on the base of the obelisk of Theodosius. Circular syrtos dances, as well as dance names such as ‘‘kordax, geranos ormos, pyrichi’’ are mentioned. Dance represents the main expression of joy at the multi-day wedding celebrations. Dance is also common at the saints’ feast day celebrations. Dance is mentioned in the arena of the hippodrome. One such dance ritual is the ‘‘makellarikon of the hippodrome’’, where the butchers of Constantinople danced. Dance takes a central role in the imperial symposia. At the ‘‘saximon’’, the term used to denote a dinner-dance, senior officials were invited to participate in the “vallismata” according to a defined order based on the ‘‘kletorologion’’. Masquerade dances are also described. Many of the corresponding practices of the courts of the Medieval West can be traced back to original practices in the Palace of Constantinople.

8. Musical Theory

From 425 C.E. and until the end of Byzantium at the Pandidacterion of Constantinople, founded by Emperor Theodosius II, ancient Greek music theory was taught as one of the four parts (quatrivium) of the mathematical sciences. The influence of the ancient schools of thought of Pythagoras and Aristoxenus can be traced in the work of Byzantine writers. With the development of Byzantine ecclesiastical music, a new theoretical system emerges, which has at its core the establishment of the Octoechos. The new system is also used at times to transcribe secular music. Of the authors writing about secular music, Dionysios, Michael Psellos, Georgios Pachymeres and Manuel Bryennios stand out. Many elements of ancient music were taught to prospective chanters. Nicholas Messarites, in the twelfth century, refers to the teaching of the Pythagorean mathematical ratios as they apply to musical intervals, while sporadic mentions of ancient music are also found in classical psaltic theory textbooks.

9. The Position of Secular Music in Byzantium

As regards secular music, the imposing presence of the theatre with its happenings and instruments, does not allow for another explanation on the origins of secular music other than that it was a natural continuity of Greek music. Folk music tradition, of course, dynamic as it is by nature, was held and maintained for many centuries. Indeed in some instances, it is considered to have survived intact to this day. The influence of Christianity is seen most clearly, when even the rituals of the palace feature the use of musical instruments and employ a strict and specific organisation of roles for musicians, thereby taking on an intensely religious character. The multi-piped organ was a strong symbol of imperial status, and was used solely by the palace and the demoi. It was gifted by the Byzantines to Pepin the Short in 757 C.E., and was developed with the aid of Greek engineers into the Western ecclesiastical organ. References to symposia featuring the playing of the “kithara” are made with contempt by the monks of the Stoudion Monastery in the eighth century. Personalities of the highest social standing are seen to be occupied with music. The imprisoned emperor Andronikos Komnenos (12th century) is offered a kithara, that is, an oud, so that he may ‘‘sing’’ his sufferings. In the illustrated manuscript of Skylitzes (11th – 12th century), instruments such as the kithara are depicted in a scene of the mocking of a Patriarch.

An exact evaluation of the musical culture of Byzantium and of Constantinople, is even today, a difficult undertaking. Prior to the first Fall, Constantinople had accumulated two-thirds of the world’s wealth and for centuries was considered the capital of all learning and art. In the context of the political rivalry between Aachen and Constantinople, the Carolingian Franks, from the eighth century on, adopt a great number of Eastern cultural elements. European music borrows the Byzantine neumatic characters unchanged. Also significant is the evidence showing that almost all the European instruments have origins in Byzantine musical instruments. Ancient Greek theory was essentially never forgotten. Today’s folk traditions carry with them a wealth of ancient elements, which would not have survived to this day, had the Byzantines lost the connection with them.


A. From 1453 to the Middle of the 19th Century

1. Chronological Bounds and Environment

With its multi-dimensional repercussions evidenced by events of the time, the Fall of Constantinople of 1453 is a sound boundary for the study of the musical inheritance of the Greeks of Constantinople. Furthermore, the events that lead to the fall of the Byzantine Empire did not interrupt the Byzantine civilization in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Byzantium ceased to exist as a state, but its culture remained a strong force in the lives and conscience, the attitudes, and the cultural activities of the Orthodox population. The sources reveal the continuity of the Byzantine tradition, despite the justifiable collective introversion. And this tradition is not only defined by the repertoire and instrumentation, but also by the interest in the music of non-Greek peoples – a phenomenon seen clearly in the psaltic manuscripts, which preserve a significant number of melodies of Persian, Ottoman, Arabic and other non-Greek composers. In contrast, from the end of the seventh century a sequence of significant events in the political and military field, which bore direct consequences upon the economic and social life of the Greeks, gradually begin to shape and create an environment more conducive to intellectual and artistic pursuits. This phenomenon was bolstered by the formation of a Greek elite defined by open-mindedness, a refined aesthetic, cosmopolitanism, extroversion and a pronounced osmotic disposition.

2. Instrumentarium

In the pictorial representations of the time, Greeks are often depicted holding instruments. Most commonly, the instruments depicted are from the family of the pandouris, or a type of aerophone, the shape of which resembles a long zourna. The lyra (a type of upright vielle), the violin, the defi (a type of idiophone with cymbals) and the membranophones, defi and daouli, are also witnessed. The pandouris (tanbur) became especially popular among psaltic circles. A leading personality of the time is the famous Stravogeorgis (literally “Blind George”), with his seminal contribution to the recognition of the violin as an Eastern instrument. The ultimate and predominant instrument, the human voice, is systematically cultivated in continuing with the long running tradition of the art of Greek music. The great and strong tradition of the vocal art of ecclesiastical music influences both the manner of singing and the instrumentation in terms of both style and expression. Frequently, prominent chanters are also instrumentalists and/or virtuosic performers of secular art music, or instrumentalists who hold a lot of, or a little, knowledge of Byzantine chant.

3. Folk Tradition

Even though the environment did not allow for many public events, a gradual opening to public performances in the folk sphere is discerned. Musicians, dancers – both young women and young men, even members of the clergy, enjoy themselves in and around the urban centre of Constantinople. Apart from the meyhanes – the music taverns where wine-drinking was accompanied by the sounds of folk song - the musical traditions remain closely interwoven with the various forms of social entertainment and enjoyment, with the epitome of these being the three-day public festivities of Pascha (Easter).

4. Art Music

From the end of the seventeenth century in particular, Constantinopolitan music teachers display a particular zeal for the creation of art music as an outlet for their musical pursuits. This yielded a more sophisticated music, with more extended forms and more complex in structure. Of course, the unique socio-political conditions after the Conquest of 1453 relegated a section of Byzantine culture to the level of folk, while a large part of the high class was absorbed by the formal Ottoman culture. That is how the exposure to the music of the Ottoman Court came about, while the later socio-political conditions lead to the birth of the Phanariot songs. The beginnings of the meeting of the Byzantine and Eastern musical worlds are seen in two similar incidents that took place in Constantinople. The first is referenced in the Leimonos 259 manuscript, while the second is preserved in the Χρονόγραφον από κτίσεως κόσμου (Chronograph from the Beginning of Time) of Dorotheos of Monemvasia. The original of the first manuscript witnesses that it was written by Mr. Gerasimos of the Xanthopoulon Monastery on the outskirts of Constantinople “at the instruction of the great leader”. This great leader is most likely identified as Manuel II Palaiologos, and the above inscription evidences the emperor’s interest in the music of non-Greek composers; his instruction resulting in the composition of Abd al-Qadir al-Maraghi taking its position as the oldest notated piece of oriental secular music.

From the end of the seventeenth century the presence of Greek composers at the palace is observed all the more frequently – a result of the acceptance at the Ottoman court of non-Muslim musicians. Their participation in the musical ensembles of the court enabled them to transcribe and study the music of the court, to render its similarities and differences in comparison to their ancestral music, and finally to become significant composers and co-shapers of the music of the East, which they viewed as their common musical inheritance. And so, from this period a substantial number of Greek composers are known, such as, Papas, Angelis, Kemânî Yorgi, Hânende Zacharias, Petros of Peloponnesos, Georgios Soutsos and others. Of interest to the topic are the references to the interpersonal relationships between Greek and non-Greek musicians which become more frequent from the end of the seventeenth century, the most famous incident being that of the Persian court musician Emirgûn Han, Sultan Murad IV and an anonymous Greek nobleman from Istanbul. It is within this same environment - with this pronounced osmotic disposition, this vibrant tendency towards cultural exchange - that the related theoretical writings also belong. Dimitri Cantemir writes his book (in both Ottoman and Greek) on musical matters, which Panagiotis Chalatzoglou and Panagiotis Kiltzanidis use as one of their key sources for their own similar books; while similar writings are produced by Kyrillos Marmarinos, Apostolos Konstas, Gregorios Protopsaltis, Stephanos Domestikos and others.

5. Manuscript and Printed Tradition

Furthermore, with Istanbul as the main centre of activity, the phenomenon of the transcription of secular melodies with the use of Byzantine notation is seen, creating a corresponding manuscript and printing tradition. Apart from the original manuscript of Leimonos 259, it can be taken as a given that the collections of Petros of Peloponnesos, Petros Byzantios and Gregorios Protopsaltis were also written in Constantinople. Almost immediately after the first printed book of ecclesiastical music in 1820, the first publication of a secular music anthology, Ευτέρπη (Euterpe), is witnessed. What follows is a significant number of similar publications up until the beginnings of the twentieth century, where essentially the tradition of the transcription of secular music with Byzantine Parasimantiki is continued. Finally, transcriptions of folk songs are frequently contained in the body of work of the music periodicals that circulated in Constantinople at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as Παράρτημα Εκκλησιαστικής Αλήθειας (The Appendix of the Journal of The Ecclesiastical Truth) and Μουσική (Music).

6. Phanariot Songs

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Greek upper class, concentrated in the district of Fener/Phanar, sought expressive outlets through the creation of a new art music genre, outside of ecclesiastical music, but within the aesthetic realm of their ancestral inheritance. This outlet, between East and West, was none other than the invention of the Phanariot songs, which echo the spirit of this unique society, its aesthetic criteria, its romances and passions, as well as its characteristic freedom. Around the year 1770, Petros of Peloponnesos put together the first music anthology of Phanariot songs, himself composing the oldest of them; Petros himself was the inventor of the genre. Apart from Petros, other known composers were: Iakovos Protopsaltis, Petros Byzantios, Georgios Soutzos, Gregorios Protopsaltis and Nikeforos Kantouniares among others. The lyrics, although in Greek, bear resemblance to French and Italian poetry of the time. Thematically, the majority of songs are on the subject of love, while there are also patriotic songs, as well as songs of praise, songs of encouragement and others. Often the lyricists are the musicians themselves, or others such as Yiangos Karatzas, Athanasios Christopoulos, Dimitrakis Mourouzis and Bishop Germanos of Old Patras among others. A fair amount of songs was composed in honour of patriarchs and people of the hierarchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as other leaders – a tradition which survived from the Byzantine times. Finally, political events such as the hanging of Sultan Selim III are featured in these songs. Songs with patriotic content, influenced by the Θούριο (Thourios) of Rigas that echo the revolutionary ideas and the subsequent ideological currents of the times, are of interest. The decline and extinction of the Phanariot songs came with the diminishing social and political presence of the Phanariots that followed the Greek revolution of 1821.

B. From the Middle of the Nineteenth Century Until the Middle of the Twentieth Century

1. Chronological Bounds and Environment

The introduction of the New Method into the psaltic art of Byzantine chant and into printed music publications, immediately resulted in its more rapid and broader dissemination, in the heightened exchange between art and folk music, as well as the acceptance of Ottoman court music in the broader social strata of Constantinople, culminated in the invention of a new musical reality, which evolved and developed until the middle of the twentieth century.

2. The Practice of Music – Places and Purpose

Besides religious feasts, family celebrations and happenings, there are many reasons and opportunities for entertainment in urban areas in the meyhanes and the gazino, at the concerts and fetes of schools and associations, at the theatre and so on. In parallel, the interest in the folk traditions of secular music of the psaltic circles and their related associations is continuous and active. However, a tendency towards a European musical expression is observed, as much in entertainment as in musical education. Everything European was considered progressive, worthy of imitation, perhaps even a point of differentiation. Advertisements for the buying and selling of pianos and offers of music lessons, notices for dinner-dances and concerts etc., feature in periodicals and newspapers. From the end of the nineteenth century, the mandolinatas (mandolin ensembles), which graced many social events, became especially popular. At least twelve active mandolinatas from different Greek associations and groups can be identified up until the first decades of the twentieth century.

3. Repertoire

Besides the art music repertoire, the folk repertoire presents great diversity:

a) Local songs and melodies of a rural character.

b) Urban repertoire of the meyhanes and the Cafe Aman, as recorded on 78 rpm records in Constantinople and by refugees in Athens and the U.S.A.

c) Songs and melodies originating from the folk traditions of the Greeks living outside of Constantinople.

Of interest here is the study of discographic catalogues of 78 rpm records, as well as the history of recording companies which recorded Greek repertoire in Constantinople: Odeon, Orpheon, Favorit Record, Gramophon, Homokord, and His Master’s Voice. It is also of worth to note certain pieces from the core of the Constantinopolitan repertoire (Politikos Syrtos, various Hasapika (Butcher’s Association dance), Karotseris, San ta Marmara tis Polis etc.), which spread widely and with time became a part of the tradition of other Greek regions as well.

4. Instrumentation

A type of ensemble, akin to the ince saz, becomes characteristic of the final decades of the nineteenth century. It is a continuation of the, now defunct, Byzantine orchestra of bas instruments. The foundation of the ensemble is the lyra, the oud and the qanun. The lyra, more specifically, represents the development of the Thracian lyra, as much in its construction as in its technique in performance and it is one of the many pear-shaped lyras that are widespread in Greek tradition. Up to the first decades of the twentieth century, a series of important musicians originating from Silivria in Thrace are active. They include: Leonidas and Anastasis Leontis, Paraschos and Lambros Leontaridis, Alekos Batzanos, Sotiris and Thodoris Tsantalis, who, with Vasilakis leading the way, highlight and establish the lyra as a central instrument in art music performance, making modifications to the instrument and developing its capabilities and performance techniques - all of these musicians being members of a great musical family from which the leading oud player Giorgios Batzanos also originates. This group of great musicians of the lyra is supplemented by the composers Giannis and Nikolakis, and the protopsaltes Stavrakis Grigoriadis and Stefanos Moisiadis, while the anonymous Greek from Nikomedeia (Izmitli Rum), was renowned as a lyra maker. Another type of ensemble that was widespread was the unique zygia mesofonias-kitharas. This type of ensemble was characterised by only two instruments playing together, often including a type of accordion accompanied by an oud or mandolin. The most significant performers were Antonis Amiralis and Stepho. The main instrument in use, however, was the laterna (barrel piano). Its origin is Italian, and in Constantinople it appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century when Giuseppe Turconi opens the first laterna shop in Galata. Very quickly, those stamping cylinders begin to stamp Greek melodies, contributing to the increasing spread of the laterna and to it taking its place as an integral part of people’s celebrations in the taverns and in religious festivals.

Collaborations between musicians from other communities were routine in the art music sphere and not uncommon in folk music. There is sufficient information about Greeks who were distinguished performers on the oud, the qanun, the Constantinopolitan lyra and laouto, the violin and of course, singers, with a high level of virtuosity and knowledge both in and beyond Greek society, with many of them being active recording artists of the time, as well as members of the newly established ensembles of the Turkish Radio. Under the supervision of the Patriarchal Music Committee (1881 - 1883) the Joachimian Psaltery was invented and constructed for educational purposes, with the aim being the “scientific measurement and verification of intervals”. The name refers to the intervallic accuracy of the ancient and Byzantine psaltery (that is, the kanonaki or qanun). In terms of its appearance, the instrument resembles the small Western ecclesiastical psaltery while the adjective ‘‘Joachimian’’ was given in honour of the Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III.

5. Education

Music as a subject of learning was first introduced by the Zappeio Girls’ School, The Great School of the Nation, and the 1st National Girls’ Orphanage. From October 1912 music became a mandatory subject for all urban schools in Constantinople. The program was comprehensive and was prepared by the Educational Committee and was endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the National Joint Council. The role played by ecclesiastical music circles in the teaching of secular music was important. The associated transcriptions in manuscripts and the printed publications that followed were regarded as convenient and useful tools for teaching. This tendency is reflected clearly in the minutes taken at the meetings of music schools, the prefaces of books and the other related texts, aiming to create a stable written tradition which would hold fast against the flow of time and the coming changes. Indicative of the climate of the times are the public appeals of G. Pachtikos to establish a National Conservatorium and Department of Eastern Music, where the music of neighbouring countries would be taught under the direction of Turkish musicologist Rauf Yekta (Formynx journal, 1914). Rauf Yekta Bey was taught Byzantine music by the Archon Protopsaltis Iakovos Nafpliotis and he was admitted as an honorary member into the Constantinopolitan Ecclesiastical Music Association.

All of the above occurred up until the first decades of the twentieth century. The events of 1922, 1955 and 1964 culminated in the demise of Greek culture in Istanbul and because of this lead to the continuation of this brilliant tradition in an altered shape. The city of Istanbul itself is seen to change both in terms of its outward appearance and its inward makeup. Musical activity outside of the ecclesiastical sphere diminished greatly or migrated with its caretakers either to Greece or other lands. This brilliant tradition nevertheless did not cease to inspire and to permeate Greek musical practice all around the world and to be regarded as the crown of musical expression of the Greeks.




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This article was originally written in English for History of Istanbul and its Turkish translation was published in 2015.

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