The Music of the Angels

TROPOS byzantine Choir (T.C.B.) with pleasure announces the circulation of the CD titled:

The music of the angels

It is a co-production of ”89.5” Radio Station of the Church of Greece and T.B.C., which is prefaced by his Beatitude Hieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and it is dedicated to the 100 years from the repose of Alexandros Papadiamantis.

The present publication includes music pieces of fathers of Mount Athos and old byzantine music teachers.

At the insert accompanying the CD one could find the poetic text of the humns, comments regarding the chants, information regarding the deeds and contribution of the Radio Station of the Church of Greece and a history of T.B.C. and its artistic director.

The Music of the Angels

Yannis Plemmenos
Musicologist, professor with the Hellenic Open University,
Researcher at the Academy of Athens

This is another noteworthy production of the TROPOS Byzantine Choir, which during the last five years has made its presence felt within and outside Greece. Its choirmaster, Constantinos Angelidis, is a first cantor and student of Byzantine music well-known throughout the Greek world who distinguished himself in the Hellenic Byzantine Choir of Lykourgos Angelopoulos, but also in his individual work, such as the training and teaching of the choir of the Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos, with which he recorded and issued a number of CDs. He has become known to the wider public by his broadcasts on the Radio Station of the Church of Greece, one of the sponsors of the present production.

The Music of the Angels is a new work which, on the one hand, continues the artistic proposals of previous productions, and, on the other, skilfully creates a bridge between them. This is because next to the chants from the Athonite tradition (though which the choirmaster and his choir have become more widely known) it puts compositions from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. If, then, we bear in mind that the last two productions concerned, respectively, the Holy Mountain of Athos (‘The Theotokos of Athos’, 2009) and Constantinople (‘Constantinopolitan Composers’, 2011), the present production (‘The Music of the Angels’) is drawn from both these spiritual and artistic centres of Hellenism, which, in any event, have kept pace with and complemented each other throughout the history of the Greek Orthodox race.

More specifically, the Athonite tradition is represented by compositions which cover three centuries, beginning with Ioasaph Dionysiates (polyeleos ‘Servants … their Lord …’, ‘Everything that has breath … ‘), who flourished in the first half of the nineteenth century (†1866)[1], continuing with Meletios Sykeotis (Doxology in the Second Mode), who entered his repose on the expiry of the previous century (†2000), and concluding with the very young Theophanes Vatopaidinos (‘Blessed is the man … ‘), who continues the tradition of the older Fathers (b. 1977). The Athonite compositions with a named author are accompanied by chants from the oral tradition of Mount Athos (Evlogetaria of Sundays in the First Mode, stichologia of Ainoi in the Third Mode), which have clearly been transcribed by the choirmaster.

The tradition of Constantinople, on the other hand, is also articulated in three centuries, starting out from the seventeenth with the patriarchal priest and Nomophylax Balasios (communion hymn ‘Praise … ‘ in the Fourth Mode), who lived in the second half of the seventeenth century, and ends in the nineteenth with the first cantor of the Patriarchal Church Constantinos (anastasima stichera of the Ainoi in the Third Mode), who was more or less a contemporary of Ioasaph Dionysiates (†1862). Particular mention should be made of the dogmatikon theotokion in the First Mode (‘In the Red Sea … ‘), which is said to be a chant by John of Damascus (eighth century), but was published in the new notation a little after the middle of the nineteenth century (1968) in a transcription of Hourmouzios Chartophylax (one of the three teachers of the new method). Although in the accompanying pamphlet it is said that the work takes us to the psaltic tradition of the thirteenth – early fourteenth century, its genuineness has not yet been verified.

As to the issue of interpretation, apart from the painstaking rendering of the chants, at least three points deserve attention and commendation:

1. The interpretation of the papadika chants (‘In the Red Sea … ‘, ‘Praise the Lord … ‘) is not hurried and in a fast tempo, despite the fact that the chants are fairly lengthy (12:33 and 19:54, respectively). This phenomenon is not common in Greek recordings, where most (and better known) choirs choose a fast interpretation of the arga chants, clearly so as not to tire the listeners and not to use up the available time (and space) on the disc. ‘Tropos’, however, is in no hurry in the arga chants, and this is in accordance with the Athonite tradition and the structure and development of the chants, which lose their beauty with a fast tempo.

2. In spite of the fact that the choir follows the proposal of the late Simon Karas as to the constant isokratema with few alternations, nevertheless the analysis of the so-called ‘qualitative’ semadia is not affected and does not depart from the corresponding traditions (Athonite and Constantinopolitan) as those have come down to us today. The choirmaster can be seen to be very careful as to when and how each semadi of expression (petaste, antikenoma, vareia, etc.) will be executed, given that he is directing a large choir (of 35 members). His interpretation is a marriage of the monastic and the secular manner of execution (reminding us of the corresponding need to bridge the gap between the monastic and secular order of the services).[2]

3. Apart from the self-evident importance which the setting down and recording of old ecclesiastical chants has, the production has also included compositions which could serve as contemporary proposals for the enrichment and renewal of the church music repertoire. Two of these chants (the Evlogetaria and the Doxology) would make wonderful replacements for the corresponding compositions which are usually heard in churches: the ‘funereal’ brief evlogetaria which have prevailed (something which is also suggested in the accompanying pamphlet) and the doxology of Cosmas Madytinos in the chromatic Fourth Plagal Mode (which is used as an arge doxology in the Second Plagal Mode).

As regards the form of publication of the production, attention should be drawn to the commentary on the music (‘Commentary on the Chants Sung’), which explains to the listener in a way which is easy to understand certain technical details of the compositions, the ‘Poetic Text of the Hymns’, and the impressive account of the history and work of the Choir and of its choirmaster. The production is marked, as we have come to expect of ‘Tropos’, by exceptionally tasteful printing and layout. A translation into English (or even a summary) of the texts would complete the positive image of the publication and would make it possible for the non-Greek listener to enjoy the superb melodies of the Byzantine musical tradition.

[1] It should be noted that a mathema by Ioasaph Dionysiates (‘In giving birth you retained your virginity … ‘) is included in the previous production (‘The Theotokos of Athos’).

[2] See Dimitrios K. Balageorgou, The Psaltic Tradition of Services of the Byzantine Secular Typikon [in Greek], Athens 2001, Meletai 6 (doctoral thesis).