He has been called “a seminal personality of greek intellectual life and culture,” “ideal ambassador of graeco-byzantine music culture,” “apostle of byzantine music in a secular time,” “inspired reviver of buried musical treasures,” “mythical figure,” “sweet-voiced protopsaltēs (precentor), inexhaustible source of spiritual, mental and aesthetic rejoicing.”
Born in Pyrgos, Elis in 1941, he studied law at the University of Athens and byzantine chant with Simon Karas. As protopsaltēs in Saint Irene (first Cathedral of Athens) since 1982, he created a model centre of liturgy, typikon, and chanting art, putting an end to the musical aberration of Joannes Sakellarides and his “cantadoroi” (operatic cantors). He organised a series of devotional services; special mention should be given to the vigils according to the typikon of Mount Athos with two trained choirs, kanonarchai and lectors.
Lycourgos Angelopoulos offered a warm byzantine embrace, most hospitable in the church as well, where he received Rev. FF. Panagiotis Tsinaras and Athanassios Tsoumaris from Constantinople, protopsaltēs Leonidas Sfikas from Chios, music devotee Metropolitan Procopios of Kefallinia and Athanassios Karamanis, while Constantinopolitan protopsaltēs Constantinos Mafidis was constantly by his side during his last years.
In 1977 he founded the Greek Byzantine Choir – his pride, with “phenomenal appeal, beyond conventional national and ideological borders.” With over 1.200 concerts and devotional festivities in 33 countries he was established as an ambassador of greek music ecumenically, a fact corroborated by his 1994 honour by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Brussels, the centre of Europe: Lycourgos Angelopoulos, Archon Protopsaltēs (lead precentor) of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In 2004, the President of the Hellenic Republic honoured with the Silver Cross of the Order of the Phoenix the musical journey of such an indefatigable explorer and his fellows; the result of systematic and hard work, and endless hours of study and preparation.
According to its late president, composer Michael Adamis, the Greek Byzantine Choir aimed for “the aesthetic excellence of artistic experience, and essentially its establishment in liturgical practice, as well as the dissemination of this great art, a bearer and promoter of Orthodox ethos as a living heritage of all Christian peoples…”
Tireless master Lycourgos Angelopoulos expended himself serving the music of the angels. In a concert note of 1989 he noted that “to experience and cultivate our byzantine chant is above all a matter of national education”.
Loyal to this spirit he taught in conservatories (Athens Conservatory, Ph. Nakas, N. Skalkottas); he directed byzantine chant schools of Dioceses; he contributed to the artistic committee of the Ministry of Education. He guided plenty of students to a chant oasis, a source of cognizance and deed. He supported those approaching him; he shared; he provided initiatives in a spiritual father-student relationship. To his universality attests the presence of students and music-loving friends and companions in the art of chant from the USA, the UK, Serbia, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus in his funeral service; the messages by fellow music ascetics internationally; the prayers of monks and nuns. In this wide spectrum of offering we should add his collaboration with music researchers in East and West; from the brilliant and unforgettable concert with Kudsi Erguner in Saint Irine of Constantinople, a crossroads of byzantine and ottoman music, to the presentation of “Old Roman” chant along with Marcel Pérès.
The Greek Byzantine Choir performed ancient greek music in Epidaurus and other venues. Daring and pioneer Lycourgos Angelopoulos performed contemporary music compositions by Dimitrios Terzakis, Michael Adamis, Kyriakos Sfetsas, John Tavener.
He served as President of the Contemporary Music Research Center and was close friends with Stephanos Vassiliadis and G. G. Papaioannou.
His collaboration with the Athens Radio Broadcast (ARB) was another aspect of his versatile and charismatic personality. Who could forget the title of his historic radio broadcast “From the orthodox and eastern musical tradition?” How many did hum its theme tune “What god is great like our God?” A warm voice, airing and cultivating the byzantine chant repertoire in its entirety, both known and unknown – mostly unpublished – through the voices of countless protopsaltes, ensembles, byzantine choirs, not only from Greece, but from the homodox Arabs, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs too. It was not just a juxtaposition of hymns, but rather a scientific, musicological approach with literary colour. Orthodox music pedagogy, that is.
Included in this framework are his recordings in Mount Athos, mainly those of Father Dionysios Firfiris, and the documentation of the Akolouthia of Typika by elder Gerontios of Danielaioi in the 1960s, which spread around the world. A pioneer he was, as it was thanks to him that generations of listeners were introduced to the ethos and style of the psaltic art, and the accurate liturgical practice. ARB allowed for his effort on the salvage of the oral tradition, an effort through recordings of Constantinopolitans and other modern protopsaltes, along with the use of the ARB’s music archive ones. He considered it his duty to give step to all.
We should not forget his work as a composer, too; it covers musically not only the proper of saints for the needs of holy temples where collaborators and friends served, but also special rites and anniversaries, tributes to peace and the environment. He was also a fluent article writer, notating them as a byzantine calligrapher indeed.
Lycourgos Angelopoulos produced high quality recordings, with exemplary commentary on the chants sung. Nine compact discs and over thirty compact cassettes of the Greek Byzantine Choir have been published in Greece and France; they bear witness to the oeuvre of an inspired maestro and an admirable byzantine choir. With a cassock and his beloved vocal ensemble he gained acclaim and respect. He yielded music of prayer and he inspired sprituality.
His attitude revealed wisdom and humbleness both on the analogion (lectern), the default space of the art of chant, and at the venues, from ancient theatres to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Queen Elisabeth Hall, from the imposing entrance and exit of the chanting choir, to his evocative and expressive cheironomy while directing.
Lycourgos was a man well-known for his smile, a man of grandeur, a unifier, sociable and sweet, a man who stood by his students’ joys and sorrows, and preserved a beautiful fellowship for decades. Tough and combative when his opinions on tradition were offended, he was also demanding and even rough when pursuing the best possible result, having realised the weight of that which he carried and represented.
Having a firm and wide national education background, he worked in a truly Greek spirit around the world. His words and deeds are the legacy left to those carrying on his work. He branded with his life our goals too.
Constantinos Ath. Angelidis
Translated from the greek original by Georgios Savvas