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Psaltic Chant

Byzantine music is a distinctive musical set derived from a rich variety of Eastern Mediterranean musical types, in order to highlight the true value of Biblical and hymnological texts which so richly express the theology of the Fathers of the Church. The Monastery employs Byzantine chant in French, rather than in Greek as is often expected.

Psaltic musical notation

Byzantine music notation, or psaltic, derives from the Greek system of accentuation (oxeia, apostrophos…) that evolved over time in what we call neumas (descriptive signs). Written above the text line, neumas accentuate the music syllables, conferring them their particular intonation and expression. Contrary to Western melodic notation, neumas point to simple height variations. These "Byzantine notes" only have a relative value, that is, they are comprehensible only in terms of their relationship to each other. They aggregate in melodic movements that vary according to different modes (four main and four plagal modes), and different types of chant.
See example of the notation for the Cherubikon.


A Byzantine score must always be interpreted over and above its strict notation: in the oriental tradition, this "notation" is a simple skeleton that needs to be completed with multiple energies and vibrations only taught on a personal basis, from master to pupil. In this respect, Byzantine music is very much indebted to SIMON KARAS and his successor, LYCOURGOS ANGELOPOULOS. As a result of a weakness in personal oral training, cantors had slowly come to suppress the interpretation of neumas, with a resulting erosion of Byzantine musical characteristics and their replacement with harmonisations, variations in intensity, sentimental expressions, and so forth. Simon Karas initiated the huge task in rebuilding the theoretical underpinnings of Byzantine music, and in order to restore the Byzantine melodic line with its dynamic force, he reinserted many signs from ancient notation.

The Ison (continuous base note)

The ison (pronounced eeson) is the sole accompaniment of Byzantine music. The actual note, or series of notes, used for this accompaniment is based on musical theory: the ison reveals and underscores the base of the mode in which the melody evolves. The ison thus confers the melody its modal colour. The ison is therefore irreplaceable. Other monophonic musical traditions also use the ison (Celtic music for example).

Selected pieces in different types of Byzantine music

1. Sticharion type : Sticharia are hymns interspersed within psalms, illustrated here, by the Paschal Doxastikon, one of the high points of the liturgical year.
2. Papadic type : This type is for hymns from the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass). The example is the Cherubikon in the first tone, sung at the procession of the Holy Gifts (the Offertory).
3. The Polyeleos takes its name form Psalm 135: "For eternal is your Mercy" (eleos in Greek), sung at Matins of Great Feasts.

To download extracts or pieces, right-click a title, and click "Save Target As".
The Nativity of John the Baptist (mp3)
Extracts : Laudes 430 ko
  Cherubikon 234 ko
  Polyeleos 128 ko
  Cathisma 333 ko
Full pieces : Cherubikon 6.5 mo
  Polyeleos 5.7 mo
Pascha (mp3)
Extracts : Come and partake 206 ko
  Oda 9 460 ko
  Laudes and stichia 321 ko
  Doxa 360 ko
Full pieces : Doxa 7.5 mo
détail de la fresque du cloître