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
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.
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
3. The Polyeleos takes its name form Psalm 135:
"For eternal is your Mercy" (eleos in Greek), sung at Matins of