1.1.Eastern Chant, Bulgarian Chant

and my music

A music tradition which will be mentioned throughout this commentary with particular technical and practical emphasis is that of Eastern Chant. It is a very large family of sacred Christian Chant traditions from a broad geographical area of Europe, Asia and Africa. All these traditions are interconnected and share varying degrees of similarity and diversity. The tradition of Eastern Chant generally has been inspirational for composers as different from each other as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Xenakis, Kazandjiev, Niculescu, Spassov, Taverner, Moody and Hatzis. The list is very far from exhaustive. Some of these composers’ approaches have had direct impact upon my work and aesthetics, while others are unrelated and dissimilar. There are also some in the list with whose work I have not been familiar until more recently, and thus their work has not impacted upon mine directly. Yet I have been fascinated to find some similarities and connections between my work and theirs, which I could attribute particularly to the common points of inspiration, and, possibly, to similarity in mindsets. I have no space to discuss that matter at length, but the approaches which have impacted directly upon my work will be mentioned with the respective degree of relevance in the course of the following discussion.

In my particular perspective and experience, the chant tradition with most direct impact on my music is that of Bulgarian Chant. That is a Christian chant repertoire created on the basis of Byzantine Chant from the ninth century onwards when Bulgaria became the first Slavic country to accept Christianity as a state religion, under the reign of Saint Knyaz Boris-Michael of Bulgaria.  2 (click for footnote).   Soon afterwards, the Cyrillic Alphabet was created in Bulgaria 3 (click for footnote)  under King Simeon the Great, in the literary school of the imperial capital Preslav by the disciples of the St Cyril and Methodius.  4 (click for footnote)  In their memory it was titled Cyrillic and later it was transmitted, together with the literacy and the Slavonic liturgy, to Serbia and Russia. 5 (click for footnote) 6 (click for footnote) 7 (click for footnote)      Some scholars assert that the initial creation and development of Bulgarian and Slavonic Chant followed the same historical process, 8 (click for footnote)  although sources of this earliest period: from ninth to eleventh century; are scarce due to later deliberate obliteration of sources, particularly during the Ottoman period, therefore more is to be expected from future research into this important period of music development in Eastern Europe. 9 (click for footnote)  The development of Bulgarian Chant in the last 1200 years is a fascinating subject, far beyond the scope of this commentary. I refer to some relevant literature in the following footnote.  10 (click for footnote)

What is of particular relevance to my music is the last substantial flourish in the tradition of Bulgarian Chant which gave its final shape. That is the work of the prominent Rila Monastery Chant School 11 (click for footnote)  in Western Bulgaria. Manuscripts testify directly to the Chant practice in Bulgarian language in the monastery as far back as the fifteenth century, 12 (click for footnote)  (although it is widely and reasonably assumed that it was present there much earlier, as the monastery was founded in the 9th century, by which time the liturgical tradition in medieval Bulgarian (aka Old Church Slavonic) language was already established in the Kingdom), but in the period between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, which was particularly intense in creativity, the monks from this monastery created numerous ‘new’ chants 13 (click for footnote)  and many exegetic translations 14 (click for footnote)  of chants by Byzantine and Post-Byzantine authors, and in both movements they have incorporated features from the older Bulgarian Chant tradition as it was known to them. 15 (click for footnote)  Their work was actively disseminated across Bulgarian lands under Ottoman oppression at the time, 16 (click for footnote)  and is the foundation of the traditional monodic Chant repertoire that is sung today in the services of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and more recently on recordings and in concerts. Also relevant is a famous repertoire of Russian Chant designated with the title ‘Bulgarian Chant’ (Болгарский Роспев) which has its origins in the medieval Bulgarian Chant tradition 17 (click for footnote)  and this repertoire, as well as a set of medieval Byzantine Chants, designated in the manuscripts as Bulgarian 18 (click for footnote)  have also some relevance to the contemporary Bulgarian singing practice. Indeed the deep spiritual and practical connection with Byzantine Chant has been evident throughout the development of Bulgarian Chant over the last 1200 years. This is also valid for many other Byzantine-related Eastern Chant traditions.

The ‘composite character of Byzantine civilisation’ had a great importance on the development of Byzantine Chant itself as a cosmopolitan, multicultural tradition, according to Egon Wellesz. 19 (click for footnote)  This fact, together with the fundamental multicultural connection between the other Eastern Chant repertoires with the central Byzantine tradition, has particular further importance to the relevance of the principles that I will underline below in connection with my technique. These principles are valid to varying degrees to many other Eastern Chant repertoires. It should not be surprising that I will be giving examples from Bulgarian Chant while referring to Byzantine theory and will mention research related to both, and sometimes to other branches of this tradition. As they are strongly interrelated I will often use the more general term ‘Eastern Chant’. However, the particular prominence of Bulgarian Chant in this research is natural as the commentary is focused on my compositional method. Given my background it is not surprising that the Bulgarian and British traditions have played a greater role in the development of my music than others. Therefore the particular perspective given here, the sources and influences that I will refer to, and the theoretical background, are only a fair representation of the process of development of my own method and ideas.  


1.2.Horizontal Harmony and Modulation in Eastern Chant

and its relevance to my compositional technique

(click to continue)