1.2.Horizontal Harmony and Modulation in Eastern Chant

and its relevance to my compositional technique

There are two features from the theory and practice of Eastern Chant that are important in regard to my compositional technique:

Eastern Chant is entirely monophonic20 (click)  (and entirely vocal)21 (click) despite continuous changes and development in this tradition. These changes were not confined to the Medieval Period but have continued throughout the centuries, up to the present day. (Although the term ‘development’ is problematic as applied to this tradition, it is the least inappropriate in the present context.)

In this uninterrupted monophonic development, complex theory and practice of harmony and modulation have evolved: harmony that is horizontal (linear) in a very specific way.

As these two points are interrelated I will discuss them in conjunction.

It is clear that Christian Chant in medieval Europe was monophonic. But while in the West of Europe polyphony and homophony gradually overtook monophony from around the ninth century onwards,22 (click)  in the East of Europe the ‘Eastern Ars Nova’23 (click)    24 (click) in the fourteenth century did not alter the monophonic essence of Eastern Chant. It nevertheless introduced many changes, including alterations to the attitude to composers’ authorship and to ‘the new’ (innovation), changes to the notation and to some stylistic features, and an increased ‘masterfulness’ (complexity) of ‘new’ chants.25 (click)  Later, in the sixteenth century, certain ‘polyphonic’ attempts were made by Byzantine composers (with particular South Italian connections) and several examples of two-part Eastern chants in Late-Byzantine notation from that period have been found.26 (click)  However such polyphonic experiments did not successfully integrate within the liturgical practice and only a few curious examples survived in manuscripts. Subsequent reforms and changes, including the radical Chrysantine reform in the early nineteenth century equally did not promote polyphony. It is true that from the sixteenth century onwards the Western Renaissance polyphonic/homophonic style was gradually introduced to Russia,27 (click)  since when it dominates the liturgical singing practice there, replacing and obliterating the original Russian medieval linear (non-contrapuntal) sacred polyphony of Strochnoe and Demestvennoe Mnogogolosie (Строчное и Демественное Многоголосие), which is similar and perhaps partly routed in the folk music of the region.28 (click)  But that particular western import to Russia (which eventually drove extinct the original Russian Strochnoe and Demestvennoe linear polyphony), as well as the Georgian polyphonic chant, which is very similar and perhaps connected to Demestvennoe (although I could not trace research into this possible connection so far), were the only such polyphonic styles in Eastern Chant up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Since that latest period the new Russian (western influenced) homophonic/polyphonic style has influenced significantly some Bulgarian, Serbian, and, to a lesser extent, Greek practices.29 (click)  However, it should be noted that the implant of western homophonic and polyphonic technical devices which do not match the essence of the harmonic language of Eastern Chant is not natural, and was not accepted without reservations. In Russia it saw a fierce opposition,30 (click)  in Bulgaria it created a stern dispute,31 (click)  and in both Greece and Bulgaria it is a controversial matter up to the present day.

Despite this intricate historical turbulence regarding the ‘Monophony Vs Polyphony’ controversy in these Eastern-Orthodox practices, it is undeniable that the later periods of development of Eastern Chant in the Balkans: from the fourteenth to the twentieth century; have created a rich heritage of monophonic chant, exhibiting a stunning complexity and exquisite style. This heritage can be heard today in the services of the Orthodox Churches in the Balkans and beyond. These more recent chants are often considered not entirely ‘new’, but rather – an interpretation, ‘exegesis’ of ‘older’ chants.32 (click)  This way of thinking, as well as the attitude to vocal monophony as a superior form of liturgical chant is considered by Elena Toncheva to have very deep theological, philosophical and aesthetic roots in the Eastern-Orthodox Christian tradition,33 (click)  and this theory could explain why for so many centuries, in the conditions of extensive contacts with the Western European music and culture, many of the Eastern-Orthodox cultures refrained from changing their exclusive preference towards monophonic chant and a-capella vocal practice in liturgical music.34 (click)  It should be remembered that the complexity of neumatic notation35(click)  and the highly developed theoretical framework of Eastern Chant at least since the medieval period onwards dispels any arguments towards technical/theoretical underdevelopment in comparison to the Western tradition,36 (click)  and points towards differences in the mindset.37 (click)  On this basis Williams and Toncheva indicate towards a dual, parallel development of the European sacred (i.e. professional) music in the East and West of Europe, at least since the early fourteenth century onwards.38 (click)  Mariana Buleva elaborates further on the topic, elucidating more specific musical and theoretical dichotomies in this respect in her formidable research. 39 (click)

In order to describe which features of Eastern Chant have been integrated in my technique, I have to look in some detail at a few principles of neumatic notation and modulation theory in this tradition. Some of the observations that follow will be common knowledge for researchers of Eastern Chant and for chanters, but in order to describe which particular features are relevant and how they relate to my method I have to discuss some of them, and their significance. As it will become clear, my approach was to extract particularly fundamental principles from the tradition of Eastern Chant, and to integrate them in the foundations of my own method. It is therefore relevant to look at precisely these fundamental principles.

Here follows a short excerpt from a 19th Century Сладкогласен Ирмос (Calophonic Heirmos) for St John of Rila, by Hieromonk Athanasius of Rila, from a manuscript written by Hieromonk Neophite of Rila.40 (click)


Figure 1: Excerpt from Сладкогласен Ирмос (Calophonic Heirmos) by Hieromonk Athanasius of Rila (early-mid 19th c.):

First line: Hieromonk Neophyte’s handwriting in Chrysantine notation (from manuscript HP115);

Second line; my transcription in stave notation,

Third line: a pitch reduction as relevant to the perceived harmonic structure in my view (relevance will become clear in the following chapters).

NB. The flow of the phrases does not interrupt at the end of each stave but continues on to the next one. The lack of barlines is conventional.

(The chant can be heard on the following YouTube video, sung by Neophyte Patriarch of Bulgaria – click here  (opens in new tab/window))


The neumes, as they are used in the contemporary Chrysantine notation,41 (click)  could be divided into four groups according to their function:

intervallic neumes

rhythmic neumes

neumes for expression/articulation/ornamentation

neumes for modal structure/modulation.

To illustrate how intervallic neumes designate contour I give the following example:


Figure 2: The first line from Figure 1, with numeric representation of the function of the intervallic neumes.


The numeric values that I have inserted above the neumes in Figure 2 illustrate the information that the intervallic neumes, such as:

etc. give to the chanter. They designate the number of scalar ‘spaces’ (phoni) upwards (+) or downwards (-) that the melody should traverse for each syllable of the text.42 (click)  These neumes work in conjunction with rhythmic neumes, such as:

etc. and provide a very detailed designation of the contour and rhythm of the chant, a kind of a  ‘road map’ which the chanter follows. However these ‘spaces’ (phoni) could have any size from a microtonal second to an augmented second (acoustically equivalent to minor third). The information about the size of the ‘spaces’ is derived from the modal/scalar neumes: свидетелства/marthyriae: e.g.:

and повреди/phtorae: e.g.:

While the former determine a scalar/modal network, the latter designate changes in this network. When reading and singing the chant, the singer maps the monodic texture designated by the intervallic and rhythmic neumes on to this scalar/modal network provided by the modal neumes. By the interaction of these two factors the complete fabric of the monophonic chant is produced in the performance.

In the following example the scalar/modal neumes are designated by arrows and the shifting modal network, as determined by them, is given at the bottom stave. The reasons for describing the networks within the span of a fifth and not an octave will become clear in Chapter 6.


Figure 3: The excerpt from Figure 1, with the modal/scalar neumes outlined, and the modal network that they designate illustrated at the bottom stave.


To summarize: when reading this notation while singing, the chanter imagines the shifting scalar/modal network as illustrated in Figure 3, and moves through it following the contour given by the intervallic neumes, while shaping it rhythmically according to the rhythmic neumes (which give instructions similar to ‘speed gear changes’).

This intricate process of reading the notation in the process of singing has been integrated as a fundamental feature in my compositional strategy, which will be described further in the following Chapter 2 and summarized in the conclusion. The most important point here is that the complete fabric of the monodic chant is produced by the interaction of two main components, differentiated in the functional structure of the notation: 1. modal network and 2. monophonic texture (constituent of contour and rhythm), as illustrated on the following diagram:


Scheme 1. Structural analisys:

music fabric = modal network + monophonic texture;

monophonic texture = contour + rhythm.


The paramount compositional and psychological significance of this structure will be revealed in the following discussion. It will become clear that the same structuring is generally valid for my music, be it monophonic, heterophonic, polyphonic, etc. , in which case ‘monophonic texture’ will just have to be substituted with ‘texture’ in the equations above.

Another aspect which had a strong influence on my practice is the very particular kind of monophonic modal modulation that is essential to Eastern Chant. As it could be seen above in Figure 3, the augmented second between a flat and b natural in the modal network, as designated by the first two modal neumes (phtorae), is then ‘closed’ into a diatonic second with the appearance of the diatonic phtora on the second line, after which another change is induced by the conventional shifting in the position of zo (which could be seen as identical to the notorious b – natural/flat in Western Chant). 43 (click)

Here follows another illustration of the important feature of the zo (b), in a passage from Херувимска Песен (Cheroubikon) in the 1st Глас/Echos (Tone) by Hieromonk Athanasius of Rila, an exegesis of an earlier chant by Petros Lampadarios (Peloponnisios).


Figure 4: Excerpt from Херувимска Песен (Cheroubikon) by Hieromonk Athanasius of Rila, after Petros the Lampadarios.44 (click)  Stave transcription and pitch collection summary.


This short excerpt illustrates the occurrence of fluctuation45 (click)  on b. Although this kind of fluctuation in the tradition is far from limited to the position of zo, and can occur at many other positions in the network, the fluctuation on the zo (b) is particularly typical.

These two very short excerpts are just a very brief illustration of the very complex practice of monophonic modal modulation and expressive melodic inflection in Eastern Chant. It will become clear that they are particularly relevant to my working method, but it would be beyond the scope of this study to enter in further detail about the general features of this practice theoretically or historically. Suffice it to say that the foundations of this modulation practice go back to Classical Antiquity and that a detailed theoretical development of this kind of modal modulations – metabolē, as well as its employment in notated music specimens from Ancient Greece has survived and has been extensively researched.46 (click)  Later, in the Byzantine period, exactly the same kind of modal modulativity is evident even in the earliest Paleo-Byzantine music manuscripts,47 (click) 48 (click)    and is referred to even in the earliest medieval theoretical treatise(s) on Byzantine music that we are aware of today.49 (click)  Detailed theoretical discussions of the metabolē practice occur in later Byzantine and post-Byzantine treatises50 (click)  all the way down to Chrysanthos (nineteenth century)51 (click)   and into the contemporary singer’s manuals of the present day. The modulation practice is codified in the notation, as exemplified above, and its understanding is essential to even the basic level of singing from neumatic notation.

I must underline that this is a theory and practice of monophonic harmony and monophonic modal modulation.

Similar monophonic modulativity is present in several other traditions. Contemporary Arab,52 (click) Turkish53 (click)  and Persian54 (click)  practices exhibit similarities of particular prominence. It has been ascertained by Sultan55 (click)  that in Turkish and Persian music these specifics are directly based on the Ancient Greek practice.56 (click)  The Ancient Greek roots and Byzantine influences upon the maqamat system are discussed thoroughly by Shiloah.57 (click)  Significant similarities can be found also in certain trends of Jewish Cantilation.58 (click)  It is true that the early Judaic tradition lies in the foundations of early Christian Chant – Eastern and Western alike. Therefore it can be speculated that these modulation practices might be rooted in the early Judaic tradition. However, this can be ascertained only through comparison of references to such practices in theoretical and musical manuscripts similar to the ones that are available for the Ancient Greek tradition from the same period, and I am not aware of such explicit details for the Jewish practice of that early period. Furthermore, it is clear that all the aforementioned few cultures have been in close contact and exchanged ideas and practices for millennia. Therefore the precise contribution of each of them to the present development of these practices is not currently established with certainty for every period of that dialogue. Nonetheless, the Ancient Greek sources account for the earliest and most explicit references, both in theory and in specimens of music, to such monophonic modal modulation practices. These aspects of the Ancient Greek practice are then consistently referred to in the later sources through the centuries for all the aforementioned cultures, and therefore in the present development of research the roots of these modulation practices seem to be in the Ancient Greek tradition.

If we look further to the traditional music cultures of Japan,59 (click) Vietnam60 (click)  and the early Tamils of South India and Sri Lanka61 (click)  for example, we can see some fascinating (though less marked) similarities, and at a higher degree of abstraction. If we go into a furthermore abstract level, we could see some background processes of a similar kind in Western late-nineteenth and twentieth century compositional practice, which is the essence of Dmitry Tymochko’s analytical method.62 (click) 63 (click)   

I should emphasize, however, that when we get to such a level where we reduce the process to its most abstract background principles, which is the essence of Tymoczko’s Scale Networks theory, we could see correspondences between a great majority of music cultures and styles, including contemporary and twentieth-century Western composers. In my opinion, at that level we might be observing one of those facets of musical thinking which is so cross-cultural and transcending époque and style that some of these facets not only have been with us for millennia, but are perhaps here to stay, as the practices of some leading twentieth century and contemporary composers indicate. 64 (click)

However, it will become clear that I am referring here to something much more specific, which does not lie within the background/middleground pitch network alone, but also is caused by its particular relationship with the foreground sounding level of the fabric of music. In this respect the degrees of similarity between the aforementioned traditions vary, sometimes significantly, and I will focus on what I have learned particularly from Eastern Chant, because it has influenced my compositional method directly and also because it carries an unbroken connection between the earliest, Ancient Greek origins of the concepts described above, and the present day living tradition of Eastern Chant.

Meanwhile, the deep intrinsic connection to some of these abstract, cross-stylistic and cross-cultural aspects would result in a dense web of connections between my style and a great variety of other styles. I will mention only these that have had the most direct influence on my music.

But before I can discuss the particular integration of this kind of monophonic horizontal harmony65 (click) and monophonic modal modulation in my music, I have to discuss an important mediating link from the visual arts.


1.3.Morphing Images (Image Metamorphosis) and Imaginative Visualisation

and their relevance to my compositional method and the harmony of Eastern Chant

(click to contunie)