Wednesday, August 17

A word on Byzantine music: Doxastikon for the Feast of the Dormition

I've written before about byzantine music but these days I have a very good reason to say a few more things... This music is very different to the western music, for sure, not only in terms of notation, rules etc, but also (and most importantly) in terms of the essense and style of the music; byzantine music does not have any dynamics signs (piano, forte and the like). Often, there is not even a tempo indication (though there is always a rhythm); the qualities of this music are not easily accessible to the listener, one has to discover the inner beauty of this music, the aim of which is to facilitate prayer, not to distract the heart and/or the mind therefrom. We should never forget that this music is, first and foremost, a music to be heard only in the church, during a service - not in a concert hall or for any other occasion. So this music is addressed not to an audience but to God.

For the Orthodox Church, the 15th of August is dedicated to the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin. This is not the place to explain what that means (a google search is enough for anyone interested). What I wanted to say is that, for that feast there is a troparion, a doxastikon dedicated to the Mother of God, which, in my view is possibly the best thing ever composed (by Petros Lambadarios) for that music. The really interesting thing is that this doxastikon is not written in one "mode" but uses all 8 musical "modes" that byzantine music consists of. So, every verse introduces a new sound, and, on that respect, this music is the best introduction to the character and difference of these modes. Here is this doxastikon, performed by the Hellenic Byzantine Choir (as I have said, in my view, the best byzantine choir nowadays) and directed by Lykourgos Angelopoulos - a person who has dedicated his life to researching and teaching this music...
The words of this doxastikon:

Greek: Θεαρχίω νεύματι, πάντοθεν οι θεοφόροι Απόστολοι, υπό νεφών μεταρσίως αιρόμενοι, καταλαβόντες τό πανάχραντον, καί ζωαρχικόν σου σκήνος, εξόχως ησπάζοντο.Αι δέ υπέρτατοι τών ουρανών Δυνάμεις, σύν τώ οικείω Δεσπότή παραγενόμεναι, τό θεοδόχον καί ακραιφνέστατον σώμα προπέμπουσι, τώ δέει κρατούμεναι, υπερκοσμίως δέ προώχοντο, καί αοράτως εβόων, ταίς ανωτέραις ταξιαρχίαις, ιδού η παντάνασσα θεόπαις παραγέγονεν.Άρατε πύλας, καί ταύτην υπερκοσμίως υποδέξασθε, τήν τού αενάου φωτός Μητέρα. Διά ταύτης γάρ η παγγενής τών βροτών σωτηρία γέγονεν, ή ατενίζειν ουκ ισχύομεν, καί ταύτη άξιον γέρας απονέμειν αδύνατον. Ταύτης γάρ τό υπερβάλλον, υπερέχει πάσαν έννοιαν. Διό άχραντε Θεοτόκε, αεί σύν ζωηφόρω Βασιλεί, καί τόκω ζώσα, πρέσβευε διηνεκώς, περιφρουρήσαι καί σώσαι, από πάσης προσβολής εναντίας τήν νεολαίαν σου. Tήν γάρ σήν προστασίαν κεκτήμεθα. Εις τούς αιώνας, αγλαοφανώς μακαρίζοντες.

And an English translation: With a sign by the authority of God, the god-bearing Apostles, having been delivered upon clouds from all around the world and having reached your immaculate and life-delivering body, venerated it resplendently.And the sublime Forces of the Heavens, present along with our Lord, escorted your god-receiving and impeccable relic, filled with awe, preceeding the heavenly procession and resounding invisibly to the Higher Battalions:"Behold, the Queen of all, who bore the God-child, has arrived! Raise the Gates and welcome her celestially, her, the Mother of the eternal Light! Through her came about the deliverance of the entire genre of the mortals. And to gaze upon her surpasses our powers, nor is it possible to offer her a Praise worthy enough. For her excessive glory surmounts every perception."Immaculate Mother of God, you who forever lives along with your life-giving King and son, intercede always so that your people shall be protected and delivered from every assault. For we have been gifted with your protection. Unto the ages of ages, we bless you in all your radiant glory.

On the youtube link here below, one can have an idea of the byzantine notation as well...

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