KOGAION REVIEW
romanian literary monthly

~George Alexe: „The thracian origin of byzantine and romanian sacred music“

The cultural relationships between Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages could also be demonstrated by the Byzantine and Romanian sacred music. In this sense, the descent of the Gregorian music from the Byzantine music makes self evident, by derivation, the connecting bridge between Eastern and Western Christianity, at least since the 6th century till our times. As a matter of fact, without anticipating, the Thracian origin of the Byzantine, Romanian and Gregorian sacred music symbolically express the same spiritual and cultural unity of the Eastern and Western Romanity, as it was in the past and, hopefully, as it might be in the future.

Unfortunately, the Great Schysra of 1054 has also created musical borders, between the Byzantine and Gregorian sacred music, so to say between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Christianity. For the time being, theologically speaking, the Byzantine and Gregorian music are strongly validating the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Church identities. In other words, the sacred music identifies by itself the Church to which it belongs. Probably for that reason, the musical identity of the „Uniate Churches“ is totally invalidated by the Gregorian sacred music, but incontestably validated by the Byzantine sacred music, especially in Romania. Such undisputed musical reality proves that organically, historically and spiritually all these Uniate Churches are belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Churches where they were separated from by political means. Anyway, the musical territories are ethnically and religiously very hard to be conquered. It is almost impossible. They might be irenically harmonized but never destroyed.

The Byzantine sacred music is the traditional and official music of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It was created during the Apostolical and Patristical ages of the Undivided Universal Church in the Roman Empire. The Byzantine sacred hymnography and music is an organic part of the Holy Tradition and also of the daily Divine Eastern Orthodox worship. The Octoechos of St. John of Damascus (+749) is the fundamental book of the Byzantine music. In his excellent Dictionary of Orthodox Theology, a summary of the beliefs, practices and history of the Eastern Orthodox Church (New York, Philosophical Library 1964, p. 137), George H. Demetrakopoulos of Kalamazoo, Michigan defining the Octoechos said that „it containes the eight odes of the St. John the Damascene. In it are included the services for every day, for eight weeks. These eight tones or odes are used throughout the year beginning with the first, one for every week. When they are all sung, they start all over again/This book is also called the Paraclitiki.“

Directly inherited in Europe by the Romanians and Greeks or adopted by the Bulgarians, Serbians and Russians at their Christianization, The Byzantine music has to be correctly understood in all its musical and spiritual rights, according to the Holy Traditions and Canons of the Universal Orthodox Church. It has to be appreciated in its own context, history and existence, as well as in its intimate relationship with the Gregorian sacred music, as an act of faith and worship and not as a strange objet of musical curiosity. The Byzantine sacred music is ecumenical. It belongs to the entire Christianity. It is not only surviving, let say the Turkish domination, communistic oppressions or western musical heresies, but it was always strongly existing, by permanently functioning in the daily life and worship of the Orthodox Church since almost two thousand years.

I have to confess that, as an Eastern Orthodox theologian and a fervent worshipper of the Byzantine sacred music, under the direction of my Professor Nicolae Lungu of Bucharest, Romania, I was always interested to understand why this psaltic art became nationally venerated in Romania. Certainly not because, sometimes, the Byzantine music is commonly called the Greek music. Likewise, the Eastern Orthodox Church is often called the Greek Orthodox Church as a whole. The euphemism is obvious. More and more history shows the Byzantine sacred music as being an original and independent musical culture with elements from Syrian, Hebrew and Greek sources. Certainly, these musical sources and others has to be determined in their ethnical roots. In fact there is a Greek Byzantine music as there is a Romanian Byzantine music, too. The truth is that Byzantine music is neither a Romanian nor a Greek creation, even if there is a massive contribution of the Greek and Romanian composers and interpreters to the Byzantine music. There must be other reasons because the Byzantine music cannot be monopolized by the Greeks or by the Romanians only, even if the Greeks and Romanians are identifying themselves with the Byzantine music. But for what reason? Probably because all these structural and melodical affinities between Romanians and Greeks, so evidently expressed by their national Byzantine music, logically and historically require a common source of inspiration if not the same origin. Maybe there is something ancestral that was in common to the Romanians and Greeks which was incorporated in their Byzantine sacred music. Otherwise we cannot explain this total addiction to the Byzantine music of altogether Greeks and Romanians.

Obviously the Byzantine sacred inheritance is equally impressive in Greece and Romania. For instance, more than fifteen hundred manuscripts are directly proving the existence of the Romanian contribution to the Byzantine music between the VIII-IX centuries to the XX century. Like Byzantium and Mount Athos, the Romanian countries are centers of radiating the Byzantine music in the whole Eastern Orthodox world. There is no secret that in the 14th century, the Romanian original psaltic creations, called „Pripele“ or „Mărimuri,“ so to say „Glorifications,“ by Filothei the Monk from the Cozia Monastery in Oltenia, have been used by the Russians, Serbians and Bulgarians, and also the psaltic hymns of the famous School of Byzantine Music of Putna Monastery (1493) had been sung for a long time by the Russians who called them „Raspev Putnevski“ – Psaltic hymns from Putna. The first books of Byzantine music in the world were printed by Peter the Ephessian, in Bucharest on 1820 and then by Macarie the Hieromonk in Wienna, Bucharest and Buzau on 1823, 1827 and 1836. The Greek term of „Vlachica“ for the Romanian interpretation of the Byzantine music is expressing a strong musical competition and rivalry between the Greeks of Constantinople and Romanians, especially from the XVI to XVIII centuries. More than that, the history of the Byzantine ekphonetical and psaltic notation proved that it was almost simultaneously spread in Constantinople and Romanian countries, during the Early Byzantine (IX-XII Centuries), Middle Byzantine (XII-XIV Centuries) and Late Byzantine (XIV-XIX Centuries).

However, starting with the end of the XVII century, when the first manuscript of Byzantine music in Romanian language was compiled and written by Filothei sin Agăi Jipei, a new glorious chapter of the national Romanian Byzantine music was open. It is culminating in our times by a pleyade of Romanian composers and Church composers who nationally and internationally are glorifying the national Byzantine music of Romanians. In this sense, the Romanian Patriarchate and the Union of the Romanian Composers and Musicologists have to be higly celebrated for their actions officially taken to preserve and to promote the national treasure of the Romanian Byzantine sacred music.

But what ancestral inheritance of the Romanians and Greeks might be found in the Byzantine music? Because not only the Byzantine music but also the popular music seems to have the same unitary character and almost the same musical structure in both countries.

The answer might be discovered in the similar musical structure of both the Byzantine and popular music. Already Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940), the great European historian, asserted in 1925 that „the origin of the Romanian popular song, as well as the origin of the popular song of all the neighboring countries: the Serbian popular song, the Bulgarian popular song, the Greek popular song, in many regions of the Ukrainian popular song, the Hungarian popular song and the Slovakian popular song, must be searched in the ancient music of Thracians.“ (See: N. Iorga, La Musique Roumanie, Paris, Durassié, 1925, p. 9)

In short, the great Romanian musicolog George Breazu (1887-1961) has scientifically demonstrated the Thracian origin of the Romanian popular music, especially in Oltenia. (See: The Oltcnian Music, edited in Romanian and French by Gheorghe Ciobanu, in „Pages from the Romanian Music History,“ Vol. V, Bucharest, Musical Publishing House, 1981, pag. 147-294).

He found out that prepentatonic and anhemitonic pentatonic musical system, (old musical scales without semitones) on which the Romanian popular music is structurally based, surprinsingly correspond to the Dorian, Phrygian and Lydian modes that were taught and adopted by the ancient Greeks from our ancestors, the Thracians. George Breazu has convincingly showed that reflexes of the Thracian music are traversing through the centuries and clearly identify themselves in the musical reality of the Romanian peasant. Both musical forms, Thracian and Romanian, are each other reciprocally verified in the same modal system, (p. 331) And now, the question. Could this close relationship between the Romanian popular music and Romanian Byzantine sacred music determine us to also believe that the Byzantine music in its inner structure might have a Thraco-Roman origin, especially a Thracian one? If we are attentively looking to the musical structure of the eight tones, used by the St. John the Damascene for his Octoechos, in order to discover their proper names, we might find the real musical origin of the Christian Byzantine music.

Not always the reality is so self-evident. Now, these tones or modes are called the first tone, the second tone, the third tone and so one till the eight tone. But in the beginning these tones or modes were called by their proper names, as Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian, Mixo-Lydian, Hypodorian, Hypolydian, Hypophrygian and Hypomixolydian, each one respectively corresponding to one tone. But are these musical apellations real Greek names? Certainly, these names were given and transmitted by the Greeks, but their ethnic reality is totally different than that of the Greeks.

According to the Greco-Roman mythology and literature, the native land of Thracians in Europe and Asia Minor was the real birthplace of the Music and Muses. No wonder why the Thracian influence on Greek religion, music and poetry was one of the most fascinating chapter of the ancient world culture, whose artistic autenticity is still refining our modern sensibility. Orpheus „the inventor of Music,“ Mousaios, Olympos, Thamyras, Eumolpe, and many others, are the greatest Thracian musicians and poets of legendary recognition and reputation in the entire ancient world.

It is known that Dorian mode was established by Thamyras of Thrace and the Lydian and Phrygian modes by the Thraco-Lydians and Thraco-Phrygians of Asia Minor. All these Thracian modes were adopted by the Greeks long time ago before Jesus Christ. Plato himself (427-347 B.C), the greatest Greek philosopher, who was the pupil of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle, was higly impressed by the spiritual and educative values of the Thracian modal character of the Greek music of his time. It would be amazing to make a comparison, certainly keeping all proportions, between the educative role of the Greek music of Thracian structure, in the public education of Plato’s Utopian state (see: „The Republic,“ especially Book III), and the catechistic role of the Byzantine and Romanian sacred music, also of Thracian structure, in the Christian education and daily worship of the Eastern Christianity and Romanity.

Recently, Michael Grant in his book The Rise of the Greeks (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, First American Edition 1988), especially the Appendix I (pag. 289-300), historically shows that „Phrygian“ and „Lydian“ modes were taught by the Greeks from Phrygians and Lydians.

However, even if it is not enough explored or remembered, there was a Thraco-Grecian ethno-musical symbiosis, mythologically and historically proved, whose modal and melodical structure became a pattern that was inherited by the Byzantine and also by the Gregorian sacred music. By the way, the „Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium“ (Vol. I, New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 344) clearly shows that even Byzantion is a word of Thracian origin.

To conclude, the literary hymnographic content of the Byzantine sacred music is profoundly Christian, but the psaltic structure which musically stress the splendour of this hymnography is Thracian in its old origin as it was adopted and perfected by the ancient Greeks and now Christianly transfigured by the Divine Grace of the Byzantine sacred music.

The Thracian origin of the Byzantine and Romanian sacred music is proved by its own ancient modal structure. The Thraco-Byzantines, as the Thraco-Dacians, and all the Thracians in Europe and Asia Minor were Romanized and Christianized in the same apostolical and patristical times. Their common musical inheritance is the Byzantine sacred music. This Thraco-Roman Christianity was always glorified and kept alive by the Eastern Romanity, especially, by the Romanian Orthodox Church and also by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

It is not hazardous to affirm, I believe, that the same Thracian modal system was the musical pattern of the Gregorian sacred music. In this case, the Thracian modal system of both the Byzantine and Gregorian sacred music should be reconsidered as a real psaltic bridge between Eastern and Western Romanity.

Finally, Romanians have directly and Greeks indirectly inherited from our Thracian ancestors the same modal structure that spiritually unite these two great Orthodox nations in the same Faith and Divine Worship through their own national Byzantine sacred music.

As for the Romanians, the Byzantine sacred music, ethnically rooted in its Thracian origin, is an ontologie part of their Thraco-Roman Christian ethnogenesis.

George Alexe Friday, May 10,3:30 P.M. Session 210, Room 1030Christianized in the same apostolical and patristical times. Their common musical inheritance is the Byzantine sacred music. This Thraco-Roman Christianity was always glorified and kept alive by the Eastern Romanity, especially, by the Romanian Orthodox Church and also by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

It is not hazardous to affirm, I believe, that the same Thracian modal system was the musical pattern of the Gregorian sacred music. In this case, the Thracian modal system of both the Byzantine and Gregorian sacred music should be reconsidered as a real psaltic bridge between Eastern and Western Romanity.

Finally, Romanians have directly and Greeks indirectly inherited from our Thracian ancestors the same modal structure that spiritually unite these two great Orthodox nations in the same Faith and Divine Worship through their own national Byzantine sacred music.

As for the Romanians, the Byzantine sacred music, ethnically rooted in its Thracian origin, is an ontologie part of their Thraco-Roman Christian ethnogenesis.

1991

GEORGE ALEXE


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