Questions related to Byzantine Music Composition in English


Music Director at St. George, Albuquerque, NM
Christ is risen!

I hope this finds everyone well. I've been trying to compose some scores recently, and I've encountered several questions or issues over the past couple months that I've been unable to resolve.

1) When it comes to Greek names that have been transliterated into English, how should we determine the accentuation and pronunciation of these names? I've encountered this question for names like:


For instance, is Theodosius 4 syllables or 5? ("The-o-do-si-us" or "The-o-do-sius") The same question applies to the other two names - in other words, do we treat the "ius" ending in English (transliterated from the Greek ιος) as one syllable or two? This applies to the names "Eudocia" and "Pelagia" as well - do we separate the "i" from the "a", or do we elide them?

Related to these same names: how do we determine where the accent should fall? Knowing Greek, my instinct is to simply pronounce these names in English, but retaining the Greek accentuation. However, only someone who knows Greek would even think to pronounce "Eudocia" as "Ev-tho-ki-a" - rather, I believe that most native English speakers with little/no exposure to Greek would say "Eu-do-sha".

2) This question probably deserves a second topic, but since we only view one active topic per forum at a time from the main forum page of Psaltologion, I'm afraid it might get buried. My question is this: how do we determine if a formula is being used incorrectly or perhaps "stretched" a bit?

For instance, in the Plagal 4th Hard Chromatic Slow Doxology of Grigorios Protopsaltis, we encounter the line Πατερ Παντοκρατορ in the 3rd verse of the doxology. (I've attached a picture of this verse.)

As far as I can recall, I have only seen one other instance where the petaste of this thesis (the "kylisma", or whatever you want to call it) takes a new syllable - in this case - the "το" of Παντοκρατωρ. The other time I saw something similar was in Papa Ephraim's slow aposticha of first mode vespers - again, I have attached a picture.

Another instance is in the Aposticha doxastikon of St. Dionysius the Areopagite, found on p. 25 of the old Mousiki Kypseli. (The piece is in fourth mode sticheraric.) I have attached a picture. In the second-to-last line of the piece, we see the phrase πιστώς δοξάζομεν. On this particular thesis, I don't recall if I have ever seen the second oligon and kentemata take a new syllable.

A final instance of a thesis perhaps being "stretched" is in the Axion Estin of Theodoros Phokaevs in Varys Enharmonic mode from low zo-flat. In the third line of the piece, the words την Θεοτόκον are placed on a thesis that I have never seen take a new syllable in that particular area. Specifically, it is (as far as I can remember) always written with syneches elaphron-kentemata, all over an oligon. Here, however, the "kentemata" take a new syllable, so they must be written as an oligon, and the normal "support oligon" removed. A picture is attached.

I guess my question is: how should we regard these formulas? Are they legitimate? Can we use them in compositions? Are they legitimate, given that all they are all written by very great composers - but perhaps should be avoided, since they seem a little unusual?

Or perhaps there are other instances like the ones I've listed above, which I simply am not aware of or have not noticed?

In Christ,



Παλαιό Μέλος
He is truly risen!

1) When it comes to Greek names that have been transliterated into English, how should we determine the accentuation and pronunciation of these names? I've encountered this question for names like:

The above are firstly Latin transliterations (eg masculine endings in -us).
Also please note that c (as in Evdocia) was used in Latin as the k-sound!
The letter u in Latin was the same as v (thus W =VV or UU is called double-u
and in French double-v). This justifies the transilteration ευ to ev.

ία are two syllables, eee, aah

The following lists the original Greek names and their pronounciation:

-Theodosius -Θεοδόσιος Theh-aw-DHAW-see-awss, DHAW as in "those"
-Nazarius -Ναζάριος Nah-ZAH-ree-awss
-Protasius -Προτάσιος praw- TAH- see- awss
-Eudocia -Εὐδοκία Ev-dhaw- KEY- ah
-Pelagia -Πελαγία Peh-lah-YEE-ah

Capital letters show stress.

Nikolaos Giannoukakis

Παλαιό Μέλος
Dear Gabriel,

1) I share Pappous43's view above

2) The formulae in the first three pictures (left to right) are appropriate and "legitimate" so long as the intent of the word and accentuation call for it. There are other ways of notating the same passages that use more common pairings of neumes. The one at the far right is OK, but in that sequence the oligon usually carries an antikenoma. One does not find it on its own in that particular cadence.

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Παλαιό Μέλος
Those are very good questions, Gabriel!

1) Regarding the pronunciation, in general I would tend toward preserving the same syllables in names as they have in the Greek for less well-known names. But this might not be such a good idea for a more commonly heard names in English (like "Athanasius") which many people are accustomed to hearing the "sius" as a single syllable.

2) As for those four formulas you displayed, I would say that only the third one is okay, since it is so similar to the 00010 formula on p. 809 of my collection. The other three are clearly squeezing an extra syllable into a formula.

I am guessing that the composers of the first and fourth examples (taken from a slow doxology and from an Axion Estin) intentionally stretched the formulas in order to preserve a certain musical motif, which slow doxologies and especially Axion Estin's typically have.

In the second example (my composition) I was "forced" to break the rules because I had to invent a melody for a final cadence in sticheraric first mode for a 1010 syllabic pattern. Despite all my searching, I was never able to find an example of such a hymn in Greek. I found one in Romanian in the attached snapshot (from Anton Pann's 1854 Anastasimatar), but it seems even more untraditional than what I used.

But in general, despite my being ultra-conservative when it comes to following the formulaic rules, I would still say that we can't honesty call any unusual formula "wrong," since art can't be "wrong." What we can say, however, is that an unusual formula deviates from a particular norm, and that this deviation might detract a lot or a little from the beauty of a composition. But even the issue of how much it detracts is a very subjective matter.

For example, I am guessing that 99.9% of a typical congregation and 95% of all chanters would think that these four examples are perfectly legitimate examples of traditional Byzantine music. So the question naturally arises: if only one in a thousand people can detect these deviations, do they really even matter? If we view the purpose of Byzantine chant as something to aid people's worship in church, then I think we would have to admit that the answer is that these deviations do not matter.

Nevertheless, despite the absence of practical ramifications of deviating from tradition, I still feel that we composers who know better have a sacred duty to preserve Byzantine chant in its purest form possible when writing new music.

Just my two cents' worth.


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