Sunday, July 4, 2010

What is Znamenny Chant?


Source: here

Znamenny chant is the primordial age old form of Russian hymnody. It survived a long history of Russian church singing up to today, while other forms appeared and disappeared with the time. It was converted from the neum notation of Early Byzantium. Its intonations are determined by Russian original musical language. Znamenny chant, as well as Byzantine hymnody, are inseparable from the church calendar.

Byzantine octophonic polyphony was connected with the peculiarities of Byzantine calendar. According to this calendar, the year began on September 1. Each feast day was celebrated on a fixed date. The feasts of the Solar calendar centered around Christmas (December 25). Besides there were "moving" holidays connected with Easter, the date of which was determined by the Lunar calendar. Each month of the Lunar calendar had a different number of days. That is why the dates of Easter and other holidays connected with it (The Entry into Jerusalem, Ascension Day, Whitsun) changed every year ("moved"). Calculation of weeks started at Easter. Each week had its own special hymns of specific tones. The first week after Easter corresponded to the first tone, the second week to the second tone and so on. Weeks were united in eight-week periods. One eight-week period followed after another. Thus hymns and corresponding tones were repeated regularly every eight weeks.

Feast day hymns also submitted to the system of octophony. On feast days several tones could be used, and it made the difference between the feast days on the one hand and week days, when only one ordinal tone could be used, on the other hand. The use of several tones on feast days made them especially solemn. Feast days, normal days and Sundays, were associated with certain hymns and tones. It made clearer the spiritual side of the holiday and outlined its place in the calendar.

Early Russia borrowed the calendar from Byzantium. This was very important, because the calendar unified the time for rest and labour at a state level, giving it Christian significance. The seasonal work of the peasants was also connected with the calendar. The calendar helped to define different astronomical and climatic phenomena. Holidays defined the terms of labour contracts.

Thus the introduction of the Byzantine calendar into Russia helped to preserve the octophony; but as the borrowed Byzantine ecclesiastical texts had lost their original rhythm in translation, it created the problem of working out a peculiar Russian octophonic system. It took a long time to solve that problem. The process of its solving began in the XIIth century, when the ideas of Christianity were brought to Russia and the art of hymnody began to get rid of Byzantine influence, acquiring particular features of its own. The process ceased at the early XVIth century. At that time, each day of the eight-week periods and each feast day had their own tones, and the melodics of Znamenny chant arrived to its climax.

The general character of the melodical order of Znamenny chant can be described as lofty, reserved and lucid. Whimsically ornamented Byzantine hymnody became severer and more laconic, as if frozen in the snowy spaciousness of Russia.

Znamenny chant is characterized by the disconnectness and openness of its melodical structures, which allow them to penetrate each other easily. Each completed structure of Znamenny chant is always an element of a larger structure, it is always disconnected and open. Thus a tone is an element of a hymn, a hymn is an element of a divine service, a divine service is an element of a diurnal liturgical cycle, which is in its turn an element of a weekly liturgical cycle, that presents an element of a years'' circle of feasts.

Constant presence of a common part in each separate element is the fundamental quality of the Znamenny system of octophony. An individual melodic picture of each separate tone, its unique intonational outline, is combined with affiliation of each tone to the general melodic system. The total system of octophony can be clearly seen through the individuality of each tone. It can be achieved only with the help of above-mentioned "cento-tecnique". No other means can help. That is why we can say that Znamenny chant, which presents the climax of cento-tecnique development, reflects the ideas of octophony to the greatest degree.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I sometimes spend a Sunday, or an occasional feast day, or especially the Saturday vespers, at an Orthodox church that follows the Russian musical tradition. It's when my soul wants to feel a kind of spaciousness in God's house, and a kind of strangeness, an ascetic aloneness so that I can draw very deeply into the majesty of God's presence, to be healed by the embrace of His patient mercy.

That being said, I prefer to live in God's House that follows the Greek music and worship language, because to me, it seems more direct, more energetic, more infused with the manly vigor of the apostles and their spirit. The Byzantine music can sometimes have its moments of almost glossolalian virtuosity, yet in the main, our Greek chant preserves the priority of the words over the music, which is as it should be. The singing of the text was designed to make the text more audible in a day when there were no microphones. Music was the vehicle of the word, not the other way round. I feel this is still true with Byzantine chant, but in my opinion, often the drawn out quality of the Znamenny and other Russian styles of chanting tends to prioritise music over text. I'm sure its practitioners would disagree with me, and for sure, this is only my opinion. But I still feel "at home" and energised to action, by hearing and singing the Byzantine chant.

I can see and hear the apostles singing with us, manfully and with great gusto, as they go out in their boats to catch the fish that the Lord has called them to catch. Singing to the fish, to draw them into their nets...

FOCUS UNSW said...

...our Greek chant preserves the priority of the words over the music, which is as it should be... Music was the vehicle of the word, not the other way round.

That is very correct, and in this way this form of chant is superior to other forms of music.