Great and Holy Friday in Jerusalem Program Notes

The J. Paul Getty Villa

17 & 18 May 2014

Cappella Romana Performs Medieval Byzantine Chant


Great and Holy Friday in Jerusalem

At The Getty-Villa_Cappella-Romana_SliderIn the year 637 AD the orthodox Christian Patriarch Sophronios (d. 638) surrendered Byzantine Jerusalem to the Arab Caliph Umar, inaugurating a period of Muslim rule in the Holy City that would last until its conquest by Latin Crusaders in 1099. Although subject to tribute, Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants retained the right to continue celebrating both for themselves and for visiting pilgrims their distinctive forms of worship. These services made extensive use of the shrines associated with life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that had been created with imperial patronage in the years that followed the legalization of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine in 313.

Constantine and his mother Helen had sponsored the most important of these edifices: the cathedral complex of the Holy Sepulchre built on the accepted site of Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment. Its major components were a large basilica (the Martyrium), an inner atrium incorporating the hill of Golgotha, the Rotunda of the Anastasis (Resurrection) over Christ’s tomb, and a baptistry. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim of the late fourth century, describes in her diary how every week the clergy, monastics and laity of late fourth-century Jerusalem would gather on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to remember the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus with readings, prayers, and psalmody performed at historically appropriate locations within the cathedral compound. These same events of sacred history were commemorated annually in a more elaborate fashion during Great and Holy Week, which climaxed with Easter Sunday (Pascha). Holy Week services in Jerusalem incorporated the buildings on Golgotha into a larger system of stational liturgy that made full use of the city’s sacred topography.

The musical repertories created for worship in the Holy City developed gradually over the centuries out of patterns of interaction between the secular and monastic singers of Jerusalem and those of other ecclesiastical centres. Monks from the monastery founded by St. Sabas (439–532) in the desert southeast of Jerusalem became active participants in worship at the Holy Sepulchre, which maintained a resident colony of ascetics later known as the spoudaioi. Responsorial and antiphonal settings of biblical psalms and canticles formed the base of cathedral and monastic liturgical repertories. Palestinian poet-singers subsequently increased the number, length, and musical complexity of the refrains sung between the biblical verses, leading by the sixth century (and possibly earlier) to the creation of hymnals organized according to a system of eight musical modes (the Octoechos). These early hymnbooks from Jerusalem exist today only in Armenian and Georgian translations.

The earliest surviving Greek witness to cathedral worship in the Holy City is the so-called Typikon of the Anastasis. Copied in 1122, this manuscript (Hagios Stauros 43) contains services for the seasons of Lent and Easter as celebrated prior to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre complex by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009. Older and newer chants presented without musical notation coexist in the Typikon of the Anastasis. Thus works from the apogee of Christian Palestinian hymnody—a period initiated by the liturgical works of Sophronios and continued by the eighth-century poet-composers Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus and Kosmas the Melodist—are integrated with hymns by writers working within the traditions of the Constantinopolitan monastery of Stoudios. The latter had, at the behest of its abbot Theodore, adopted a variant of the monastic liturgy of St. Sabas at the beginning of the ninth century. The resulting Stoudite synthesis of Palestinian and Constantinopolitan traditions was a crucial stage in the formation of the cycles of worship employed in the modern Byzantine rite.

The first half of today’s concert features excerpts from the “service of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” as it would have been celebrated in Jerusalem on Holy Friday morning during the tenth century. The texts and rubrics of the Typikon of the Anastasis are supplemented by notated musical settings for its chants transmitted in later manuscripts. Extant sources with Byzantine melodic notation date from the tenth century, with readily decipherable versions available in chantbooks copied from in the late twelfth century onwards. Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis, a leading authority on medieval Byzantine musical rhythm and performance practice, edited the scores used today by Cappella Romana.

Morning prayer on Holy Friday began on the Mount of Olives and featured a series of processions taking worshippers to shrines at Gethsemane and other sites associated with the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Our concert joins the service near its climax with “The Paradise in Eden,” a chant sung on the way to the Place of the Skull. Upon arrival at Golgotha there was a reading from the Gospel of Luke (omitted), followed by the Three-Ode Kanon by Kosmas the Melodist. Each ode consists of a model stanza (heirmos), a series of metrically and melodically identical stanzas (troparia), and a reprise of the heirmos (the katavasia). The poetic odes of kanons were originally composed to provide thematically appropriate theological commentary for the invariable sequence of nine biblical canticles or “odes” sung at Palestinian morning prayer. Three biblical odes—Isaiah 26:9–20 (Ode 5), the Hymn of the Three Youths from Daniel 3 (Ode 8), and the Magnificat and Benedictus (Ode 9=Luke 1:46–56, 68–79)—were appointed for Lenten Fridays, leading Kosmas to echo their themes in his musical meditation on the betrayal and trial of Jesus.

It was (and remains) customary to insert other chants and readings at certain points within a kanon. Thus the Typikon of the Anastasis places between Odes 5 and 8 the prologue and first stanza of the Kontakion on The Mary at the Cross by Romanos the Melodist. Romanos was a deacon from Beirut who settled in Constantinople during the early sixth century. There he distinguished himself as the greatest composer of the multi-stanza hymns that came to be known, after the scrolls on which they were copied, as kontakia. By the tenth century two melodic traditions had been developed for kontakia: a simple one consigned mainly to oral tradition, and a florid one transmitted in the Psaltikon, a musical collection created for the soloists of Justinian’s Great Church of Hagia Sophia. On the present concert we will sing both versions of the kontakion’s prologue.

In both Palestine and Constantinople the arrival of dawn was marked in daily prayer by the singing of Psalms 148–150, known collectively as Lauds. Whereas the Late Antique custom of chanting these psalms throughout with simple refrains was retained in the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite, churches associated with Jerusalem began interpolating hymns known as stichera between their concluding verses (stichoi). From the ten hymns appointed by the Typikon of the Anastasis for Lauds on Holy Friday we select four. The first is an anonymous hymn sung to a standard model melody and assigned in modern service books to Thursday evening prayer. The remaining three stichera are through-composed works known as idiomela: a hymn in Mode 1 commenting on the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s crucifixion written by Theophanes Protothronos, Archbishop of Caesarea (9th c.); a portrayal of the Virgin Mary lamenting at the foot of the Cross in Mode 2 by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (reigned 886–912); and a meditation on the suffering of Jesus by an unnamed Stoudite.