LIVE IN GREECE: From Constantinople to California – Part Two

As we approach the release of LIVE IN GREECE: From Constantinople to California, we’ll be sharing some excerpts from the liner notes to give you a bit of background into the programming of this recording.

I – Greeks and Latins in the Eastern Mediterranean

The Crusades transformed the Eastern Mediterranean politically into a patchwork of remnants of the once mighty East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, Western colonies, and Islamic (both Arab and Turkish) states. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans had eliminated the Byzantine Empire and greatly reduced the number of Western outposts in the Eastern Mediterranean. The most prominent and prosperous of those that remained was Crete, which developed a flourishing Renaissance culture under Venetian rule. In the years before the Ottoman conquest of 1669, Cretan church musicians employing the Byzantine rite did much to broaden and enrich the Constantinopolitan traditions they had inherited from the mid-fifteenth-century imperial court musicians Manuel Chrysaphes and Manuel Gazes, the former of whom came to the island as a refugee after 1453.

In addition to being skilled composers in the florid kalophonic (‘beautiful sounding’) style of chant pioneered by St John Koukouzeles and Xenos Korones, Chrysaphes and Gazes were evidently intrigued by the simple, usually improvised, form of polyphony practised by their Western colleagues cantus planus binatim (‘plainchant twice’). Gazes went so far as to compose several two-part works notated in parallel lines of Byzantine musical signs (neumes). Having previously recorded Gazes’ polyphonic Compline Hymn ‘The bodiless nature’, Cappella Romana sings here his prologue to the Passion hymn ‘Already the Pen’. Taken from the Orthros of Great and Holy Friday, his prologue appears in two manuscripts. One is well known to scholars for its polyphonic settings by Gazes and others: Athens 2041, a mid-fifteenth-century service anthology (Akolouthiai) that, according to Gregorios Stathis, may have been written in Patras, a city that passed between Greek and Latin rule. The other source is Duke University (Kenneth Willis Clark) 45, an unusal sticherarion copied by Gazes’ Cretan pupil Angelos Gregoriou and recently brought to light by Emmanouil Giannopoulos. Among its music for Holy Week, the Duke manuscript contains not only standard Byzantine hymns (stichera) appointed to be sung between the verses (stichoi) of the fixed psalms of Vespers and Orthros (such as the full version of ‘Already the Pen’ on this recording appended to the prologue by Gazes), but also the vernacular lament placed at the beginning of this disc. Written in fifteen-syllable verse, this demotic song presents the Virgin Mary lamenting the crucifixion of her Son in words often echoing those of Byzantine liturgical texts.

Complex forms of Western polyphonic music were, as Nikolaos Panagiotakes has shown, performed in the Roman Catholic churches frequented by the ruling class of Venetian Crete. Franghiskos Leontaritis (ca. 1518–ca. 1572), the son of a Greek mother and an Italian father, was one of a small number of Cretans known to have immersed themselves fully in the musical culture of the Latin Church. Ordained a Roman Catholic priest on the island, he worked as an organist for some years at the cathedral of St Titus in Heraklion. In 1544 Leontaritis relocated to Venice in order to sing in its ducal basilica of San Marco under Adrian Willaert, later on making his way to Munich to work in the Bavarian chapel under Orlande de Lassus. Leontaritis composed a significant body of polyphonic sacred and secular works, including the five-voice motet Ad dominum cum tribularer, a setting of Psalm 119.

Musical manuscripts and literary sources provide incomplete data about the nature and extent of polyphonic singing cultivated by Renaissance Crete’s Orthodox cantors. Some elements are probably preserved in the received traditions of performing chant with improvised additional parts in the former Venetian colonies of Corfu, Cephalonia and Zakynthos, islands which absorbed refugees from the Ottoman conquest of Candia and remained under Western rule until 1864. Others may perhaps be discerned in the manuscript Jerusalem Greek Patriarchate 578, an anthology of music by the enigmatic post-Byzantine composer Parthenios Sgoutas (17th c.?) that contains 11 folios of simple four-part sacred polyphony in Byzantine notation. Discovered by Manolis Chatzegiakoumes and first studied by Markos Dragoumis, these settings feature unusual part-writing with many parallelisms that appear to represent stylisations of techniques of spontaneous harmonisation. These features may be heard in the selections from Jerusalem 578 sung on the present disc, which consist of settings for the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom: the conclusion to the Nicene Creed (not normally sung in Greek practice, but set by Gazes and several of his successors), choral responses for the Eucharistic Prayer, and the pre-communion acclamation ‘One is Holy’. Interestingly, the responses and the acclamation are cast largely as recitatives, an approach to their musical setting that (without polyphonic embellishment) is also the received tradition of the patriarchal chapel in Constantinople.

— Alexander Lingas

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