The Melodic Genres of "Znamenny Chant"

by Nikita Simmons, Woodburn, Oregon (October 2002; revised: January 2005)

Just as Byzantine Chant is divided into three genres of melodies (heirological, sticheraric and papadic), we can also break down the traditional Russian neumatic or "Znamenny" repertoire into the following seven genres:

1) Sticheraric Genre

The Sticheraric genre represents a significant portion of the neumatic chant repertoir, and is used primarily at Vespers and Matins. There are separate melodic formulas for each of the 8 Tones (or Modes). This genre can be broken down into the following subdivisions:

a) the melodies for "Lord, I have cried". These consist of pairs of melodic formulas for each of the 8 Tones: a melody for reciting psalm verses, and a melody for the refrains. Even though the Old and New Rites use the same pairs of melodic formulas for the verses and refrains, they have different liturgical practice for singing the Evening Psalms:

i) According to the pre-Nikonian Typicon (the "Oko tserkovnoe" or "The Eye of the Church") and the corresponding chant books, the Evening Psalms are sung in three stases, corresponding to the model of the more ancient Cathedral Rite. The appointed verses of Psalm 140 have the refrain "Hearken unto us, O Lord" (Услыши ны Господи), Psalm 141 has the refrain "I have cried unto Thee: save me" (Воззвах Тебе спаси мя), and Psalms 129 and 116 have the refrain "O Christ Saviour, have mercy on us" (Христе Спасе помилуй нас). The entire set of psalms is read by the Psalmist with refrains chanted antiphonally by the choirs, then the chanters sing the final ten (or 8 or 6) verses again as refrains for the appointed stichera. (The Evening Psalms are not appointed to be sung at Small Vespers, but they are merely read up to the last four verses. They are always sung at Great Vespers and on all days when there is an entrance at Vespers. The same rules apply to the hymn "O gentle light", which functions as an entrance hymn.)

ii) According to the reformed (post-Nikonian or "New Rite") tradition, the liturgical manner of chanting these Evening Psalms is much simpler: A canonarch sings the first verse, together with the single refrain "Hearken unto me, O Lord" (Услыши мя Господи). Then the right choir sings the second verse with the refrain, and the left choir sings the third verse with the refrain. The remaining verses of the psalms are simply read by a reader, up to the point where one begins to chant the appointed stichera.

b) the Refrains between the stichera. These brief musical phrases help to separate and introduce the appointed stichera. For short phrases, the reader intones the phrase and the chanters repeat it, but for longer phrases which can be divided into two parts (such as "Glory..., both now..."), the reader intones the first half and the chanters sing the remaining half. It is customary for the reader or canonarch to announce the Tone (and Podoben), especially when the Tone changes from the previous hymn.

c) Idiomela Stichera (Great Znamenny Chant). These are the stichera in the chant books which have musical notation, with fairly complex melodies in the Great Znamenny Chant. These "idio-mela" (unique melodies) are designed for specific liturgical texts and will not be shared with other hymns. In particular, the Idiomela Stichera are found in the Octoechos chant book (for the Resurrectional services in the 8 Tones), in the Prazdniki (the Great Feasts), Trezvon (middle rank feasts) and Triod (the services of Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and the Pentecostarion period). These stichera have been preserved in a slightly more developed form from the original Byzantine neumatic tradition that was brought into Russia shortly after its conversion. (Although technically "Idiomelon" translates into Slavonic as "Samoglasen", the Russian have misunderstood the fundamental concept and have mistakenly transferred this term to the Small Znamenny Chant melodies.)

d) Small Znamenny Chant (commonly called "Samoglasen"). These are common melodic formulas for each of the 8 Tones which are used to sing stichera directly from text in the printed editions of the service books. The Small Znamenny Chant system of melodies was developed in order to sing the appointed hymns for all those occasions (non-feast days and lesser feasts) when the hymns are not written out in chant books with notated melodies. With these versatile melodies one can sing virtually any given text. (It is interesting to note that there is no direct equivalent of these flexible formulaic melodies in the Byzantine Chant tradition.)

e) Automela/Samopodobny and Prosomia/Podobny melodies. In the Byzantine Chant tradition, for all those occasions where the hymns are not notated in chant books with musical notation (non-feast days and lesser feasts), the Greeks have a highly-evolved system of borrowing melodies from well-known hymns which are notated in the chant books. (For Russians, this tradition of borrowing melodies is less common, and instead they rely heavily on the Small Znamenny Chant system.) The Automela/Samopodobny are the "model melodies" which are well-known hymns from important feasts. The Prosomia/Podobny are hymns which are sung according to the model melodies. Thus, it is common to sing the hymns for a lesser-known saint according to the melodies of hymns for a well-known saint (usually of the same type, such as Apostles, Holy Fathers of the Church Councils, monastics, confessors, hierarchs, etc.); it is no coincidence that the hymns of the lesser services were composed following the models and themes of greater and earlier historical occasions.

During the great flourishing of the singing schools in Novgorod, Pskov and Moscow during the 16th century, several hymns from the Ordinary (Obikhod), used for the vigil service and for great feasts, were set to melodies in the sticheraric genre (such as "O gentle light..." in Tone 6). The sticheraric melodies are not generally used in the Divine Liturgy, except for the singing of the troparia at the Beatutudes, and (in some communities) for the daily Troparia and Kontakia.

The Great Znamenny Chant stichera are noted for their complexity and frequent use of multi-syllabic and melismatic passages (frequently highlighting significant theological points), as well as phrase ornamentations and a stately relaxed tempo.

2) Heirmological Genre

This includes all the heirmoi of the canons, arranged according to the 8 Tones (not by the feasts, as the contemporary Byzantine Chant books are). The refrains for the 9th Ode of various festal canons may be grouped in this genre as well. Some chant books have lengthy settings of the 9th Ode of canons for the Great Feasts (the "Zadostoiniki", which are sung at the Divine Liturgy) in Great Znamenny and Put' Chants, but these are medieval compositions based on the sticheraric genre.

All of the Heirmoi are believed to be derived from several early "Heirmologia" manuscripts in Russia, the Balkans and Mt. Athos (Chilandar monastery), which have been extensively documented and studied. The Heirmoi are undoubtedly the most faithfully preserved repertoire of the ancient Byzantine chants that were brought into Russia. (There is ample melodic evidence to prove this, especially considerring that there exists close melodic connections between the 1-5, 2-6, 3-7, 4-8 pairing of Tones, similar to the pairing of authentic and plagal Tones in Byzantine Chant; Tones 2 and 6 are nearly identical. Most likely, the original transcriptions of the Byzantine chant melodies for use with the Church Slavonic language were done in the 12th century at the Chilandar monastery, a Bulgarian community on Mt. Athos, but currently there is insufficient evidence to prove this theory.)

The Hiermological hymns are simpler than hymns of sticheraric composition. Like their Byzantine counterparts, they generally tend to have less complex (monosyllabic) melodies, and are sparing in melismatic passages and ornamentation. The hiermoi are sung with a more lively tempo than stichera, and one could easily describe the melodies as pleasant and "singable".

3) Prokeimena/Responsorial Genre (or: Canonarchal Genre)

This includes the 8-Tone melodies for:

Note that the pre-Nikonian tradition did not have a separate genre for Troparia and Kontakia melodies; all settings that currently exist were composed during the medieval expansion of the repertoire (or during post-Nikonian times), and are found only for Sundays and Great Feasts. (It is interesting to note that to this day there do not exist any settings of the Sunday Resurrectional Kontakia in the Great Znamenny Chant.) The traditional practice for most non-feast services, still observed by the Old Believers today, is for the reader to intone the Troparia (Apolytikia) and Theotokia, the Sessional Hymns, and the Kontakion and Oikos; the choir chants the final phrase using the Prokeimenon melody. (One will notice that the texts of the final phrases of the Kontakia and their accompanying Oikoi are usually the same.)

Most church musicologists agree that singing Troparia to Stichera melodies (even the Small Znamenny Chant melodies) is technically an inauthentic practice of mixing musical genres, and thus should be avoided. There are certain exceptions for using the Small Chant Stichera melodies, however, which are deemed more acceptable, such as the Troparia (from the Canon at Matins) sung at the Beatitudes. On feasts it is traditional in some Old Believer communities to sing the Troparia at the end of Vespers, at Matins on "God is the Lord" and after the Great Doxology, and at the Liturgy according to the Small Chant melodies for Stichera; other parishes, however, follow a more authentic practice of singing these festal Troparia according to the Great Chant melodies (if the choir is well trained and the congregation does not mind the extra time involved).

There is no solid manuscript evidence to connect the neumatic Prokeimena chant with any Byzantine origin, but there is ample textual evidence to at least build a case around the continuity of the liturgical tradition from a theoretical Byzantine prototype. (In pre-medieval times there was a Kontakarion notation accompanying some of the Kontakia, directly translated from Greek sources, but it never caught on either in Russia or Greece, and we are left with no conclusive knowledge of transcribing the notation. It has been suggested that this was a last vestige of the development of the "Cathedral Rite" typikon, which was supplanted soon after by the "Jerusalem Typikon".)

4) Papadic Genre

These are long ornate melodies intended to accompany liturgical action, composed primarily outside the 8-Tone system. This genre includes the Alleluia sung before the Gospel, the Cherubic Hymn and the Communion Hymn, all chanted during the divine Liturgy. Also included are the corresponding hymns in the Presanctified Liturgy, a few settings of the sticheron used for the procession at Pascha (just before Matins), the Trisagion used for funeral processions and during Holy Week, and a variety of non-standard alternate musical settings scattered throughout chant manuscripts. There is no manuscript evidence that the melodies are derived from Byzantine originals, but certainly the liturgical tradition provides evidence of liturgical continuity with the Byzantine tradition.

5) Common Chant

This includes liturgical dialogue (litanies, the dialogues during the Divine Liturgy, and whenever the priest gives blessings or wishes peace to the people), settings of hymns for the Doxology at Matins, and "O only-begotten Son" and the Creed at the Divine Liturgy, etc. None of this repertoire seems to be directly derived from any Byzantine prototypes, undoubtedly because of the fluid nature of such music accompanying various liturgical moments. Many musicologists have theorized about the influence of folksong, and certainly it seems plausable.

6) Formal Chants Outside the 8-Tone System

In addition to some of the Common Chants, this genre includes all the rest of the music for the Divine Liturgy (such as the Anaphora), selections from the Vigil (Psalm 142, the First Kathisma, the sung Kathismata at Matins, the Polieleos, etc.), the entire body of Put' Chant melodies (used for Magnifications and various solemn liturgical moments during the vigil), and the entire body of Demestvenny Chant (used for heirarchical liturgies and other festal occasions). None of the hymn melodies of this genre seem to be directly derived from Byzantine Chant, and the Put' and Demestvenny repertoires each have their own unique neumatic notations (which are known by only a small percentage of Old Believers and musicologists today).

7) Ekphonesis

This genre includes:

Each of these styles is a well-developed oral tradition among the Old Believers, and none are notated with neumatic notation (although in some of the earliest Slavonic manuscripts of the Gospels there existed a type of lectionary notation, now long gone from use or understanding). The simple reading style uses very little vocal modulation, while the various scriptural and homiletic styles make use of elaborate melodies and cadences. (A visitor to an Old Believer church might even think he/she has walked into a synagogue during the cantilation of the Torah! But thankfully one will seldom ever hear that horrendous dramatic contemporary Russian practice of starting a reading way down low and gradually ending on a high pitch.)