Variations in the Znamenny Chant Tradition:

The Theory of "Scribal Freedom"

by Nikita Simmons, October 2005


One of my colleagues in Finland, Jopi Harri, wrote me with a perplexing question, which I will quote here:

In the summer I made some transcription of the popevki given in Grigor'ev. You can probably guess that this sort of thing progresses slowly, as I don't have the necessary fluency in reading krjuki (thus I could complete only a minor portion of Tone 1). Last week I finally printed the Osmoglasie znamennago rospeva by Metallov (at, to discover that many of the popevki given by him appear to differ considerably from Grigor'ev's. But this is not the primary issue here.

This and some other incidents have made me to suspect that the heirmoi of Znamenny Chant in Synodal chant books are based on different chant forms from those in the common Old Rite tradition (if such a common tradition exists). The differences are subtle, but as a result, the Synodal versions or some of them seem a bit awkward (not so well flowing) in places - and this doesn't appear to have been be caused directly by the text reform.

However, for the heirmoi, the Synodal books appear to agree with each other (we know that they were taken from a staff-line manuscript, submitted by Bishop Gavriil Petrov of Tver), and there aren't too many independent sources available in staff notation. But I was certain that something would exist. And yes, the Resurrectional heirmoi given in Potulov's Rukovodstvo are not drawn from the Synodal books. Unfortunately, he doesn't specify his sources.

I ask you to take a look at Potulov's heirmoi (pp 251-291). Are they closer to Old Rite versions than the Synodal ones are, or is my impression baseless?

My response:

First of all, I wish to make a disclaimer that this is not intended as a scholarly paper destined for any journal. This is a response to a letter, with an attempt to describe one of my many theories, and for this goal I have pulled all this information out of my memory.

I have never really given this matter a lot of thought in the past, but in the past couple years, as a result of living in an Old Believer community that has follows the later "Type A" chant book tradition, I have begun to consider a number of possibilities to explain why the earlier "Type B" (my own tradition) and the later "Type A" traditions are different.

It is one thing to observe the differences and make conclusions (i.e., HOW they differ). Specifically, the notation was reformed, the repertoire of melismatic passages (Fity and Litsa) was reduced to a "manageable" number, the vocalization of hard and soft signs (the old semi-vowels) was eliminated in order to conform with the current pronunciation of Slavonic, the use of "anenaiki" and "khabuvoe penie" (nonsense syllables, equivalent to "teretismata" in Greek) was eliminated, and the chant repertoire was more logically consolidated into separate volumes.

But it is another thing to understand WHY they differ. I think musicologists (myself as well, at least until the past year or so) have been deluded into assuming that there is one monolithic original chant tradition in East Slavic antiquity which can be recovered if we do our research right. Perhaps this is true, but just like God confounded the people at the Tower of Babel and caused them to have different tongues and to disperse, I believe that with the regional dispersal of the primitive or "proto-Znamenny" tradition, the chant began to take on different regional variations, which now have solidified into identifiable groups, all of which are obviously related when one compares them.

So we can now can turn to the separate traditions and try to identify them. I suggest that we have the following varieties of Early Znamenny Chant:

1) Novgorod school (Type C), which I believe is the primary source for the "Type B" manuscripts preserved by the priestless Old Believers (Pomortsy, Fedoseevtsy, etc.). The Novgorod tradition seems to have been fairly conservative with adhering to older chant melodies and repertoire.

2) Moscow school (Type C), which differs from the Novgorod school by being somewhat more melismatic and lengthier. I have been unable to confirm the precise details of the Moscow tradition, but we do know that in the mid-1500s Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible) brought some of the leaders of the Novgorod singing schools to Moscow and set them up in the Alexandrov Suburb to form the Moscow school of chant. There were many gifted chanters and composers, and the Muscovite chant repertoire was greatly expanded and reorganized. There are also some identifiable spin-offs, including the Put' chant and the Great Chant (these are now mostly forgotten, but still exist in many chant books, some of which are still decipherable).

3) Southern Russian school(s) (Type C). This is an area which is very difficult to document because so few musicologists have done adequate research (or at least such research has not been made readily available to those of us who live in the West). There is no doubt that the Southern and Southwestern Znamenny chant traditions are derived from a common ancestor as the Novgorod and Muscovite schools, but just how, where and when are details which need more study.

Beyond this, we need to identify the prime descendants of these three early traditions:

1) The surviving offspring of the Novgorod school seems to be the current "Type B" tradition of manuscripts, which are essentially the "Type C" chant books with Ivan Shaidurov's red marks (pomety) added, and with subtle neumatic reforms to achieve consistency.

2) The surviving offspring of the Moscow school seems to be the "Type A" tradition of manuscripts (currently used by the priested Old Believers), and slightly variant forms preserved in the Synodal square-note chant books published by the dominant (post-Nikonian) Russian Church.

3) Among the surviving offspring of the Southern Russian school(s) are the Kievan Chant, the Uzhgorod, Mukachevo and Preshov traditions of Carpatho-Rus, and the Galician Chant.

Somewhere in all this dispersion of the earlier traditions there arose other varieties, some of which are still surviving, and others which are forgotten and only known about through literary sources. Of these, I am aware of the following:

a) Guslitskaia tradition. I'm not too knowledgeable of this tradition, but I suspect that this is the nomenclature for the current singing tradition which is preserved by the Old Believers of the Nizhnyi Novgorod region.

b) Kazan Chant. This is preserved in a few manuscripts, but is not completely decipherable.

c) Usol tradition. I know little of this tradition, but a husband-and-wife team at one of the major universities in Russia has been researching this tradition and publishing materials about it. I have not been able to obtain these materials yet.

d) Lipovan tradition. This is the oral tradition of the Old Believers in Ukraine and Romania. Due to a lack of access to chant books, many communities were forced to memorize a significant repertoire of chants, resulting in a very flexible and mutable oral tradition. (This is one of the singing traditions in the Oregon community of Old Believers.)

e) Semeiskii tradition. This is the oral tradition of the Old Believers in the Zabaikal region of Siberia. Several musicologists have done a lot of work making field recordings of these people, but I have yet to see any written description or analysis of this tradition.

f) Valaam tradtion. This is a partially oral tradition preserved by the monastic communities of the Valaam monastery and the surrounding area. It tends to simplify the Muscovite tradition, smoothing out the complexities of the melodies, and mixing in later chant repertoires.

(While we can't forget about the extinct Kondakarion Chant, we can't include it in our list because it is not a derivative of the "proto-Znamenny" Chant; likewise with the "Bulgarian" Chant of Southwestern Russia.)

- - - - - - -

After looking at the "greater picture" which I just summarized, we can now begin to examine the situation which my colleague Jopi described from the perspective of "where does this fit in?". I suggest that the reasons we see considerable differences between the Type A and B Hiermoi are because of their lineage through the divergent chant schools. The "received" manuscripts differ in many details, including subtle variations of melodies and different arrangements of texts.

The Southwestern variants of Znamenny are wildly "unstable" because of the complex conditions that existed in the region (contact with the Unia, political and cultural pressures from Poland and Muscovy, suppressed educational systems, etc.). While most of the chants are obviously related to a simpler and older form of Muscovite Znamenny Chant, it seems that few manuscripts were exactly alike. This lack of uniformity is difficult to explain, but I suspect that the answer is connected with the process of transcribing the melodies directly from Type C neumatic notation to Kievan square-note notation - in different places and times, and by scribes who made no attemps to coordinate their efforts.

The Type B tradition is currently very stable and consistent (thanks to the scribal tradition of the Vyg Monastery in northern Russia and its surviving communities in Moscow and the Urals).

However, the Type A tradition of manuscripts is another matter. The paradox is that all the Type A books implement the reformed notation of Alexander Mezenets, who was commissioned by Patriarch Nikon to "clean up" the earlier chant books. Mezenets first of all introduced a revised notation, which was introduced into the Muscovite scribal tradition (and subsequently accepted by the priested Old Believers - a matter which puzzles me greatly); he then took part in a commission to adapt the older melodies and notation to Patriarch Nikon's revised liturgical texts. However, the commission was hampered by a lack of means to distribute these revised chant books, which allowed the Znamenny Chant to be replaced by the easy-to-sing "foreign invaders": the so-called "Greek Chant" and the Kievan Chant. If there had been a means of actually printing the chant books for mass distribution together with the corresponding text books, then I'm sure that the Znamenny Chant would still be the foremost style of chant in the modern Russian Church. But the Church "dropped the ball" and missed its opportunity to preserve its authentic chant tradition. The rest is history. (Modern musicologists understand this very well, and there are now scattered efforts throughout Russia to revive the Znamenny tradition.)

So, this leaves the question of WHY there are so many differences between the Type A chant books, the Synodal editions and Putulov's book. To understand the situation better, I think we need to look at the nature of the scribal tradition. The prime reason why Patriarch Nikon felt he needed to reform the books was because there was so much variation in the printed editions and the continued use of manuscripts. Therein lies the key! If there was so much variation in the text books, what was to prevent variation in the chant books? It is obvious that there were no "oversight committees" to ensure that all scribes copied chant books without making subtle changes. In those days Znamenny was still a living tradition, and scribes probably felt more freedom to keep working on their craft by producing "new and improved" versions. I can well imagine a talented musician introducing a subtle change here and there to make the text better fit the music (as he perceived it), or to "iron out a wrinkle". I would not be surprised to find that if one compared all the surviving Muscovite chant books from the late 1660s, one would find that very few would be exact duplicates. (The world was not full of "authenticity police" in those days. Moreover, I suspect that this holds true for Byzantine chant books from the same era.)

In the past few years I have come to observe many subtle differences among the Type A chant books used by the priested Old Believers. There are the books printed by Kalashnikov, Morozov and Metallov - each of which exhibit numerous differences in the melodies. Some melodies are the same, some have subtle differences, and some have been re-worked entirely. Occasionally one will even find a completely different musical setting of a text. This startled me at first, but I am starting to make some interesting observations and conclusions from all this.

Then we have to see how the surviving examples of Znamenny chants in the Synodal square-note books correlate with the Type A books. Beyond the obvious differences caused by the adaptation of melodies to the reformed texts, we can observe that some passages are completely different in unexpected ways, as if the musical arrangers found a passage too difficult to adapt and simply adapted a different "popevka" (stock musical phrase) from the same Tone.

In conclusion, I theorize that the editors of the Synodal square-note chant books used only a few "original" neumatic sources for the production of these volumes, or were forced to select whatever they could lay their hands on at the time (which was more than a century after the Nikonian Reforms). (Obviously they did not have the resources to produce definitive editions, making note of variant passages in other sources. They needed to produce books that encouraged uniformity, and so we have only what they chose to give us.) Potulov, then, was able to make use of a different set of manuscripts than the ones used by the Synodal Press, which would account for the many subtle differences in his variety (and interpretation) of Znamenny Chant. Moreover, after examining the Solovetskii Ochtoechos, which amazingly is in Type A neumatic notation with reformed texts, one can see yet again another set of variations in the Znamenny melodies. The implications are significant, and they support my "theory of scribal freedom".