The New Method of Musical Notation in the Greek Church and the Μεγα Θεωρητικον της Μουσικης (B)


A New Approach to the Work of Chrysanthos of Madytos

The three teachers retained, instead, the use of the martyriai of the echoi which were to act both as key signatures from which the intervals were indicated precisely, and as symbols of the starling note from which all the following neumes established their pitches.

The principle by which the diastematic neumes operated was also preserved. Only those neumes indicating the interval of the ascending and descending second, the descending fourth and the ison (which indicates repetition) were used alone since they denoted both quantity and quality. All the other neumes represented quantity only and had to be combined with those indicating a second (their number exceeded all the others) in order to obtain some quality as well.

One innovation with respect to the diastematic neumes in the New Method was that they were reduced in number—from 15 to 10. For example, the six neumes of the ascending second were reduced to three, the two neumes of the descending second were reduced to one and the two neumes that symbolized a particular way of executing two consecutive descending seconds were also reduced to one. Moreover, the allegorical grouping of the neumes into bodies (neumes for the intervals of a second) and spirits (neumes for intervals larger than a second) was abolished “not only because this division is inconsiderate…. but also because such prolixities are not permitted in music today” [12].

With regard to the qualitative neumes, whose number had reached 40 in the old system, the reformers were much more radical. Their system made use of only eleven. It cannot be estimated with certainty which of the so-called ‘great signs’ had their original meaning changed and whether these changes were imposed by the three teachers or had taken place earlier. It is certain, however, that in the New Method derivatives of three neumes in this category were used for the expression of rhythmical subdivisions corresponding to those of Western music [13]. One of them was also used for the writing of tempo marks that expressed the value of one chronos [beat] in seconds or fractions of a second.

Another disguised Western element, the application of which had most positive results in music education, was the monosyllabic sol-fa system that replaced the awkward and fruitless solmization with the polysyllables of the intonation formulae” [14].

The disguised form of the Guidonian system [15] ” was composed by adding a vowel, a consonant or a diphthong to the first eight letters of the Greek alphabet (pA, Bou, Ga, Di, kE, Zo, nE). A directly formal change should also be mentioned, that is, the substitution of all Turkish musical terms with Greek words.

Finally, the reformers expressed the theoretical values of the intervals in both the Pythagorean system, where the intervals corresponded to the lengths of a string and were symbolized as its ratios, and the Aristoxenean system used later in Europe by Ellis (born in the year of the reform), where the intervals were expressed as additions of a theoretical minimum unit. The New Method, according to P. G. Pelopides in his Foreword to the first edition of the Μέγα θεωρητικὸν (p. στ ́ ), was accepted by the Holy Synod and the three reformers were appointed to teach it in the Third Music School of the Patriarchate which operated from 1815 to 1821.

The two publications of Chrysanthos

In 1819 the three teachers charged their student, A. Thamyris, to go to Paris in order to supervise the publication of a manual on the New Method [16] designed, by Chrysanthos its author, as a school book. Its title in full was « Εἰσαγωγὴ εἰς τὸ θεωρητικὸν καὶ πρακτικὸν τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς μουσικῆς συνταχθεῖσα πρὸς χρῆσιν τῶν σπουδζόντων αὐτὴν κατἀ τὴν Νέαν Μέθοδον ». The book was published in 1821. One year earlier, another student of the same school, Panagiotes G. Pelopides, took, or according to G. Papadopoulos, [17] bought from Chrysanthos the Μέγα θεωρητικὸν. This was a different kind of work, much broader in content and scope. As its title tells, it is a general theory of music, not only of ecclesiastical music. It is not addressed to the students of Church music alone, but to all Greek musicians and music lovers. It is a secular work and, as …

The large number of sources known and used by Chrysanthos shows how extremely learned a man he was. This is particularly obvious when we consider the state of education in his time. Besides the sources already mentioned (the Εἰσαγωγ, [whose content is transferred almost entirely], and De Musica,[ some chapters of which – as, for example, the ones on rhythm – are also almost wholly taken over]), Chrysanthos makes frequent use of works by Aristoxenos, Euclid, Plato, Bacchius the Elder, the philosopher Gaudentius, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Manuel Bryennyos, Suidas, Nicomachos of Gerasa, Anthimos Gazes, Athenaeos, Manuel Chrysaphes the Elder, and Plutarch, in addition to anonymous manuscripts, the Bible and French encyclopaedias.

These sources, however, are patched together in such a slipshod manner that they bewilder the contemporary reader. In many cases, Chrysanthos incorporates in his text entire fragments without caring for their stylistic and linguistic differences. When he cites them, he makes no use of quotation marks or of correct reference notes. In some cases he gives rather inadequate translations of ancient texts, changing only those words that seem to him to be too archaic. The opening sentence of the Μέγα θεωρητικὸν is a case in point. It differs from its prototype only in its use of the verb ‘to be’, the modern Greek εἶναι having replaced the ancient ἐστὶ. Sometimes he gives a free translation of a fragment, at other times he paraphrases. Very often he collates the sentences of various texts or of various chapters of one text, either in translation or in the original language. Several of these idiosyncracies, or even all of them, are frequently combined within a few lines. In a few cases he quotes the original in a footnote and gives its translation in the text. But only in rare cases does he obey the rules of accurate citation.

Chrysanthos’s documentation, when it appears, is similarly inconsistent He usually gives either the name of the author alone, or the title of the work alone, or the author and a page number, or, at worst, an abridged name or title. For example, « Arist. » gives the reader a choice among any of the works by Aristotle, Aristoxenos or Aristides Quiniillianus!

This careless manner of writing results in a heterogeneous linguistic style which contrasts enormously with the simplicity and flow of the author’s first publication. However, the patchy quality of the Μέγα θεωρητικὸν, despite its aesthetic irritation, acts as an unintended substitute for quotation marks and as a guide which can reveal original sources [20].


K. Romanou, Athens, Greece


[12] Chrysanthos of Madytos, Εἰσαγωγὴ, p. 54.

[13] “The subdivision of two of these neumes was also contrived by Hieronymus in the mid-16th century in an astonishingly similar way. See Oliver Strunk, op. cit p. 103.

[14] “G. Papadopoulos says (op. cit., p. 333) that the new sol-fa system reduced the study of music to ten months from the ten years which were required before.

[15] Although Chrysanthos was aware of Guido’s system (see the Μέγα θεωρητικὸν τῆς μουσικῆς, Trieste, 1832, p. 9, par. 21 and n.a.), G. Papadopoulos says (op. cit., p. 334) that the new sol-fa system was derived from that of St. Ambrose whom he credits (p. 131) with the invention of the system using the syllables: ne, ou, tos, oun, a, na, ve, ne, ne, ou, tos, ke, ka, ta, ve, ne.

[16] C.  Papademetriou (ed.), Εἰσαγωγὴ, 2nd ed., Athens, 1940, p. ζ ́ 

[17] Op. cit., p. 341.

[20] They are given in Appendix II, p. 265 of my English translation of the book. This translation was a thesis which I submitted to the School of Music, Indiana University, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music.


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