Archons Cantors of the Great Church of Christ
Byzantine ecclesiastical music is an art and a science. Greek and foreign historians agree that the ecclesiastical tones and in general the whole system of Byzantine music is closely related to the Ancient Greek system.
All the musicians and the composers from the 3rd to the 7th century, when St John Damascene appears, were deeply into classical Greek letters and knew ancient greek music rather well, as it is also evident by their works.
This music, as of course every other form of art, was initially somewhat incomplete; but was advanced and developped throughout the centuries until today. The peak of Byzantine music, after the hymnology of the first centuries, starts from the 7th century with Romanos the Melodist, who may be considered to be the father of the ecclesiastical poetry in Byzantium.
In the Byzantine period, there were many excellent musicians and composers, such as: John Damascene, Kosmas the Melodist, Theodore the Stoudite, Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, Leo the Wise, Emperor Constantine the Porfyrogennetos, nun Kassiani, John Koukouzeles (who is considered to be the greatest figure after John Damascene), Xenos Korones, Archcantor of the St Sophia, John Kladas, Lambadarios of St Sophia, etc.
After the fall of Constantinople (1453 AD), the Byzantine Music remained basically the same. The Christians were gathered around the Patriarch and the Patriarchate. The Patriarch was the religious and the political leader of the Nation. The Patriarchate, the Patriarchal Church, the Great Church of Christ, was the ark in which Byzantine music found refuge and was preserved until today.
The conrinuous succession of Archon Archcantors and Archon Lambadarioi of the Great Church played a pivotal rôle in this. These people kept alive and passed down from generation to generation the whole liturgical and canonical order of the services and the tradition from the times before the Fall. During this later period, we distinguish some excellent cantors, such as Manuel Chrysaphes, priest Valasios, George Raidestinos, Panagiotis Chalatsoglou, Petros the Peloponnesian, Jacob the Peloponnesian, Petros Byzantios, et al.
In 1814, the Great Church of Christ decides to form a Musical Committee, ordering it to invent a new musical scripture which would be simpler to use. Thus, the music scripture that is still used today is a work of Chrysanthos, Gregorios, and Chourmouzios, the three inventor of the new musical writing, who transcribed and preserved the holy melodies fo the older musicians. From then on, the transcriptions of all the classical music texts of the Byzantine tradition are authorised by the Great Church, and are published initially in Bucarest, in Tergest, in Paris, and later in Constantinople.
After that we find further important musicians: Peter of Ephesus, Theodore Phoakeus, Panagiotis Keltzanides, George Sarantaecclesiotes, Nicholas Vlachopoulos, George Violakes, Jacob Nafpliotes, Constantine Priggos, Thrasyboulos Stanitsas, Basil Nikolaidis, and Leonidas Asteris, who is currently the Archcantor of the Great Church of Christ.
This handed down Byzantine music is a music of prayer, a music of worship. It is called byzantine, simply because it originated and was developped in Byzantium.
In Constantinople, the then capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Church was empowered and decorated with her wonderful arts: icon painting with mosaics, architecture, litterature with hymnography, and also ecclesiastical music.
Today, as descendants and heirs of the empire, we hold a live treasure: the holy troparia that were written, put to music and chanted in St Sophia, are still sung today the same, with the same music, in the same fashion in our holy temples. During the services of the Salutations to the Mother of God, and of the Holy Week, the Churches often do not have enough space to fill all the orhtodox faithful.
This is our Byzantine music, the music of John Damascene, of John Koukouzeles, and of Xenos Korones, the music that before the Fall was the music of the emperors and the patriarchs.