Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Byzantine chant
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

The name given to the Christian chant of the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church. In 330 Constantine the Great made Byzantium (henceforth Constantinople) capital of the Roman Empire; but only in 527, with the coronation of Justinian I as emperor, did Byzantine liturgy, art, and music gain supremacy throughout the empire. Other important dates are 726–843 (the iconoclastic age), 1054 (the final break from Roman Catholicism), and 1453 (the sack of Constantinople by the Turks). During the course of the 11th century the introduction of new hymns was forbidden, and the power of the Byzantine Empire was broken with the establishment of the Latin Empire (1204–61). However, the restoration of the Eastern Empire in 1261 led to a renaissance which lasted for a century, followed by a gradual deterioration until the end of the empire.

Byzantine music and liturgy were dominated by its hymns, which adorned the Offices rather than the Mass. The troparion (later sticheron) was an intercalation between the verses of a psalm. The kontakion was a sermon in verse, sung after the reading of the Gospel at the Morning Office. At the end of the 7th century it was replaced by the kanon, consisting of nine odes of nine stanzas each: each ode had its own melody. Finally acclamations to the emperor were sung throughout the period; unlike music actually sung in church, these were accompanied by instruments, especially the organ.

Byzantine music, notated in neumes, is based on a system of eight modes (echoi), defined by characteristic melodic formulas as well as by tonality. The verse itself it is Semitic in origin. The comparative simplicity of earlier and middle Byzantine music gave way, at the end of the period, to a highly embellished style in which the balance between verse and music tended to be destroyed.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article 410
The Hutchinson Chronology of World History

Byzantine scholar Synosius of Cyrene devises a simple form of astrolabe that he gives to a friend in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey), with

Full text Article 1 August 527
The Hutchinson Chronology of World History

Justin I, Eastern Roman emperor 518-27 and a champion of Christian orthodoxy against the Monophysites and Arians, dies in Constantinople (modern Ist

Full text Article Byzantine Empire
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Empire, southeastern and southern Europe and western Asia. It began as the city of Byzantium, which had grown from an ancient Greek colony founded

See more from Credo