K. A. Psachos Digital Music Library now online!

7 05 2008

K. A. Psachos was an important Byzantine Musicologist of last century. Together with people like Simon Karas, their scholarship and field-work serve as the link for all of us today that kept alive the true interpretation and understanding of the history and development of Byzantine chant notation. The K. A. Psachos Music Library Collection has recently been posted on the Web.

His personal library was bought by the Music Department of the University of Athens under the supervision of Prof. Gregorios Th. Stathis, who knew Psachos’ widow personally. When I was doing research for my dissertation I had to go to her home to view the MSS I needed for my work. Today, however, we can study these important manuscripts and historical music publications at the University Music Department Library. It also looks like (hopefully) we’ll be able to study them online very soon.

This site, Peramos is part of the project to digitize all of the University of Athens libraries: Historical Archive, Folklore Collection, Theatrical Collection and the K. A. Psachos Music Library Collection. So far, I only see the first few folios of each manuscript; I hope they’re not going to stop there. It would be a shame to this great legacy.

Except for the important Protopsaltes Konstantinos Byzantios Semeiomatarion and unpublished third edition Typikon, the manuscripts of Byzantine Chant house in the collection range from the ninth to nineteenth centuries. Of special interest for anyone interested in the exegesis of the chants from the old to New Method of chant notation is the Gregorios Protopsaltes Archive, containing manuscripts from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries. There are 203 objects in that archive alone.

Finally, and for the first time in print, we can have a complete list of the contents of the K. A. Psachos library. The catalog listing alone speaks volumes as a chronicle of the history of Byzantine Chant. Anthologia, Papadikai, Sticheraria, Heirmologia, Theories, Anastasimataria, Doxastaria, and Akolouthiai, but even Greek folk and Turkish songs. You can also see examples of the Lesbian and Bucharest chant notation systems.

The collection is divided into five units:

  1. Gregorios protopsaltes Archive
  2. Collection of parchment manuscripts [Fragments]
  3. K. A. Psachos Collection of Musical Manuscripts
  4. Books
  5. Recordings

The Recordings sections seems mute to me, though. They’re not historical recordings, but modern recordings. I’m not sure why they are even there. Have to ask questions about that.

For all the excitement of actually seeing the fruit of a project we’ve been hearing about for a number of year now, there are some serious issues that raise questions about the quality of the project in terms of its purpose, especially when taking into consideration the fact that is a national university.

With regards to the quality of the digital photography, I would also mention another important lacuna; there are neither standard metrics, nor color profiles embedded into the images.

With regards to the presentation of the manuscripts, there are fields for the item number, century, composer and notation. Also, when you have a fragment of a composition the initia are given. We’re fine up to here, but what about the scribe? The search mechanism could use some developments, also.

The big let-down, however, is not just that there are thumbnails for only the first few folios (anywhere from 4-10 from what I can tell), but once you get past the second folio and you try to get a magnified view of the folio, you see the message, “Access to the resource adheres to copyright restrictions.” Each image also has a sprawling watermark, copyright image on it. OK, please tell me, what that means. Whose copyright? Gregorios protopsaltes’? Here we are again with the burning question of copyright of works of authors who have died well over 100 years ago. Or, is it the digital photograph that is copyright? More questions would include, digitization is indeed necessary for conservation purposes, but why would a university ignore the scholarly implications?

In any event, my mind is boggled, even though I’m excited looking at these historical MSS of Byzantine Chant I would leaf through back in 1980s and 90s. These treasures of our Byzantine Psaltic heritage should be available for close scholarly research and should be presented and preserved utilizing the latest in technology and best practices. Anyway, also quite tempered, it’s exciting to see manuscripts of Byzantine Chant online, always. God bless it!

Archbishop Hieronymos refers to the importance of our Byzantine psaltic and hymnographic spiritual heritage

18 02 2008

Athens: 16 February 2008; Metropolitan Church of Athens, Greece. This past Saturday the new Archbishop of Athens and All Greece was enthroned by the Hierarchy of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece in the Metropolitan Church of Athens, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Theotokos. As is normal for such events, it was followed by the national press, television and radio media.

While His Beatitude Hieronymos’ depth of learning and quality of communication was evident in the words he spoke, the spirit of his address—which he referred to as a public confession—was one that was a refreshing scent of spiritual fragrance. His spiritual and intellectual depth and breadth were punctuated in the address by his evidence spirit of humility. Most revealing was his awareness that the seat he was elected to is a heavy inheritance uniting him to the apostolic Saints Dionysios the Areopagite and Hierotheos of Athens. His closing bore witness to the virtue of spiritual detachment, using the words of Saint Kosmas Aetolos:

I, by the Grace of God, have neither bag, nor a wardrobe, or a home, and no other raso than the one I wear. And the stool I do have is not mine, but I have it because of You. Some call it a stool and others a throne. It is not as they call it. If they really want to know what it is, it is my grave for me and I am the deceased inside it who speaks to you. This tomb has the authority to teach kings and patriarchs, archbishops, priests, men and women, children and young maidens, young and old, and all the world.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord, from now unto the ages. Amen.

That said, the reason I’m posting here on the psalticBlog is because of His Beatitude’s reference to the importance of our Byzantine psaltic and hymnographic treasure. I’m sure you will find his words inspiring! You can see the original, full text on the Archdiocese of Athens page.

A second point which concerns my me is our responsibility for the course of the modern Greek cultural mainstream. Allow me to address the people of the arts, science and technology; to all those restless spirits who continuously concern themselves with the common inheritance and are not satisfied with the mundanity, the stagnancy of slavery to the obvious.

We, the ecclesiatical generals have an obligation to you and you have a duty to our Christian race and to history.

The Church must find ways to stimulate and inspire the human spirit, as it once gave birth to the arts and sciences and sparked culture, then, when stones bore witness to the greatness of Orthodox theology as it was expressed through architecture of the temples and monasteries, a time when Hagia Sophia, or the monasteries of Saint Lucas and Daphne bore witness with the flawless language of cultural achievement on the resurrected hope of mankind, a time when prose and poetry gave birth to expressions of the highest cultural values of the human spirit, like the Akathist Hymn or texts of the Fathers of the Church, and from the depths of human sensitivity emerged beauty of Byzantine music.

I hasten to explain: I do not ask you to re-create a militant Christian art. I invite and challenge you to rediscover with me the sources that nurtured the souls of our ancestors and gave birth to the civilization we have inherited.

In this time of globalization, the crisis of ideologies, false intelligentsia, the trivializing of artistic and intellectual creation and their submission to the voracious consumerism, as Church we have an inescapable duty to contribute to the production of civilization.

Our monasteries, our churches—including those in ruins—our hymnography, but also however many elements of our tradition that have survived in the modern Modern Greek cultural heritage, are trustworthy witnesses to the need for this convergence. I indicatively refer you to our Modern Greek painting, which hides within it the Byzantine hagiographic tradition, to poetry, which draws from the invisible wellspring of ecclesiastical hymnography, or to contemporary Greek music, popular or artistic, which hides within it the ‘roads’ of the Byzantine melos. Even in the super-realism of the newer painters, one can discern the influences of their icon-painting teachers.

All this cries out for our shared responsibility to connect again, Church and human creativity, to restore civilization again and to inaugurate cultural foundations for the future of our children and our land.

—Excerpt from the enthronement speech of His Beatitude, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Hieronymos (Athens: 16 February 2008).