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Except for the important Protopsaltes Konstantinos Byzantios Semeiomatarion and unpublished third edition Typikon, the manuscripts of Byzantine Chant house in the collection range from the ninth to nineteenth centuries.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!