There are many misunderstandings, even among experts, concerning the history of the Latin and the Greek rite in Southern Italy:

1st misunderstanding: Gregorian chant is neither the tradition of Rome nor it is the tradition of the Roman Schola cantorum, but the late history of Gregorian chant is based on the Carolingian reception of a sacramentary which might be correctly called "Hadrianum" and of the Carolingian reception of the ordines romani which only survived in copies written in Carolingian scriptoria! Next to some areas of Gregorian chant among the even later history of Siculo-Norman chant on the island of Sicily (which depended on Cluny as an 11th-century reform centre), many local customs existed everywhere (which had been usually documented in the Adriatic by Beneventan script and in case of notated sources Beneventan neumes), with centres in Milan (own notation and script), Aquilea, Ravenna, Rome, Montecassino, Benevento, Naples, Amalfi, Salerno, Canosa and Bari (until the Norman conquest of the residence of the Byzantine Catepanate of Italy).

2nd misunderstanding: The Roman tradition like most traditions of the Mediterranean (including Constantinople) was neither continuous nor uninterrupted. The Roman rite was brutally interrupted by wars, plagues and the Tiber flood, and re-established under pope Gregory the Great, a former diplomate in Constantinople. Part of it was an augmentation of the alleluia verse preceding the Gospel reading which was formerly sung only once per year during the feast of resurrection. This augmentation of the custom was known since Egon Wellesz and Bruno Stäblein and James McKinnon's hard efforts to dissaprove it did fail and was actually the reason, why his alleluia study had never been published except of its very intense preface. Nevertheless, this history and the central place of the alleluia verse in the former Roman rite was the key to the current meaning of the Roman and Gregorian alleluia verse, which did not exist in those traditions (Constantinople and Milan) which had been the point of reference for pope Gregory I. Further on, "both Romes" shared the practice of cheironomiai (gestic communication to direct the choir) and certain legal titles for the singers! As such the use of notation was not even necessary during celebrations. 

3rd misunderstanding: The so-called "Oriental schism", nowadays called East-West schism in 1054, was neither the end of Byzantine Italy nor the end of the Greek rite anywhere in Italy (as often claimed), but a farce without any political meaning (not even concerning church history), because the patriarch Michael I Keroularios (a trouble-maker like those cardinals of the legacy who tried to excommunicate him) was excommunicated in the name of a Pope who had already died as war prisoner of the Normans. Relevant was only the political turn of reform papacy towards the Normans, who had been received at Montecassino Abbey with acclamations for Roger Guiscard as formally accepted secular rulers and papal vassals in charge to liberate Sicily from the Taifa kingdom with the court near Palermo. Since Roger had to accept papal primacy among the patriarchates of Constantinople, Antiochia, Jerusalem and Alexandria, the distinction between church provinces of the Latin and the Greek rite was born, which also concerned the Greek centres Bari, Otranto, Taranto, Rossano, Crotone, Gerace and Reggio calabria after Bohemond I's conquest of Bari (even if the process to take over administration did take a long time). If one shares a certain fixation of musicologists on notation of Western plainchant, one must even admit: on the contrary, the real flower of Byzantine chant in Italy developed after the schism between the 12th and the 13th centuries during the Norman and Staufer period of Italian history, and its main centres were Saint Neilos' Abbey of Grottaferrata near Rome and Roger II's Royal Foundation of the Archimandritate Saint Saviour of Messina. Such a point of view on the surviving artefacts is justified and understandable, but dismisses the less centralised and rather independent forms of earlier Greek monasticism during the Byzantine rule of Southern Italy, documented mainly by euchologia, typika and horologia without musical notation. The liturgical typikon of the Archimandritate Messina was written by the founder of Santa Maria del Patir (Nea Hodegetria) in the woods near Rossano, Bartholomew of Simeri (died on 19 August 1130), on request of the Normans at Messina, because he had the necessary experience as a reforming higoumenos on Mount Athos and thus, also experience with the monastic presence of the cathedral rite.

4th misunderstanding: The cathedral rite of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, on the other hand, is neither uninterrupted. It left the Polis in 1204 at latest and disappeared about 60 years and never returned to it under the Palaiologan dynasty. Its disappearance was not simply caused by Western crusaders, but also by intrigues at the Constantinopolitan court. The new trends of the Palaiologan Constantinople and its modernised "mixed rite" culminated in kalophonia (flourishing the traditional chant, including the repertoire of over-regional chant books sticherarion and heirmologion which were all included in one book called "akolouthiai") which was caused by a diaspora reception of the cathedral rite and its books within the medium of Middle Byzantine round notation, and the result was a synthesis of different chant books and new possibilities to combine different styles. The Hagia Sophia of Thessalonica, on the other hand, continued without interruption the tradition of the same rite with certain local features in melopœia. It also embraced Constantinopolitan innovations, but with a certain reservation. This continuous tradition of the Polis Thessalonica persisted until the Ottoman caption in 1430.

5th misunderstanding: There has never been such a thing like a "short and a long psaltikon style"! Thodberg's distinction classified the 4 kontakaria-asmatika, a unique book which was created at the scriptorium of the Archimandritate right at the port of Messina, as "short psaltikon style". He argued that the number of kontakia combined with a prokeimenon and an allelouïarion in this book was larger than those of the wide-spread notated book kontakarion-psaltikon. Thodberg's methodological problem is a fixation on notated sources and the classical repertoire without reflecting it as a monastic diaspora reception, but with his focus on Grottaferrata and Messina (also present as "two redactions" in Floros' kontakia edition) he abandoned in his study other centres of this reception such as Patmos, Sinai and Athos (close to the exile of Nicaea). Thodberg argued that the Messina redaction was shorter, but this is only partly true. The combination of the choir book to be studied by the choir leaders (asmatikon) and the book of the soloists who sang from the ambo (monophonares), obviously due to the modest size of the cathedrals at Messina and at Rossano, also caused the development of new genres such as koinonikon psaltikon (which originally had been written only in the asmatikon, because it had to be performed by the choir, likely with soloistic parts sung by the choir leader). The psaltic versions of Messina and of Rossano are longer elaborations and much wider in ambitus and they do not serve as evidence for a "short style". I rather suggest to regard it as a local style in Calabria and Sicily which had been unique and in certain cases even extremely sophisticated, but not necessarily representative for Constantinople. I also suggest that each realisation of the conventional kontakarion-psaltikon in most genres must be regarded as unique documenting the elaboration of an individual protopsaltis whose art needed to be documented under the given circumstances. Middle Byzantine notation simply developed in those years and even in Italian books the name of the realising psaltis whose version was documented, was sometimes mentioned. For older customs and the appropriate gestic asmatikon notation, we need to study the earlier evidence of Slavic kondakar's and their kondakarian notation. 

6th misunderstanding: There has never been such a development that Palestinian canon poetry replaced the kontakion in the time of Theodore Stoudites! First of all, contemporarily to Andrew of Crete at Mar Saba there has been an important Constantinopolitan school for canon poetry around patriarch Germanos I, but it did not replace the kontakion, not then and not later. Quite the opposite, monastic hymnographers rather embraced the kontakion as a troparic genre with a very reduced number of oikoi, but they were usually dedicated to saints and less connected to propaganda and Justinian's politics unlike many compositions by Romanos. Romanos' kontakia, even most of them are liturgical, also did represent in an anachronistic way the adventurous history of Hagia Sophia III since its inauguration and the announcement of its inauguration. The maximal repertoire collected by Floros was 86 kontakia and due to his entire transcription of the classical repertoire currently the musicologist with the most profound insights (found in Middle Byzantine kontakaria-psaltika as well as in the four kontakaria-asmatika written at Messina which he had compared after his edition with the earlier Slavic kondakar's), but the unnotated kondakaria-tropologia contain about 750 kontakia, with about 500 kondakia composed since the 9th century made over 14 kontakia-idiomela as models for the prooimion and 13 as models for the oikoi whose simple melodies must have been so well-known that it was not necessary to fix them in musical notation (not even in the Slavic menaia)! Thus, it is useful to make a difference between the classical repertoire rooted in Constantinople and preferably ascribed to Romanos, and an overregional repertoire of modern kontakia, and a third Slavic genre Akafist which imitated the acrostic kontakion with many oikoi inspired by the Akathistos hymnos with 24 oikoi dedicated to the Archangel Michael (25 March). One could rather argue that the homiletic canon poetry replaced the simple psalmodic recitation of biblical odes which did not follow the canon order concerning the Orthros of the Asma. The festal custom which could be well celebrated in a Greek monastery on Holy Mount Athos, at Grottaferrata, Messina or Rossano calabro, when the monastery expected visitors (either as an urban community in a regular cathedral or just on particular occasions), was to sing a melismatic hypakoe after the third ode and a melismatic kontakion after the sixth ode. Also here the new book psaltikon-asmatikon of Messina added a second new genre which has never existed elsewhere: the hypakoe asmatike (it means for two or three feasts an additional genre had been created, the so-called "hypakoe of the choir", as a possible option next to the conventional "psaltic hypakoe").

I wrote this discussion also as an invitation to read my newest contributions about Byzantine Italy and the cathedral rite of Salerno whose publication is still in preparation.


Carsten Høeg, ed., Contacarium Ashburnhamense : Codex Bibl. Laurentianae Ashburnhamensis 64 Phototypice Depictus, Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae Series Principalis 4 (Copenhagen: Munksgård, 1956). extract.

Christian Thodberg, Der byzantinische Alleluiarionzyklus: Studien im kurzen Psaltikonstil, transl. into German by Holger Hamann, Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, Subsidia 8 (Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard, 1966).

Miguel Arranz, Le typicon du Monastère du Saint-Sauveur à Messine: Codex Messinensis Gr 115, A.D. 1131, Orientalia Christiana analecta 185 (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1969).

Jørgen Raasted, ‘Zur Melodie des Kontakions Ἡ παρθένος σήμερον’, Cahiers de l’Institut Du Moyen-Âge Grec et Latin 59 (1989): 233–46.

Alexander Lingas, ‘The Liturgical Place of the Kontakion in Constantinople’, in Liturgy, Architecture and Art of the Byzantine World: Papers of the XVIII International Byzantine Congress (Moscow, 8–15 August 1991) and Other Essays Dedicated to the Memory of Fr. John Meyendorff, ed. Constantin C. Akentiev, vol. 1, Byzantino Rossica (St. Petersburg, 1995), 50–57, academia.

Donatella Bucca, ‘Quattro testimoni manoscritti della tradizione musicale bizantina nell’Italia meridionale del secolo XIII’, Musica e Storia, no. 1/2000 (2000): 145–68, doi:10.1420/12488.

James W. McKinnon and Christian Thodberg, ‘Alleluia (Latinized Form of Heb. Halleluyah: “Praise God”; Gk. Allēlouїa)’, in Grove Music Online, 2001. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.40711.

Evangelia Ch. Spyrakou, Οἱ χοροὶ ψαλτῶν κατὰ τὴν Βυζαντινὴ παράδοση [Singers’ Choirs According to the Byzantine Tradition], Idryma Vyzantines Mouzikologias 14 (Athens: Kapodistrian UP, 2008).

Constantin Floros and Neil K. Moran, The Origins of Russian Music - Introduction to the Kondakarian Notation (Frankfurt, M. [u.a.]: Lang, 2009).

Artamonova, Yulia. 'Kondakarion Chant: Trying to Restore the Modal Patterns.' Musicology today, 16 (2013).

Constantin Floros, Das mittelbyzantinische Kontaktienrepertoire. Untersuchungen und kritische Edition. 3 vols. Universität Hamburg: Habilitation 1961, 2015.

Antonino Tranchina, ‘The Depiction of Lingua Phari and the Church of Holy Savior in the Brukenthal Collection’s “Crucifixion” by Antonello da Messina’, Brukenthal. Acta Musei XI, no. 2 [Istoria Artei] (2016): 189–201.

Maddalena Vaccaro, ‘Immagine, scrittura e spazio architettonico del mosaico pavimentale di Santa Maria del Patir a Rossano’, in Calabria greca, Calabria latina: segni monumentali di una coesistenza (secoli XI-XII), ed. Margherita Tabanelli and Antonino Tranchina, Medioevo mediterraneo 5 (Roma: Campisano editore, 2020), 85–98.

Oliver Gerlach, 'The Sources of the Kontakion as Evidence of a Contradictory History of Reception.' In Theorie und Geschichte der Monodie – Bericht der Internationalen Tagung Wien 2018, ed. Maria Pischlöger. Theorie und Geschichte der Monodie, 10:145-88. Brno: Tribun EU, 2020. academia.

———, ‘The Easter Koinonikon in the Style of Rossano: The Unknown Italian Contribution to Byzantine Chant as Registered World Heritage’, Series Musicologica Balcanica 3, no. 2 (2022). academia.

———, ‘La storia del verso alleluiatico a Natale tra Roma e la Sicilia e il breviario missale di Salerno’, in Il breviario-messale di Salerno del Museo Leone di Vercelli. Una nuova fonte per la storia dell’arte, della cultura e della liturgia, ed. Maddalena Vaccaro and Gionata Brusa (Battipaglia, 2022), 279–303. academia.

Related discussions in this network

Groupe Neumes et paléographie

The oldest notated office from Nonantola

Groupe Vieux-Romain

Online BAV Vat. lat. 5319 en couleur

Graduale Santa Cecilia di Trastevere

The Old-Roman practice of Alleluia singing

Eduard Henrik Aubert: "When the Roman liturgy became Frankish"

Gruppo Diversità liturgica in Italia ed Adria

Donatella Bucca: Catalogo dei manoscritti musicali greci del SS Salvatore

Tropario-sequenziari siculo-normanni (XII secolo) al internet

Norman Palatine Chapel Palermo

Byzantine and Orient group

Discussion of the Byzantine tonal system

Five Akolouthiai at the National Library of Greece

Reconstructions of the Byzantine cathedral rite

Discussions tagged kontakion

Groupe Autour de Cluny

Guillaume de Volpiano, abbé fondateur en Normandie

You need to be a member of Musicologie Médiévale to add comments!

Join Musicologie Médiévale

Email me when people reply –


  • Please do not hesitate to engage into further discussion of any of the mentioned topics...

This reply was deleted.