Discussion of the Byzantine tonal system


After Oliver Strunk’s study of the Byzantine tonal system in 1942, mainly based on Late Byzantine sources of the Papadikai, there has been very few resonance around Christian Thodberg’s study of the tonal system of the kontakarion 60 years ago. Christian Thodberg aimed the whole cathedral rite, although he mentioned and studied only the kontakia in Middle Byzantine notation, but also with respect to the tonal system behind the repertoire of proper chant such as prokeimena and allelouiaria (which was only exceptionally mass chant unlike the corresponding antiphonal responsoria such as graduals and alleluia verses in Western plainchant).

Thus, Thodberg’s study was much closer to the Byzantine rite in the narrow sense (church music during ceremonies at the Constantinopolitan Hagia Sophia) than Oliver Strunk’s essay which focussed on a synthesis of the later mixed rite, when the former cathedral rite had been abandoned according to his own observation. The discussion has not developed much during the last decades and there are many open questions about the tone system of the Asma and its organisation and what was its impact on the Slavic reception documented by the kondakar’s since 1100 (beginning with the Tipografsky Ustav).


Thodberg, Christian. The Tonal System of the Kontakarium: Studies in Byzantine Psalticon style. Historisk-filosofiske meddelelser, 37:7. Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard, 1960.
Husmann, Heinrich. “Modalitätsprobleme des psaltischen Stils.” Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 28, Nr. 1 (1971): 44–72. jstor.
Thodberg, Christian. “The Discussion of the Psaltikon Tonality.” In Report of the Eleventh Congress of the International Musicological Society, Copenhagen 1972, ed. Henrik Glahn, Søren Sørensen, and Peter Ryom, 2:782–90. Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen, 1974.
Artamonova, Yulia. “Kondakarion Chant: Trying to Restore the Modal Patterns.” Musicology today, 16 (2013).
Floros, Constantin. Das mittelbyzantinische Kontaktienrepertoire. Untersuchungen und kritische Edition. Universität Hamburg: Habilitation 1961, 2015.
Pfisterer, Andreas. “Beobachtungen zum mittelbyzantinischen Kontakion.” In Theorie und Geschichte der Monodie – Bericht der Internationalen Tagung Wien 2016, ed. Maria Pischlöger. Theorie und Geschichte der Monodie, 9,2:759–74. Brno: Tribun EU, 2018.
Gerlach, Oliver. “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.

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