Cappella Romana in a virtual Hagia Sophia: Cherubic Hymn in Mode 1 (Χερουβικός Ύμνος)

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From a performance at Stanford University's Bing Concert Hall. February 1, 2013. Cherubic Hymn in Mode 1 - Manuel Chrysaphes, MS Mt. Athos, Iviron 1120 (1458...

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  • Video in discussion:

  • Just a few points:

    Dr Moran is quite correct that many medival Byzantine settingsof the Cherubic Hymn feature interchange between soloist(s) and choir(s). It is certainly on the wish list of both the Stanford researchers and Cappella Romana to perform some of those settings in the future. The shortest of those settings, however, probably last 15 minutes and some of the more elaborate ones may take up half an hour. Given the constraints of a 35-minute concert half, it seems best to choose a short setting that would allow a greater variety of contrasting pieces. Chrysaphes this fit the bill nicely. Since we have the composer's autograph, the choice of Chrysaphes also simplified the task of producing a viable performing edition.

    I can't prove that Chrysaphes's setting was actually used in Hagia Sophia, but it seems reasonable to assume that it could have been. Chrysaphes world for the imperial court and wrote at least one work as a result of a direct commission from Emperor Constanine XI (the one that comes to mind is his setting of 'Εγώ σήμερον γεγένηκά σε'.

    Parenthetically,, the singers also found the musical style of Chrysaphes's Mode 1 setting surprisingly forward-looking, with a sober and more or less melodically uniform approach that called to mind the cycle of weekday settings by Petros Lampadarios.

    Getting back to my initial point, all of us on the project would be thrilled to have the opportunity one day to perform the Messina 161 setting. As with so many other worthy possibilities for a non-profit ensemble on a shoestring budget, it is mainly a question of finding time and financial support!
  • The Cherubikon was incorporated into the Great Entrance ceremony in the Hagia Sophia prior to 1204 as follows:

    Choir:    Οἱ τὰ Χερουβεὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες .. sung during preparations in the prosthesis

    Soloist: τὸν Τρισάγιον ὕμνον προσάδοντες … entry of gifts and procession down north side of the Hagia Sophia and across to the ambo

    Soloist: Four antiphons sung before ambo while clergy with the Gifts waits from the arrival of the imperial or patriarch procession from the right side – doors of the ambo open at the text Ευλογημένος ο ερχόμενος

    Soloist: πᾶσαν νῦν βιοτικὴν ἀποθώμεθα μέριμναν …  Ἀλληλούϊα.

    Choir:    Ἀλληλούϊα.

    Soloist: Τάξεσιν Ἀλληλούϊα – during dialogue: Orate pro me preparations

    Deacon: Litany

    This text is from the Codex Messina gr. 161.  The report of Anthony of Novgorod dating from the year 1200 supplies further data on the manner of performance. 

    At the Transfer the castrati chant, however beforehand the subdeacons, priests and deacons carry in the Divine Gifts.  At that same time there takes place a great weeping and emotion and humility among all the people, not only in the Hagia Sophia but also in the galleries”. 

    Even in a manuscript from the 15th century, Codex Sinai 1293, the Cherubikon was divided between a choir, the monophonaris and the domestikos. 

    Since Constantinople fell in 1453, it is unlikely that the Cherubic Hymn by the 15th century Manuel Chrysaphes  (fl. 1440–1463) was ever performed in the Hagia Sophia. 

    The parts for the soloists from the Messina manuscript are published in: "The Musical 'Gestaltung' of the Great Entrance Ceremony in the 12th century in accordance with the Rite of Hagia Sophia, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 28 (1979), 167-193. 



  • Part 2 (!)

    Just a few remaining points:

    The research team was certainly aware that filling Hagia Sophia full of tapestries and bodies would have to some extent modified the acoustics. Indeed, Prof. Pentcheva deals with this question explicitly on p. 104 of her Gesta article. Be that as it may, the singers among us regularly experience analogous changes every time we do a dress rehearsal and then a concert in the same space, and our experience of singing hundreds of concerts has been that most buildings (especially large stone churches) tend to retain their essential acoustic character. This seems to have been sensed by Paul the Silentiary, whose ekphrasis of Hagia Sophia (as Prof. Pentcheva notes) evokes 'thundering voices' among 'marble meadows solidly assembled along the walls' and a 'hauntingly high naos'.

    Nearing the end now, as Artistic Director of Cappella Romana I certainly had Dr Moran's pioneering work on the choir of Hagia Sophia and its castrato singers in mind when putting together our set of chants for Bing Hall. Of ca. 35 minutes, only about 16 have been placed on YouTube. The Cherubic Hymn by the 15th-c composer Manuel Chrysaphes was intentionally sung only with men precisely because it did not belong to the early or middle Byzantine periods. Readers may have noted that women are singing in the other video of a Prokeimenon from MS Patmos 221, an artistic choice that was made precisely because of the presence of eunuch singers prior to 1204. The women also performed in most of the other unrecorded chants: the apolytikion of the Resurrection in Mode I (which they did by themselves, thus standing in either for the eunuchs or one of the other treble ensembles known to have sung in Hagia Sophia: i.e. the boys of the Orphanotropheion or the choir of deaconesses); the Kontakion of the Annunciation (in the short melody from St Petersburg 674), and the Trisagion (Asmatikon melody from the Lavra MS).

    In conclusion, I should again stress that this is all work in progress. Even as such, the people in attendance were blown away. The San Francisco Classical Voice critic had this to say about the chant from Hagia Sophia:

    "It is impossible to describe the experience objectively; to even attempt to do so would miss the point of a sensual experience meant to induce a transcendent state. Throwing all caution to the winds, as it were, the “performance” was the closest to lift-off I have experienced short of chemically enhanced listening sessions or the final hours of a seven-days meditation intensive." - Jason Victor Serinus


  • Since the brief YouTube description provided by CCRMA's videographer only scratched the surface of the Icons of Sound project, it is understandable that some matters might require further explanation for specialists. Having said that, I should note first that: a) this is very much work in progress and makes no claims to definitive historical verisimilitude; and b) the technical aspects of this project are best addressed by Jonathan Abel and his colleagues, much of whose research is either in press or still in progress. Indeed, this project stands at the cutting edge of both computer modelling of sound within architectural spaces and virtual reality for both performers and audiences.

    For the moment, interested readers will find a preliminary summary of CCRMA's acoustic research in and on the acoustics of Hagia Sophia in Bissera V. Pentcheva, 'Hagia Sophia and Multisensory Aesthetics', Gesta 50/2 (2011): 93–111. In it Prof Pentcheva briefly describes how the Stanford team used 'a new method of measuring and reproducing room acoustics by recording the sounds of balloons popping' in order to measure the Impulse Response of Hagia Sophia, an aspect of the building's acoustics that had remained unpublished by the Danish team.

    The existing recording of a Cherubic Hymn (the one recorded by Angelopoulos) was then used at an early stage of research to test how one might 'convolve' sonic data 'with Hagia Sophia's late field reverberation. In the process, [Abel] developed a new method of convolving anechoic performance with an Impulse Response derived directly from in situ balloon pop measurements'. What Prof. Pentcheva does not say here is that members of CCRMA had also been experimenting on a wide range of sites, including pre-Columbian religious structures in the Andes. The new methods of measurement and modelling were thus created by researchers with experience of a broad range of architectural spaces.

    The next stage occurred two years ago, when Cappella Romana–already in the San Francisco Bay Area for other engagements–visited CCRMA in between singing services at Annunciation Cathedral and our flights home in order to sing a few items from the rite of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia.  This enabled the team to begin the work of moving from computer modelling with a single recorded source to the more complex task of placing individual voices within the modelled acoustic (we were each individually mic'd) and adjusting singers' aural perspective within a virtual acoustic space (we were each listening in one ear to the ourselves as a group as our placement was shifted in 'Hagia Sophia').

    The public concert half of music originally conceived for Hagia Sophia that we performed in Bing Hall represented a further advance in auralisation: an effort to reproduce not only for singers (we were once again individually mic'd) but also for listeners (via an array 24 speakers in the hall) the experience of being in the Great Church. The technical team involved not only local researchers from CCRMA, but also a team from McGill University in Montreal that had previously produced the Virtual Haydn project for Naxos Records ( . Here the emphasis was on the perspective of the listeners/audience, leaving the singers to work on two tracks as they dealt with both the natural acoustics of the wood stage (for ensemble and our perception of blend) and the sound coming through the speaker array. In the days that followed this concert, as the men of Cappella Romana stayed at Stanford to record our Good Friday in Jerusalem programme in the natural acoustics of Memorial Church (we performed two different concert programmes on successive days at the university), we made other trips up to the CCRMA studio in order to make additional experimental recordings. We very much hope that this collaboration will continue and yield further technical and musical refinements

    The Virtual Haydn
  • The Icons of Sound of Stanford Center for Computer Research for Music and Acoustics investigated the Hagia Sophia in 2010.  They did four balloon pops executed in the space underneath the dome. Two people were involved: a guard of the Aya Sofya Müzesi held the balloon and stood 3-5 meters away from the researcher, B. Pentcheva: “Pentcheva stood beneath the great dome, two omnidirectional microphones clipped to the hair above her ears. Approximately 10 feet in front of her, a museum guard pricked the balloon while the microphones recorded the pop in stereo”.  Back at Stanford, J. Abel processed and analyzed the recording to extract a signal and then constructed a computational model which could be applied to any piece of music, “thereby transforming it such that the output is sonically identical to what it would have sounded like in the actual space”. (

    Criticism of the Research Results: 

    1.            The Stanford researchers only made a few tests from the area under the dome.  The tests were made in an empty building at a position not used by the singers. 

    2.            The principle of using balloon pops to construct a hypothetical model is vague and questionable: “we started with a recorded performance of the Herubikon by the Byzantine Greek Choir of Lycourgos Angelopoulos in Fontevraud Abbey, and re-imagined it as if it were performed in Hagia Sophia.”

    3.            The CAHRISMA project of 9126735680?profile=original2003-2004 tested the acoustics both the Hagia Sophia and various mosques in Istanbul and found “The main acoustic difference lies in the floor, where the mosque is covered with carpets, and the church and museum has a marble floor”.  (  In the Byzantine period however the spaces to the left and right of the nave were hung with curtains.   

    4.            Any investigation would have to take into consideration all the areas where music was performed including the railing around the dome.  The place of the singers was on the ambo located before the altar screen and along the passageway leading from the ambo to the altar railings.  During the coronation ceremony platforms were erected before the coronation floor mosaics in front of the emperor’s metatorium.  For the acclamations the singers ascended to the area around the dome. 

    5.            During the early and middle Byzantine period the repertoire of the Hagia Sophia was sung by castrati.  Cf. illustration: Athos, Cod. Dionysiou 587 m, f. 43 (11th c.): Soloist singing Akathistos kontakion on the ambo. Cf. Neil Moran, The Choir of the Hagia Sophia, Oriens Christianus 89 (2005) 1-7 and Byzantine Castrati, Plainsong and Medieval Music  11 (2002), 99-112


  • Splendid! I see that the photos I made from the reader, came out very well.

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