1. The rhythm of Byzantine hymns

a. ‘Die Hypothese eines Mensuralisten?’ [The hypothesis of a mensuralist?], Die Musikforschung 35 (1982), 148-154.

b. ‘Enkele opmerkingen over ritme en metrum van de Byzantijnse gezangen’ [Some remarks about the rhythm and meter of Byzantine hymns], Mededelingen van het Instituut voor Liturgiewetenschap Rijksuniversiteit Groningen 17 (1983), 36-40.

See the articles in German as pdf (758 Kb).



The rhythm of the kanons and stichera in middle Byzantine notation are basically binary, with a regular succession of ‘upbeats’ and ‘downbeats’. With the exception of a few irregularities and of certain extensions of the final syllable of a phrase, this binary meter appears if we give the syllables that have diple, duo apostrophoi, two apostrophoi under each other, kratema, piasma, xeron klasma or a neum consisting of a bareia plus oxeia, petaste or apoderma the total value of two chronoi (long syllable), the other neums being given the value of one chronos (short syllable). Long syllables fall on the downbeat. The final syllables of the various phrases also fall on the downbeat, even when they are short. 

Short syllables with two tones forming an ascending second (greater ascending intervals in subdivision values do not occur) are indicated with duo kentemata as the second tone.  Short syllables with two tones forming a descending interval are indicated by a bareia, the second tone being not notated when it is an anticipation.  Short syllables with an appended lower second as a cursory grace note are indicated by a tzakisma, the ornamental tone being not notated when it is an anticipation.

In the case of short syllables, an oxeia or petaste indicates the place at which a melody begins to descend. The difference may be that a petaste indicates a glissando-like performance but an oxeia doesn’t. (Also in other contexts we must assume gliding melodic movements, in particular with duo kentemata, bareia, and piasma.) In the case of long syllables, an oxeia or petaste indicates the beginning of the second chronos.

The verse accents occur for 35% on long syllables, for 40% on short syllables falling on a downbeat, and for 25% on short syllables falling on a upbeat. Accents that do not fall on the downbeat generally occur, as compensation, at a melodic high point ;  they then have pitch accent. A kouphisma is found at a short syllable bearing the verse accent and falling on a upbeat immediately before the final syllable of a phrase. We must remember that the meter of Byzantine hymns is not to be compared with the strongly accented measures of later Western music, but should rather be considered as an ordering principle analogous to that of the mensural rhythm in the Renaissance. With a regular flowing tactus, word accents if musically well placed can well fall on the upbeat. It is precisely these ‘off-beat’ accents and the manner in which they are handled musically that provide Byzantine hymns with their special character, their charm. This may be a conscious stylistic element, allowing them to fulfill a rôle as mediator between the transcendent and the perceptible world.