By Horst Bernhard Loeschmann
Master’s Thesis, University of British Columbia, 1982
Abstract: It is only recently that the attention of musicologists has been directed to the study of Eastern church music as transmitted in 14th and 15th-century Byzantine manuscripts. This constitutes a reversal of the prejudices held by most pioneers in the discipline, who believed that the musical oeuvre of the late Byzantine empire was only a pallid reflection of a once magnificent style, and was, therefore, unworthy of detailed examination.
In its support of the current reassessment of the late Byzantine musical style, this study shows that, in spite of the declining fortunes of the empire, the composers of that time fashioned a vital and distinguished culmination to a millenium of liturgical composition.The thesis is limited to a clearly discernible entity within the 14th-century repertoire: the Easter Koinonikon, or Communion chant, [text omitted], a hymn conveyed by at least fourteen manuscripts representing the works of some seven composers. The eight settings considered here comprise the entire 14th-century collection of this chant that has survived the vicissitudes of time.
The method of investigation is both historical and analytical. Its results reveal a hitherto unsuspected degree of consanguinity among the musical materials of all seven composers, one which is delineated by the establishment of three distinct sub-groupings. These, in turn, further emphasize the presence of a known thesaurus of musical elements. A similarity of various compositional procedures also becomes evident. The most significant of these is the use of a refrain that is analagous to the Alleluia refrain which occurs in most other Communion hymns. There are, naturally, a number of stylistic differences that appear in the written tradition during the course of the century, and these reflect a gradual evolution of the composers’ idiom. Of particular interest to future studies is the development of a tentative chronology for these seven composers, since in many cases this supersedes their currently accepted dating.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that this study focusses attention and sheds new light on a neglected area of Byzantine music history, and indicates the need for continuing research in this field.