View RSS Feed


More "Early Music": Soeur Marie Keyrouz and Byzantine Music

Rate this Entry
Continuing on with my exploration of "Early Music":

According to Wikipedia: Byzantine music remains the oldest genre of extant music, of which the manner of performance and (with increasing accuracy from the 5th century onwards) the names of the composers, and sometimes the particulars of each musical work's circumstances, are known (although Robert/Musicology will probably be along to inform us that it was all the invention of the Jesuits, the Free Masons, Hollywood, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). The Byzantine Church came into existence in a place in which Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin all rubbed shoulders. Some of this music dates back to as early as the 4th century. It was largely preserved both as it passed down from generation to generation orally, but also in a rough form of notation known as Ekphonetic notation, which involved symbols used as a mnemonic device to assist in their cantillation. The music was not set rigidly as in more modern Western music, but rather allowed for a deal of improvisation while adhering to notes within the given mode, metrical scheme, accents, and patterns.

Today I'm listening to a second disc by Soeur Marie Keyrouz, who is virtually the unrivaled as a cantor of this ancient music. She was born in Deir el Ahmar in Lebanon and is a member of the Melkite through her religious congregation, she took her vows in the Melkite/Melchite or Byzantine Greek Catholic Church. She has a joint doctorate in musicology and anthropology from the Sorbonne. She has collected and performs a variety of so-called "Oriental" Christian chants, mostly preserved in Greek, Syrian, and Arabic manuscripts and through oral tradition. She is accompanied on this disc by the Chorale De L'église Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre which provide the steady choral drone over which her voice soars. Not only is this music intensely spiritual... and hypnotic... but the disc is beautifully packaged in a booklet containing the complete texts in translation and a number of lovely reproduction of Byzantine art of the era. Soeur Marie Keyrouz has become something of a "cottage industry" with a high-tech web site of her own: