Idiomelon (Medieval Greek: ἰδιόμελον from idio-, "unique" and -melon, "melody"; Church Slavonic: самогласенъ, samoglasen)—pl. idiomela—is a type of sticheron found in the liturgical books used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, and many other Orthodox communities like Old Believers. Idiomela are unique compositions, while avtomela or aftomela—sing. automelon, avtomelon or aftomelon (Medieval Greek: αὐτόμελον, Church Slavonic: самоподобенъ, samopodoben) were used to create other hymns by a composition over the avtomelon's melody and following the poetic meter provided by the musical rhythm—this genre was characterised as prosomoion or prosomeion (Medieval Greek: προσόμοιον "similar to", Church Slavonic: подобенъ, podoben).
Definition of idiomelon, avtomelon and prosomoion
The hymn category idiomelon can only be understood in comparison with avtomelon and prosomoia. Already in the older book Tropologion each melody of a certain hymn was classified by a modal signature of the Byzantine octoechos—the eight mode system as it had developed in Constantinople, Damascus, Jerusalem, and in many other places.
The sticherarion as a collection of idiomela
An idiomelon is a melodic type of sticheron whose music was notated for the first time in the new books of the sticheraria during the Studites reform. The Greek term στιχηρὸν ἰδιόμελον (stichēron idiomelon) derives from ἴδιος ("own, special") and μέλον ("melody"). It was used to classify unique melodies composed exclusively for the text of one particular hymn. These idiomela were created in many different traditions, but one voluminous book called "sticherarion" collected and documented them all by the use of musical notation. Since there were so many traditions whose hymnographers composed within the octoechos, the solution was found by the invention of a new neume notation in order to write down the whole repertory in the sticherarion. Its books were the Menaion (Miney), Triodion (Postnaya Triod), Pentecostarion (Tsvetnaya Triod), and the Parakletike (Osmoglasnik). They documented a large repertoire, but only a small part of it made up a local monastic tradition and the latter also included many hymns which were not written in the books.
It was a heterogenous collection of hymns, mainly of unique compositions (stichera idiomela) which could be identified by their own idiomatic melodies. The later Slavonic translators of the Ohrid school (863-893) called the idiomela "samoglasniy". There are other stichera called "prosomoia" (Sl. podobniy) which do not have their own melodies, but they used a limited number of well-known melodies—the so-called "avtomela" (Sl. samopodobniy).
Avtomela and prosomoia as categories of an oral transmission
According to this simple typological definition a prosomoion could be recognised, because it had just a rubric with an incipit of the avtomelon text, while the echos or glas (musical mode) was indicated by a modal signature. It was enough, because educated chanters knew the avtomela by heart. The hymnographers had already used the melody of the avtomelon to compose the stanza and its verses of the prosomoion, while a singer had to adapt accentuation patterns, if the accent in a verse has moved to the neighbouring syllable (see the kontakion example). Hence, the prosomoia had been written in textbooks (the Octoechos mega or Parakletike, or later another textbook called "Menaion"), but sometimes the prosomoia had been also notated in the Octoechos part of certain notated Sticheraria. These notated prosomoia allow to study, how the avtomela were adapted to the verses and accents of their prosomoia.
The definition of αὐτόμελον (avtomelon) meant as well a sticheron which defines its melody—with a melody for "itself" (Gr. αὐτός, Sl. samopodoben), but not in the idiomatic and exclusive sense of the unique idiomela. Avtomelon simply meant that these hymns were regarded as a melodic model of their own, exemplified by the musical realisation of its poetic hymn. As such they also served for the composition of new verses, the prosomeia. The term στιχηρὸν προσόμοιον (stichēron prosomoion) means, that this sticheron is "similar to" (Gr. προσόμιον, Sl. podoben) another sticheron. It was usually an avtomelon, but in some cases even idiomela had been used for a kind of contrafact and there are even cases of notated prosomoia, because they had been "mistaken" for an avtomelon.
Certain more regular and formulaic avtomela of the octoechos had not been written down with notation before the 14th century or even later, since their hymns (apolytikia anastasima) had to be repeated every day. Today the Voskresnik or Anastasimatarion or an Orthros anthology also provides certain avtomela in neumes without any text, while the texts of the prosomoia, as far as they belong to the fixed cycle including the sanctoral, are in the text book Menaion which should not be confused with the notated chant book (the immobile cycle of the Doxastarion or the Slavonic Psaltikiyna Mineynik).
In the early period between the 5th and the 7th centuries Sabbaite concepts attracted the monastic communities of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 692 the organisation of liturgical eight-week cycles connected with a system of eight modes called "octoechos" was established and progressed to a liturgical reform. Since only the melodies are known as they had been notated in chant books by the end of the 10th century, the question arises, what preceded the individual compositions of unique melodies, known as idiomela, when they had been composed within an oral tradition since the 7th century?
The first notated chant books (Sticherarion and Heirmologion), created between the 9th and the 13th centuries, delivered only a small part of the monastic hymn repertoire. The beginning of the book Octoechos, the cycle 24 stichera anastasima (three stichera in each echos) or the kekragarion cycle (Hesperinos Psalm 140), appeared very late in Byzantine chant books—some of them not earlier than during the late 17th century. For most of their history they did not need to be notated, since they closely followed the recitation models of psalmody using their formulaic accentuation patterns.
The reform of the Byzantine hymnody was the result of a first florescence of Greek hymnography created by singer-poets at Jerusalem like the Patriarch Sophronius (634-644), Germanos Bishop of Serachuze (died 669) and Andrew of Crete (died 713). The reform was followed by compositions of John of Damascus and his half-brother Cosmas, who continued the works of Andrew at Mar Saba. Even though we cannot study the difference between "echos-melodies" and the new idiomela at that time, the new emphasis on the Hagiopolitan octoechos was only possible, because these new hymns, their poetry and music, were appreciated and imitated beyond the patriarchate. In general this period is regarded as one, when the concept of octoechos cycles was not new, but when these poets were translated and imitated throughout the Mediterranean. The heterogenous repertoire itself, whose avtomela were sometimes simple and formulaic, sometimes they had the complexity of idiomela, was probably not collected before the Second Council of Nicaea. Yahya al-Mansur who was posthumously condemned as a heretic, was not only re-established as a hymnographer and monk called John of Damascus, he also became an important Greek church father and a saint.
During the reform of the Studites and at Sinai most of the avtomela were not notated, but they existed within an oral tradition. Even some idiomela served as models to compose new hymns according to the needs of a local liturgy—like the prosomoia for certain martyrs. When Theodore the Studite and his brother Joseph composed the early prosomoia for Hesperinos of Lenten tide, they used certain idiomela of the Triodion as models. Together with the later book Anastasimatarion (Sl. Voskresnik), "the book of resurrection hymns", the whole repertoire of avtomela is 140 and together with their prosomeia it is even larger than the whole repertoire of unique idiomela created in various regions.
With the Slavic reception in the medieval chant book "Voskresnik", it was not possible to create the same complex relation between chant and text, when the prosomoia had been translated. So they created a system of simple avtomela melodies which could be easier adapted to the translated prosomoia.
In the monodic tradition of Byzantine chant, the reform of the 18th century, which created a new definition of the troparic, heirmologic, and fast sticheraric melos with simple melodies of the two fastest tempo levels, it was partly based on a living tradition of simple recitation out of text books without musical notation.
A kontakion as an avtomelon and its prosomoion
The Octoechos' kontakion for the regular Sunday morning service in echos tritos (Orthros) has the indication that it should be sung as a prosomoion to the melody of the Christmas kontakion. This avtomelon has verses with 15, 15, 13, 13, 13, and 7 syllables, and the prosomoion which was composed according the meter of this stanza must have the same number of verses, each with the same number of syllables. Thus, the prosomoion can be sung with the same melody and the accentuation patterns of the avtomelon. The following table shows, how the syllables of the prosomoion come together with those of the avtomelon:
|1||Ἡ||Παρ-||θέ-||νος||σή-||με-||ρον,||τὸν||ὑ-||πε-||ρού-||σι-||ον||τίκ-||τει,|| Ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον, τὸν ὑπερούσιον τίκτει,
The Virgin today to the Transcendent One gives birth
|‘Εξ-||α-||νέσ-||της||σή-||με-||ρον,||ἀ-||πὸ||τοῦ||τά-||φου||Οἰκ-||τίρ-||μον,|| ‘Εξανέστης σήμερον, ἀπὸ τοῦ τάφου Οἰκτίρμον,
Out-resurrected today from the grave O Compassionate One
|2||καὶ||ἡ||γῆ||τὸ||Σπή-||λαι-||ον,||τῷ||ἀ-||προ-||σί-||τῳ||προ-||σά-||γει,|| καὶ ἡ γῆ τὸ Σπήλαιον, τῷ ἀπροσίτῳ προσάγει.
and the earth a cave to the Unapproachable One offers
|καὶ||ἡ-||μᾶς||ἐξ-||ή-||γα-||γες,||ἐκ||τῶν||πυ-||λῶν||τοῦ||θα-||νά-||του,|| καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐξήγαγες, ἐκ τῶν πυλῶν τοῦ θανάτου,
and us out-lifted from the gates of death
|3||Ἄγ-||γελ-||οι||με-||τὰ||Ποι-||μέ-||νων||δο-||ξο-||λο-||γοῦ-||σι.|| Ἄγγελοι μετὰ Ποιμένων δοξολογοῦσι.
Angels with shepherds glorify
|σή-||με-||ρον||Ἀ-||δὰμ||χο-||ρεύ-||ει,||καὶ||χαί-||ρει||Εὔ-||α,|| σήμερον Ἀδὰμ χορεύει, καὶ χαίρει Εὔα,
Today Adam exults, and rejoices ↔ Eve
|4||Μά-||γοι||δὲ||με-||τἀ||ἀσ-||τέ-||ρος||ὁ-||δοι-||πο-||ροῦ-||σι·|| Μάγοι δὲ μετὰ ἀστέρος ὁδοιποροῦσι·
Wizards with a star journey
|ἅ-||μα||δέ,||καὶ||οἱ||Προ-||φῆ-||ται||σὺν||Πα-||τρι-||άρ-||χαις,|| ἅμα δέ, καὶ οἱ Προφῆται, σὺν Πατριάρχαις,
together both the prophets with patriarchs
|5||δι'||ἡ-||μᾶς||γὰρ||ἐ-||γεν-||νή-||θη,||Παι-||δί-||ον||νέ-||ον,|| δι' ἡμᾶς γὰρ ἐγεννήθη, Παιδίον νέον,
For to us is born an Infant young
|ἀ-||νυ-||μνοῦ-||σιν||ἀ-||κα-||τα-||παύ-||στως,||τὸ||θεῖ-||ον||κρά-|| ἀνυμνοῦσιν ἀκαταπαύστως, τὸ θεῖον κρά-
sing unceasingly, the divine mighti-
|6||ὁ||πρὸ||αἰ-||ώ-||νων||Θε-||ός.|| ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων Θεός.
The pre-ages God
|τος||τῆς||ἐξ-||ου-||σί-||ας||σου.|| τος τῆς ἐξουσίας σου.
ness of power yours.
Although the stanza was reproduced accurately by the composition of the prosomoion concerning the length of the verses, especially circumflex and grave accents (Greek diacritics) appear not always on the same syllable. In the second half of the third verse the avtomelon has just one circumflex accent, while the prosomoion has two acute ones. On the last syllable of the fifth verse the prosomoion has even an acute accent, since it was connected with the last verse (9 + 11 syllables). Within the same verse the acute accent on the seventh syllable moves to the eighth in the prosomoion, so that the melodic accentuation pattern has either to move to the next syllable or the melodic recitation of the meter will be against the correct pronunciation of the word.
With the recitation known from a living tradition, the melody reproduces the meter with melodic accentuation patterns and quantitative accents given by the rhythm of the avtomelon. With respect to the differences which already appear between prosomoion and avtomelon within the Greek language, a translation into Church Slavonic which reproduces all these relations between prosomeion and avtomelon—whether in this or another way—, seems already impossible. Nevertheless, the schools at Ohrid in Macedonia and later at Novgorod and Moscow which did not know the translations made at Ohrid, were quite fearless and creative.
Дева днесь Пресущественнаго раждает,
и земля вертеп Неприступному приносит,
ангели с пастырьми славословят,
волсви же со звездою путешествуют:
нас бо ради родися
Отроча Младо, Превечный Бог.
The confrontation with two living traditions shows that even the avtomela of the Greek Orthodox tradition are less sophisticated than the Byzantine one during the 10th or 14th century. These stichera were composed within the Hagiopolitan octoechos and adapted to the "Papadike". In the medieval manuscripts we find a more complicated model, although it has nearly a syllabic setting of the hymn text. The recitation today follows the troparic genre of the Neobyzantine octoechos according to the New Method, as it was created during the 18th century between Petros Peloponnesios and Theodore Phokaeos who supervised the print editions of Chourmouzios' transcriptions. Each genre was defined by its own octoechos and its tempo which created a new variety, but the accentuation patterns can be used in a more flexible way with respect to the high Middle Ages. The incision within the fifth verse follows clearly the syntax of the avtomelon text. This flexibility comes closer to the earlier practice of recitation employing "echos-melodies", although the accentuation of accents are still very precise, because the diacritics were still used and the simplfied model has sublimed its ancient tradition. The polyphonic or multi-part recitation of the Karelian monastery on the island Valaam, known and admired as "Valaamskiy rozpev", does not care very much about the text accents which once created the sophisticated idiomela between the 7th and the 10th centuries. It simply repeats melodic patterns, while the monks observe carefully the half verses and thus, the last two verses are structured as one phrase divided into three parts. This practice offers an amazing concept of singing "na glas", as it could survive within an oral transmission high up in the North.
Caveat about north Slavic music
While the Bulgarians and Serbs use Byzantine Music, adapted as explained above, Russians and other northern Slavs use polyphonic recitation models. They are less dependent on a monodic patterns of a certain "glas", but simply melodies in the ambitus of the echos in question. In their case, all idiomela (самогласны) for a given "glas" are sung to the same melody and an avtomelon (самоподобенъ) and its prosomoia (подобны) are simply other melodies related to a certain recitation model as in case of the kondak.
- The monastery at Constantinople was abandoned, when Theodore the Studite came with his community from Bithynia (about 798). Empress Eirene offered him the monastery, where he established soon a scriptorium. He was exiled several times and he died during his last exile in the monastery of Hagios Tryphon on Cape Akritas in Bithynia (11 November 826), but he always continued his hymnodic project and so did his successors directing the Lavra Stoudiou.
- Christian Troelsgård (2001) emphasised in his introduction the characteristic of the new chant book of the Studites as books, which created standards for monastic communities of the whole Mediterranean. Thanks to the Slavonic traditions their influence even spread far into Northern Europe (Scandinavia). See also his SAV catalogue which can be downloaded at the homepage of Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae.
- The earliest books had been written with theta notation, although only a few have survived today (more Slavonic than Greek manuscripts). Links to digitized manuscripts can be found in the articles about the books octoechos and sticherarion. Later, unnotated manuscripts became more common. There are as well manuscripts which have only musical notation in some parts.
- The incipit of a hymn with a well-known melody which was used for the text recitation, was a common practice. It was also known among Jewish and Sufi musicians who did never notate music.
- For the cycle of 47 avtomela which can be found in notated sticheraria with indication of their exact place within the books, see table 1 in Irina Shkolnik's study (1998, 526-529).
- Stig Frøyshov (2007) discussed the early influence of the octoechos and different local concepts between a daily and a weekly change of the echos. Hence, the early phase is characterised by various hymnographic realisations in the Mediterranean without establishing standards between the regions.
- Within her first study of the avtomela system Irina Shkolnik (1995) called these formulaic models "echos-melodies", which preceded the creation of idiomela. The term was in fact inspired by the expression "na glas" used among Old Believers, when they talk about traditional melodies of a living oral tradition. The nature to adapt these models or their patterns to the hymnic verses and their accents are indeed that simple, that its simplicity could easily adapt to any meter and it was often accompanied by forms of multipart singing.
- The repertoire was different and more concentrated on Constantinopolitan hymnographers in the Georgian Iadgari, but Greek and Slavic tropologia since the 7th century confirm the later choice of the Studites (Nikiforova 2013).
- John of Damascus, born in a privileged family close to the caliph at Damascus, became posthumously anathemised under his Syrian name during the Council of Hieria during the first iconoclastic crisis in 754, mainly because of his polemic treatises against iconoclasm (see the extract of the translation in the Medieval Sourcebook of Fordham). For the same reason he was rehabilitated during the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, during which the former one was decanonised. The second crisis of iconoclasm also caused the end of the Studites reform, so that the monastic reform was continued partly in Constantinople and partly in Sinai.
- According to Irina Shkolnik (1998) the books of the sticheraria written during the Byzantine period document the existence of 47 avtomela (most of them in the Parakletike, but also in all the other parts of the Sticherarion), but 30 of them had not been written down and notated before the 13th century. They were mainly documented in Slavonic books, because the whole system of avtomelon and prosomoia had to be adapted to the poetic prosody of the language. The adaption to Slavonic prosody caused partly the recomposition of the prosomoia.
- Gerda Wolfram (2003, 120).
- For more examples, see Julia Shlikhtina (2004, 184-196).
- Note that the rhythm of medieval Byzantine notation is a very controversial matter. The avtomelon in two living Orthodox traditions recite the Prooimion of the Christmas Kontakion by Romanos as follows: (1) Romanos the Melodist. "Avtomelon Ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον". Greek-Byzantine Choir. (2) Slavonic Kondak sung in Valaamskiy Rozpev (Valaam Monastery): Romanos the Melodist. "Kondak Дева днесь". Valaam: Valaam Monastery Choir.
- With respect to the Slavic and Northern reception, Jopi Harri (2012, 354-360) classified another avtomelon about the same text, but composed in glas 4 (mesos tetartos) as "non-generic" (next to the generic troparion in glas 3). There is a "complex artistic" reception in a Russian Kondakar known as "Tipografskiy Ustav" (12th century). It was definitely a reception of the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite and its book kontakarion and Slavonic kondakars are its oldest sources today. 14 other prototypes whose reception is regarded as "Bulgarian indeed" by Harri, are obviously composed in the context of court music. They all are published as polyphonic recitation in print editions between the 18th and the early 20th centuries
- The Church Slavonic translation of Romanos' Christmas kontakion was reconstructed by Roman Krivko in his study of the medieval sources (2011, 717 & 726). Since Slavonic languages have a synthetic morphology, the verses must be shorter than their Greek prototypes.
- See the current editions cited in the article about the book Octoechos.
- "Cambridge, Trinity College, Ms. B.11.17, ff. 282r-294r". Prosomoia collection of an Oktoechos in a complete Sticherarion with Menaion, Triodion and Pentekostarion of the Athonite Pantokrator Monastery (c. 1400).
- "Skopje, National and University Library "St. Kliment of Ohrid", Ms. 172". Nikiforov Miney (September–August) written in a Serbian redaction (16th century).
- Frøyshov, Stig Simeon R. (2007). "The Early Development of the Liturgical Eight-Mode System in Jerusalem" (PDF). Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly. 51: 139–178. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
- Harri, Jopi (2012). St. Petersburg Court Chant and the Tradition of Eastern Slavic Church Singing. Turku: University of Turku, Finland. ISBN 978-951-29-4864-2.
- Nikiforova, Alexandra (2013). "Tropologion Sinait.Gr. ΝΕ/ΜΓ 56–5 (9th c.): A new source for Byzantine Hymnography". Scripta & e-Scripta. International Journal for Interdisciplinary Studies. 12: 157–185.
- Krivko, Roman Nikolaevič (2011). "Перевод, парафраз и метр в древних славянских кондаках, II : Критика, история и реконструкция текстов [Translation, Paraphrase and Metrics in Old Church Slavonic Kontakia, II: Textual Criticism and Reconstruction]". Revue des études slaves. 82 (4): 715–743. doi:10.3406/slave.2011.8134.
- Shkolnik, Irina (1995). "To the Problem of the Evolution of the Byzantine Stichera in the Second Half of the V-VIIth Centuries, From the "Echos-Melodies" to the Idiomela" (PDF). In László Dobszay (ed.). Cantus planus: Papers read at the 6th meeting, Eger, Hungary, 1993. Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences. pp. 409–425. ISBN 9637074546.
- Shkolnik, Irina (1998). "Byzantine prosomoion singing, a general survey of the repertoire of the notated stichera models (automela)" (PDF). In László Dobszay (ed.). Cantus Planus: Papers read at the 7th Meeting, Sopron, Hungary 1995. Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences. pp. 521–537. ISBN 9637074678.
- Shlikhtina, Julia (2004). "Problems of the Theory and Practice of Prosomoia Singing as Illustrated by Byzantine and Slavic Notated Prosomoia of the Good Friday Office". In Gerda Wolfram (ed.). Palaeobyzantine Notations 3. Leuven, Paris, Walpole: Peeters. pp. 173–198. ISBN 9789042914346.
- Troelsgård, Christian (2001). "What kind of chant books were the Byzantine Sticherária?" (PDF). In László Dobszay (ed.). Cantus planus: Papers read at the 9th meeting, Esztergom & Visegrád, 1998. Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Musicology. pp. 563–574. ISBN 9637074775.
- Wolfram, Gerda (2003). "Der Beitrag des Theodoros Studites zur byzantinischen Hymnographie". Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik. 53: 117–125. doi:10.1553/joeb53s117.
- The Three Classes of Melodic Forms for Stichera - Idiomelon
- Troelsgård, Christian (2003). "A handlist of the 'Standard Abridged Version' (SAV) of the Sticherarion according to Oliver Strunk".