A newly-discovered manuscript by Bohuslav Martinů on the Byzantine Octoechos
There are some discoveries in life that seem to fall from the sky. One of those is a hitherto virtually unknown manuscript on the Byzantine Octoechos and Greek music by one of the most famous and prominent Czech composers of the twentieth century, Bohuslav Martinů. My “story” with this manuscript started on my birthday, 14 April 2016, when I received a brief e-mail from a gentleman who was at that time unknown to me. After addressing me as “Vážený otče” (i.e. “Honourable Father” in Czech), he asked me for a brief meeting to help him with “liturgical matters in music” (“liturgické věci v hudbě“). Without giving it a great deal of thought, I replied, and we arranged a meeting – and of course, I explained that I was not a priest. At that meeting I discovered that this gentleman was Mr Jaroslav Mihule, a renowned Czech musicologist and one of the finest experts on the work of Bohuslav Martinů. After introducing himself, he showed me an original manuscript by Martinů on the Byzantine Octoechos, asked me a few questions about the “Alleluia” hymn noted in the manuscript and then, surprisingly, he offered to lend me the manuscript so I could study it carefully at home. It is difficult to describe my surprise upon coming across this coexistence of two musical worlds, ordinarily so remote from each other: the music of my childhood in Cyprus (since the manuscript essentially comprises liturgical chants of the Greek Orthodox Church), very thoroughly notated by a very famous and very “Western” composer.
This manuscript forms part of the composer’s studies on Greek sacred music for his last opera The Greek Passion, which is based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s famous novel Christ Recrucified (Ο Χριστός ξανασταυρώνεται).
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