Byzantine church music between tradition and innovation


  • Vesna Sara Peno
  • Zdravko Peno


There is hardly any relevant musicological and theological literature regarding the content and meaning of terms such as canon and Holy Tradition, on the one hand, and creativity and innovation in connection with ecclesiastical psalmody on the other. The focus of our attention here is a specific phenomenon of kalophony (“beautified” chant) which Edward Williams rightly described as an Eastern Christian musical Ars Nova in an age of political, but not cultural and artistic, twilight in the Byzantine Empire. Theodore Metochites (c. 1260-1332), one of the most famous polymaths and patrons of late Byzantine art, wrote sadly that his age “has nothing more to say”. However, it is well known that the Palaiologan era was actually an age in which art and science flourished, despite the fact that its result, as Viktor Lazarev notes, was the end of something old, and not the beginning of something new.

Was the movement towards kalophony during the artistic renaissance of the Palaiologoi termed “conservative traditionalism” by historians of art, an innovation that was originally supposed to enrich the “traditional sound” that followed prayer? Or, on the contrary, was kalophony a mark of a more radical modernism that deprived the Church music of its primary liturgical function by making it an independent artistic entity? Did late Byzantine composers, who not incidentally carryied the title of master of the art of singing, and who consciously moved away from the anonymity of their many predecessors,6 want to transcend or nullify the unwritten, but nevertheless accepted and ancient rule that melody should follow, emphasize, and interpret the text of prayer or, in other words, to be in its service? Even more important, what was the reason behind this liberated artistic creativity and can it possibly be justified in a theological and liturgical context?

Conference Papers



How to Cite

Peno, Vesna Sara, and Zdravko Peno. 2020. “Byzantine Church Music Between Tradition and Innovation”. Journal of the International Society for Orthodox Music 3 (January):248-52.