Tonos and melos (stress and melody) in Damaskenos’s prosodic Canons
The setting of the Canons in Byzantine Hymnography is primarily based on tonal rhythm. However, nowadays, in the ritual praxis there are three surviving Canons by St. Ioannes Damaskenos (8th century AD) – those of Christmas, Epiphany and Pentecost – which are composed according to the ancient technique of prosody, in iambic trimeter (six iambic feet in three meters and a total of twelve syllables). Nevertheless, the neglect of the ancient prosodic principles and the predomination of the composition where the techniques of setting are based on the stress of the words are traced not only at the lyrics’ design, but also in the setting to music, as, at least, it has been preserved to date in its syllabic version until the first recordings (Petros Byzantios’s Heirmologion, 18th century AD), as well as via the oral tradition.
The isosyllabic arrangement of all the verses provides the ground so as other variants to be studied. Such variants are the differences between the Echos – since each of the three Canons belongs to another Echos – the position and the duration of the temporal extensions of the syllables, the production and repetition of stereotypical rhythmic patterns and the final design of the melos of the verses. The research based on original material, like the syllabic setting of the first hymnographic genres (Tropars, Contakia, Canons etc), since it is part of a great and long-lasting Greek tradition of setting to music long poetic texts adjusted to the characteristic vocalization of Greek language, is always expected to give interesting results.