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Program: #20-25   Air Date: Jun 08, 2020

The superb West Coast ensemble gives us music of Renaissance Crete and Cyprus, plus music as it would have been heard in the Hagia Sophia.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is from recordings from the ensemble Cappella Romana directed by Alexander Lingas. For more information:

I. Venice in the East: Renaissance Crete & Cyprus. (CR-419-CD).

Venice in the East: Renaissance Crete & Cyprus
This profoundly moving and powerful music bears witness to how ancient Greek and Latin liturgical traditions were richly embellished during the Renaissance on the islands of Crete and Cyprus, all within the shared cultural space of Venetian rule. First performed by Cappella Romana at the Early Music Festival in Utrecht (Netherlands).
From its emergence as a significant political entity in the sixth century under the rule of the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire to the dissolution of the Republic by Napoleon in 1797, the city of Venice remained closely tied to the Greek East. Following the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to sack Constantinople in the year 1204, Venice not only seized for itself priceless treasures that to this day adorn their Byzantine-style church of San Marco, but also began to acquire its own empire of colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean. The size of this empire waxed and waned according to the fortunes of Venice and its political and economic competitors, which included at various times such other western powers as the Genoese and the French, as well the Byzantines and, especially from the fourteenth century onwards, the Ottoman Turks.

For centuries the most prominent and prosperous Greek-speaking colony of Venice was Crete, which it acquired in 1204. During the two centuries prior to its conquest by the Ottomans in 1669, Crete developed a flourishing Greco-Italian Renaissance culture. Meanwhile, in 1489 control of Cyprus passed from the French Lusignan dynasty to the Venetian Republic, which held it until its capture by the Turks in 1571. After the fall of Crete, Venice’s only Greek colonies were the Ionian Islands. The arrival of Cretan refugees bolstered cultural life of the larger islands of Corfu, Zante, Lefkada, and Cephalonia, which to this day retain Italianate linguistic, cultural and musical traditions. Meanwhile, Venice itself came to host a flourishing Greek minority that had gained a measure of cultural and religious autonomy in the sixteenth century with the building of the church of San Giorgio dei Greci.

The split that had occurred between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches at the beginning of the second Christian millennium caused varying amounts of friction through the centuries between Venetian rulers and Greek subjects. Further confusion arose with the attempt to reunify the churches at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–39), in the wake of which an Orthodox Divine Liturgy was celebrated in San Marco and Metropolitan Bessarion of Nicea, a prominent Byzantine churchman and intellectual whose books served as the original core of the Venetian Biblioteca Marciana, became a Cardinal of the Roman Church. Although the Orthodox chafed at strictures imposed upon them – in Crete, for example, they were allowed to retain their own lower clergy even as the consecration of local Orthodox bishops was forbidden –the general trend over time was toward greater religious toleration. 

This program presents music from Venice and its Greek colonies that in various ways testifies to the sharing of religious traditions. It begins with excerpts from the Greek and Latin ceremonies of the Easter Triduum that display both parallel developments in liturgical piety and the sharing of musical and ritual elements. Both Venetians and Cretans marked the Passion and Deposition from the Cross of Christ with thematically similar rituals involving the use of simple forms of polyphony. Likewise, they possessed similar ceremonies for the opening of their churches on Easter Day and the Paschal greeting “Christ has risen!” (Surrexit Christus/!Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!). Both traditions are incorporated into the polyphonic setting of the Easter Troparion “Christ has risen” from the Codex Faenza 117, which follows the Cretan melody for this Greek hymn with the Latin response “Deo gratias”.

This concert continues with other music illustrating points of musical and ritual interchange between the Greek and Latin traditions under Venetian rule. The setting of the Latin recension of the hymn Gloria in excelsis to Byzantine chant is the work two Greek musicians: Manuel Gazes the Lampadarios and Ioannis Plousiadenos (ca. 1429–1500). Gazes evidently moved to Crete from Constantinople during the first half of the fifteenth century, where he taught the composer and scribe Angelos Gregoriou, who as a monk had also visited Mount Athos. Another Constantinopolitan composer who found refuge in Crete during the same period was Ioannis Laskaris, whose career on the island as a teacher and agitator for the rights of his native church is well documented in the archives of Venice.

Plousiadenos was a priest, music theorist, scribe, and composer who lived in Venice for significant portions of his life and died as a Roman Catholic bishop ministering to his religiously mixed Christian flock during a Turkish siege of the Venetian outpost of Methone in the Peloponnesus. During his years in Italy, Plousiadenos became a protégé of Cardinal Bessarion, who commissioned the hymn in fifteen-syllable verse to the Virgin Mary that concludes this program. This piece is known to survive only in Mt Athos Koutloumousiou 448, a manuscript copied in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century by the Cretan composer Benedict Episkopopoulos. Music of this later period is represented by a setting of the Greek Orthodox text of the Creed – that is, without the Latin addition of the phrase “filioque” —by the “New Teachers” of Crete recorded by Theodore Rhodakinos in MS Sinai Gr. 1552, and the music of Hieronymos Tragodistes of Cyprus, a scribe and student of the Venetian theorist Gioseffo Zarlino.

From the Byzantine and Venetian Commemorations of the Paschal Triduum


The Crucifixion and Deposition



Venite et ploremus

by Aaron Cain and Mark Powell




Popule meus

by Cappella Romana and Kerry McCarthy




Sticheron for the Holy Passion

by Cappella Romana, John Michael Boyer and Spyridon Antonopoulos




Cum autem venissent ad locum

by Aaron Cain and Mark Powell




O dulcissime

by Kerry McCarthy and Photini Downie Robinson




Verses of Lamentation for the Holy Passion (Ed. A. Gregoriou)

by Cappella Romana




Sepulto Domino

by Aaron Cain, Mark Powell and Spyridon Antonopoulos



The Resurrection




Attollite portas

by Cappella Romana and Mark Powell




Lift up Your Gates

by Cappella Romana




Attollite portas, quem queritis (Entrance Dialogue)

by Cappella Romana and Mark Powell




Christ Has Risen (1)

by Cappella Romana




Surrexit Christus!

by Cappella Romana and Mark Powell




Christ Has Risen (2)

by Cappella Romana and Mark Powell



New Greek Chants of the Eucharist




Gloria in excelsis

by Cappella Romana




The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

by Cappella Romana




Body of Christ

by Cappella Romana




One Who Has Seen Me

by Cappella Romana



Byzantine Hymns to the Mother of God




O Great Pascha

by Cappella Romana




Káthisma (As Sung on the Holy Mountain)

by Cappella Romana



Kalophonic Theotokíon for Cardinal Bessarion

by Cappella Romana, John Michael Boyer and Spyridon Antonopoulos


II. Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia (CR420-CDBR).

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: Medieval Byzantine Chant
Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia is the first vocal album in the world to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics. It brings together art history, music history, performance, and technology to re-create medieval sacred sound in the cathedral of Hagia Sophia as an aural virtual reality.

With a stunning reverberation time of over 11 seconds, the acoustics of Hagia Sophia were measured and analyzed, and auralized in real-time on Cappella Romana’s performance by the Icons of Sound team at Stanford University (

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia presents more than 75 minutes of medieval Byzantine chant for the Feast of the Holy Cross in Constantinople, one of the greatest celebrations in the yearly cycle of worship at Hagia Sophia. This deluxe package (CD and Blu-rayTM) contains standard- and high-resolution stereo and surround-sound formats including Dolby Atmos™, as well as a bonus track and a 24-minute documentary film.

Enrich your experience of the music with in-depth essays, musical examples, and illustrations about the project in a 40-page booklet, which also presents all original Greek texts with translations in English. For a thousand years, Hagia Sophia was the largest enclosed space in the world. Let Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia transport you back in time to medieval sound and ritual in this monumental sixth-century cathedral.

From Audiophile Audition:

Westerners often have issues with Byzantine chant; the long, melismatic lines, dissonances that cross the melodic line in a manner that rarely resolves the way we are used to, acerbic sounding leaps that emphasize the tritone, and drone notes that go on for ages, all make for an understanding leaving those preferring Gregorian tonalities lost in space. Of course, to many Eastern Orthodox and middle eastern types, this is nothing but mother’s milk. Yet the philosophy behind both chants is similar in nature—to provide a calming and spiritually uplifting experience that enhances the worship of God. Today’s nominal Christian experience in most churches is rarely that, imports from the pop music and rock worlds making sacred and secular practically indistinguishable—and yes, that is a criticism.

This is the Byzantine chant album that aficionados have been waiting for and will be of interest far beyond the true believers. For this is not only a chant album, but an attempted recreation of what it would have sounded like in the “Great Church”, the cathedral of Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom, that enormous wonder of the world that was at one time the single largest structure in the world, and amazingly enough, its architectural magnificence has survived since Emperor St. Justinian built it from 532-537 AD, an astounding feat in and of itself. The height, at nearly 185 feet, easily tops the most exalted medieval cathedrals of western Europe. The interior is huge, making for an immense aural reverberation time of up to twelve seconds, and holding up to 16,000 people. There is no place quite like it. The chants created for the church are also quite melismatic, for any sort of note-to-syllable chanting would completely blur the text and make it impossible to understand.

The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, introduced to the cathedral in 628, produced music that creates what some call a “waterfall of sound”, a sonic icon of Christ. The feast features a special section where the Patriarch comes out of the altar and raises the cross to the east, north, west, and south, the “four corners of the universe” in imitation of the Patriarch Macarius who lifted the cross in similar manner after it was discovered by St. Helena, the mother of St. Constantine the Great. One of the highlights of the eastern liturgical year would presuppose equally spectacular music.

But the most exciting thing about this album is the reconstruction of the acoustical setting of Hagia Sophia, which has not heard this music since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and no music at all since the 1935 secularization of Turkey by Ataturk. It could not have been done before now, but with the amazing technical wizardry now available, and after nearly ten years of research and the development of superb surround sound, it is possible to realize the beauties of the phenomenal building with an exactness heretofore unknown. Bing Hall on the Stanford University campus became the proving ground for this marvelous experiment, and after two concerts in 2013 and 2016, the fusion was complete, resulting in perhaps the most spectacular recording ever of Byzantine chant, and one of the most remarkable surround sound recordings I have heard.

Notice I did not mention the CD that accompanies this set. Because of the unique strictures of this attempt, you really do have to listen to it on a surround sound Blu-ray player. While the CD is excellent in many ways, and certainly the magnificent performances of Cappella Romana lose no luster in the transition, to get the full effect it is necessary to hear the genuine experience, and this can only be done in surround. But do hear it—it is important from musical, and historical vantage points! A 23-minute video documentary on the production is also included.

—Steven Ritter 

1 From the Office of Sung Vespers: Final (Teleutaion) Antiphon before the Entrance [Ps. 98:9], Mode Plagal 2 5:13
2 From the Office of Sung Vespers: Psalm 140 with Refrain (Kekragarion) 7:04
3 From the Office of Sung Matins, Antiphon 7: Small litany and Old Kalophonic Antiphon, Mode Plagal 4 9:31
4 From the Office of Sung Matins, Antiphon 7: Choral stichologia (Selected verses of Ps. 109–112, “Palaion”) 3:21
5 From the Office of Sung Matins, Antiphon 7: Ode 4 of the Canon of the Precious Cross 6:39
6 From the Ceremony of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Troparion: “Lord, save your people” Syllabic melody 1:09
7 From the Ceremony of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Troparion: “Lord, save your people” Asmatikon melody 4:23
8 From the Ceremony of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Kontakion: “Lifted Up on the Cross,” short melody, Mode 4 2:11
9 From the Ceremony of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Sticheron, for the Adoration of the Cross by Emperor Leo VI “the Wise” 6:02
10 From the Divine Liturgy for the Holy Cross: Troparion instead of the Trisagion “Your Cross we Worship” 12:57
11 From the Divine Liturgy for the Holy Cross: Prokeimenon: (Gradual, Ps. 98:9, 1-2), Barys Mode 5:23
12 From the Divine Liturgy for the Holy Cross: Asmatikon Cherubic Hymn 12:49
13 From the Divine Liturgy for the Holy Cross: Communion Verse, “the Light of your Countenance,” Mode 4 3:35

CD Info

CR-419-CD, CR420-CDBR