Special Melodies of the Eight Tones
The page offers links to special melodies that I have collected from various traditions: Russian, Southwestern Russ, Byzantine and even American.
There are three types of special melodies. The links to pdf files are organized according to these genre, following Slavic practice:
- Stichera Melodies: used for Lord I have Cried stichera, the Praises stichera and Aposticha. These are by far the most common and the most well-kept in the various traditions.
- Troparion, Kontakion Melodies: used for Troparia, Kontakia and Sessional or Kathisma Hymns. Many of these are missing in the Russian books. Several of the model melodies I provide here are Byzantine.
- Exapostilaria: Used exclusively for exapostilaria (photogogica) and limited here to Tones 2 and 3.
For those that are not familiar with the terms, a “special melody” is a musical poem that originally was composed (in Greek) with a certain metrical scheme in mind and a melody that served the meter well. Later, other hymns were composed with that same metrical scheme in mind, so that the familiar melody could be easily employed with new text.
As Orthodoxy moved into non-Greek speaking areas, the metrical component of these special melodies usually was lost, except when certain entire phrases were kept. An example is the typical ending to Tone 1 O All-Praised Martyrs: “…that He grant unto our souls peace and great mercy.” Nevertheless, a certain melodic pattern was kept as unique for the special melody.
In Russia and surrounding areas, there are often repeated melodic phrases. When a pattern like this exists, it is noted on the sheet music itself for easier memorization. For example, the common simple Russian melody “Joy of the Heavenly Hosts” consists of three parts: A, B and C. The sequence A + B is repeated as needed, with a final cadence of C. So this melody always has an odd number of phrases, something to remember when texts are being marked up to sing.
Often these special melodies share characteristics of the tone or mode, however this is not always the case. Even in Byzantine chant, the original original melody, which has fallen out of use, for Thou hast Appeared, the Kontakion for Theophany was true to the 4th mode unlike the well-known new “original” melody used today. Today’s version sounds like a shortened version of the Tone 3 Kontakion of Nativity, Today the Virgin, whose popularity seems to have eclipsed that of the former Thou hast Appeared.
For the sake of consistency, and since I am more familiar with Russian melodies than the Byzantine, I will use the word Tone instead of mode, and count them 1 to 8. Tones 5 through 8 are equivalent to the plagal modes 1 through 4.
Since our choir consists of two people, most of the melodies below are arranged for two voices: a melodist and a bass/drone counterpart.
It is Truly Meet (Set to the Russian Special Melody “Joy of the Heavenly Hosts”)
O Marvelous Wonder –Not to be confused with “O Most Glorious Wonder,” of Tone 8. The Greek name is “Ὢ τοῦ παραδόξου θαύματος.” This is a setting of the original melody and the subsequent stichera in the same melody for the Feast of Dormition. This melody is rarely called for liturgically–mostly for feasts of the Mother of God and for saints for whom the Mother of God was very dear, like St. Seraphim of Sarov. Many 4-part arrangements highlight the 3rd above the melody creating a “major key” setting. However, once the melody is restored to its original mode, the very typical Znamenny tone 1 ending suddenly reveals itself.
The Angelic Choir. The original melody is from the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.