Home ] Up ] John of Damascus ] Joseph the Hymnographer ] [ Kosmas ] Andrew of Crete ] Theophanes ] Anonymous ]



The following extract from St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain's commentary on the festal canons is of some interest.

On the music of the festal canons of St Kosmas the Melodist

Since Saint Kosmas utilised for his musical Canons the usually chanted Tones, we have therefore decided to set out for readers the relevant information about them, as a relish, as Theodore [the Poor Forerunner] gives it. The Tones, as every one knows, are eight in number, four being straight, ruling and leading , the other four are oblique of the straight. Now Bishop Kosmas employs all of them, except for one, Plagal of the First. He employs them skilfully and with great elegance; for he employed the First for the first feast, that is for the Birthday of the Saviour; the Second for the second feast of the Lord, that is for the feast of the Theophany and the Baptism of the Lord; the Third for the third feast of the Lord, that is the Meeting, which although it is second in the natural order, is third in the course of the year and the cycle of the months. He employed the Fourth for the fourth feast, that of Palms, for this is the fourth feast from Christ’s Nativity (the feast of the Circumcision is passed over as being a feast of the old Jewish law); while the Annunciation is also passed over, not because it is not a feast of the Lord, but because it sometimes falls before Palm Sunday and sometimes after it. When he reaches the Great Week of the Sufferings, the Melodist omits the Plagal of the First Tone, since it is festal and joyous, and does not suit grief and suffering. For the whole of this week he employed exclusively the Plagal of the Second and the Second, because as these holy days are ones of sorrow, so likewise these Tones are sorrowful; and even though the feats of the Lord’s sufferings are causes of joy, nevertheless there is no soul, unless it were harsh and savage, that cannot but grieve and weep during those holy days.

When St Kosmas reached Pentecost he employed the Plagal of the Third Tone, that is the Grave Tone, thus imitating, I imagine, that sound which came from heaven to the holy and sacred Apostles (Acts 2:2). Finally the inspired Hymnographer employed the final Tone, that is the Plagal of the Fourth, for the final feast, that is the Exaltation of the Cross; because, although the temporal cycle starts from autumn and the new year, that is from September, and makes this the first feast, nevertheless in actual fact it is the last of all, because this feast refers to events many years after the Lord’s Assumption. Moreover the Plagal of the Fourth Tone is peculiarly apt for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: fourth because of the four parts of the Cross; plagal through its connection with the cross-beam; that is with the crosswise arm of the Cross, which joined with the upright excellently depicts the Cross. But why did St Kosmas employ the Fourth Tone for the Transfiguration as well, as he had employed it for the feast of Palms? No doubt because of the festal quality of the tone; because for festal celebration it is proper that a festal tone be sung; and also no doubt, that since for this feast the Fourth Tone had been sung, for this reason the Melodist decided that the Plagal of the Fourth should be sung for the feast following the Transfiguration.

[Eortodromion vol. 1, pp. 32-33]

All texts and translations on this page are copyright to
Archimandrite Ephrem

This page was last updated on 03 November 2008