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Byzantine Chant of Greece and Cyprus is added to UNESCO List

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The ancient and sacred Greek and Cypriot Byzantine chant has been included in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

UNESCO, the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture has included the Byzantine chant to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the 14th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which took place in Bogotá, Columbia.

“As a living art that has existed for more than 2000 years,’ writes the UN agency, “the Byzantine chant is a significant cultural tradition and comprehensive music system forming part of the common musical traditions that developed in the Byzantine Empire. Highlighting and musically enhancing the liturgical texts of the Greek Orthodox Church, it is inextricably linked with spiritual life and religious worship,” announced UNESCO.

The Byzantine chant developed to extol Biblical texts after the 3rd century in the Byzantine Empire, reaching its peak between the 13th and 15th centuries.

Thanks to oral transmission and regular use in churches and monasteries, the music withstood the fall of Byzantium and the rise of the Ottoman empire, influencing eastern popular music, including Balkan, Hebrew, Arab, Armenian and Syriac.

“This vocal art is mainly focused on rendering the ecclesiastical text; arguably, the chant exists because of the word (‘logos’), since every aspect of the tradition serves to spread the sacred message. Passed on aurally across the generations, its main characteristics have remained over the centuries: it is exclusively vocal music; it is essentially monophonic; the chants are codified into an eight-mode or eight-tonne system, and the chant employs different styles of rhythm to accentuate the desired syllables of specific words.

Though the Psaltic Art has always been linked to the male voice, women chanters are common in nunneries and participate in parishes to some extent. In addition to its transmission in church, the Byzantine chant is flourishing due to the dedication of experts and non-experts alike – including musicians, choir members, composers, musicologists, and scholars – who contribute to its study, performance, and dissemination,” read the official statement.

*Image courtesy of Ἰλισιῶτες Ψάλτες (Ilissiotes Psaltes)

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