Byzantine Hymns

Kaan Bulak about the oldest written records of a female composer

On the occasion of the 'Schlosserlebnistag', the Ludwigsburger Festival will deal with the topic of women. Kaan Bulak – composer, pianist and producer – who is presenting his commissioned composition »Transtemporal« this season will report on the composer Kassia for this occasion. Her hymns are the oldest documents that have come down to us from a female composer and also find their way into Bulak’s new composition.

[This text has been translated electronically]

»I despise silence when it is time to speak.

I despise the rich man who complains as if he were poor.

I despise the man who does everything for prestige.

No remedy works against stupidity, no help but death!

In the crisis the true friend will show herself, who will not leave her beloved friend.«

Kassia was a Byzantine composer and poet in 9th. Century in Constantinople. As daughter of a candidate at the imperial court she received a good education and wrote gnomes which, by their unique Metrics made clear her indifference to school scholarship. In these lines she deals mainly with personal and human themes, such as friendship, wealth, and cleverness, and uses extremely rare biblical quotations. Kassia, despite her high status, was noted for her Activism against the destruction of icons punished with lashes. A legend has it that Kassia’s clever answers during a bridal show made the emperor Theophilos decided against her despite her beauty. Kassia did not marry and founded a convent, where she devoted herself entirely to the composition of hymns and her poetry.

Her music has been preserved in the form of hymns. She is the oldest composer in the history of music whose music has survived. The melodic main voice is accompanied by an improvising drone choir. This accompanying isokratema is free in its arrangement and creates the basis for their unique tonality between the Occident and Orient. Kassia’s mournful, autobiographical and vocally challenging hymn »The Fallen Woman« is still performed in Greek Orthodox tradition, sung on the Wednesday of Holy Week.