Tag Archives: early music

Listening to Byzantium

Icon of the Archangel Michael, Constantinople, twelfth century. Silver gilt on wood, gold cloisonné enamel, precious stones, 46.5 x 35 x 2.7 cm. Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Tresoro, inv. no. 16. Photo per gentile concessione della Procuratoria di San Marco/Cameraphoto Arte, Venice

Icon of the Archangel Michael, Constantinople, twelfth century. Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Photo per gentile concessione della Procuratoria di San Marco/Cameraphoto Arte, Venice

Darkness falls before six in the evening now, closer to five on dull days. It’s that time of year when life increasing centres around deep sofas, books like this and this, dark chocolate, alongside astonishment at our culture’s inexplicable failure to embrace hibernation as a universal human right.

Nevertheless, nightfall last Friday found me making my way to the Chapel of King’s University, London, to hear a lecture on The Heavenly Liturgy: Byzantine Psalmody to 1453, organised in conjunction with the Royal Academy’s magnificent Byzantium exhibition, supported by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange.

Now, persistent readers of these pages may reasonably object that while I know little enough about music in general — entirely true, by the way — my ignorance of Byzantine psalmody must surely be as perfect as ignorance ever can be. That, though, was precisely the point. For while it’s in the nature of an exhibition like Byzantium — a vast enterprise, in which more than 300 objects are made to represent a thousand years of history, played out on a stage that stretched from York to Moscow, Damascus to Belgrade, the deserts of North Africa to the shores of the Black Sea and beyond — to raise more questions than it could possibly answer, the questions it had raised regarding music were particularly insistent. Continue reading

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