Extending from Western Europe to Asia Minor and North Africa to the Middle East, the Byzantine Empire was one of the most influential political, commercial, and cultural forces in the Mediterranean basin for more than a millennium. Its vast territory encompassed regions with diverse cultural, religious, and linguistic traditions. Merchants, artisans, travelers, and diplomats moved through Byzantine lands along international and regional trade and travel routes, many destined for the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, the chief entrepôt between Europe and Asia. The diversity of its population and the movement of people and material goods through its territory both informed Byzantine culture and circulated it to Byzantium’s Christian neighbors, the Islamic world, and Europe.
Like all forms of Byzantine culture, its music reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the Empire. The influence of diverse poetic and musical traditions, such as Jewish sacred music, Syriac chant, and western polyphony, are found in Byzantine liturgical poetry and musical manuscripts, and traces of Byzantine music are reflected in Western chant, Russian and Slavonic church music, and the many musical traditions of the Mediterranean world. Today, Byzantine chant is performed as part of the liturgy of the Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox Churches. Reverberations of Byzantine music are also present in Greek folk music, popular musical genres, such as Rebetiko, and in the work of composers from Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky to Arvo Pärt and John Tavener.
The Boston Byzantine Music Festival celebrates Byzantine music from its origins in the early centuries of the Eastern Roman Empire through its reception in contemporary society. Its concerts, workshops, and academic events explore connections between Byzantine music and other music genres, promote its study at the university level, and foster an appreciation of Byzantium’s musical heritage.
Sponsored by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, with the New York Life Center for the Study of Pontus and Asia Minor, both at Hellenic College Holy Cross, the Boston Byzantine Music Festival brings together scholars, practitioners, and musicians from the Greater Boston Area, across North America, and abroad to showcase one of world music’s most ancient traditions.