Galina V. Alekseeva

Vizantiisko-russkaia pevcheskaia paleografiia
[The Palaeography of Byzantino-Russian Chant]

Rossiiskaia Akademiia Nauk Institut Russkoi Literatury (Pushinskii Dom).
Sankt-Peterburg, 2007, 368 pages, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, index

       Vladivostok-based musicologist Galina Alekseeva, a senior scholar in the field of early Russian chant studies, issued her monograph in 2007. This is a substantial and copiously illustrated Russian-language volume that breaks new ground in this most important area of medieval music studies. The author achieves a satisfying balance between the best and most current scholarship, Russian and Western, in both medieval Russian and Byzantine chant palaeography for those critical earliest periods of notational development in her pursuit of corollaries between the two seemingly incongruous musical systems.
        Alekseeva’s volume is organized in six chapters with three to four subsections per chapter. Chapters 1 and 2 ground and frame the musical paleographical issues in Slavic literacy and linguistics, providing an important context by aligning the two disciplines. Then in Chapter 3 the author segues into a history and theory of Byzantine musical notation, which is subsequently followed by a complementary chapter (Chapter 4) on the history and theory of medieval Russian chant notation.
        Chapter 5 (p. 195) is for this reviewer the heart of the study. Here the author takes a novel and refreshing approach by moving beyond the traditional approaches to comparative palaeography. Titled “The Poetics of Orthodox Vocal Composition, and the Expression of the System of Mode and Melos,” the author ventures into new and uncharted territory for the field: homiletics and rhetoric, which she uses to ground both Byzantine and medieval Russian chant traditions in a common Byzantine heritage. An abundance of illustrations support her claims.
        The focus of the penultimate Chapter 6 is with the practical issues of palaeography and the deciphering of the chant notations; Alekseeva’s observations are well illustrated with transcriptions of samplings of both Byzantine and Znamenny chants in all eight modes. The meticulous line-by-line tabulation of handwritten neumation of the manuscript sources recalls the analytical methods employed by Milos Velimirovic in his classic 1960 study, Byzantine Elements in Early Slavic Chant, to which the author seems to trace her analytical methods. Replete with comparative tables, her examples highlight that remarkable transformation of melos from Byzantine to Znamenny all the while showing how the Russian notational system is an outgrowth of the Byzantine one, but one in which the latter has also informed the former - in all a daunting task.
        Following this chapter, the author has augmented her study with copious reproductions in colour and black and white of folios from important manuscript sources, which exponentially increases the value of the book. A useful glossary and a comprehensive bibliography conclude the study.
        The opening and closing sentences (pp. 313-314), translated and quoted here make a worthy summation: “Thus in our research we have endeavored to brief look at the chant palaeography as a fundamental autonomous science within the ranks of specialized disciplines... Interacting cultures – the process is always reciprocal. Long ago, this fact has been proven in history. Our work – is still but one step in the understanding of this process concerning two mighty cultures – Byzantine and medieval Russian, through the palaeography, history and theory of its chant.” With this book, Alekseeva has more than fulfilled her mandate in making that all-important one step.
        All told, Alekseeva’s all-inclusive volume is one of the most important and intelligent studies to be issued to date, and should become a cornerstone of the field. An English translation would reach a much greater scholarly audience, and prove an invaluable navigational guide through some musicological uncharted waters.

Gregory Myers