Robinson McClellan ~ composer



for Chorus and Soloists (Greek Byzantine or Western) with String Instrument(s) (kbd or bass guitar or kanun, etc)

Text: Romanos the Melodist, trans. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash (permission secured)

Commissioned by Nektarios Antoniou and Schola Cantorum

Verse 3 (score p.8)

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Verses 8-9 (p.30)

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View score

Read my guest blog post about this piece, from my talk at Notre Dame University, "God is a Harmonic Being": Musical Theology. View it online, or as a PDF.

About the piece:

This piece is partly modeled on medieval Passion settings. It differentiates the characters of the Nativity story via contrasting voice parts and melodic styles. The music follows the traditional Byzantine two-part texture of melody with a (moving) drone and alternating recitative with passages of steady quarter-note pulse in mixed meter.

Instruments accompany the singers, providing support for the music's unusual tunings. Instrumentation is flexible: it could be a keyboard or plucked instrument, or four low bowed strings (violas or cellos).

The piece references the Byzantine scales with their 72-divided octave, but it is intuitive for singers of any background, as it uses only diatonic scales; subtle tuning differences take care of themselves as the singers tune to the instruments.

The score provides both staff notation and Byzantine neumes, in parallel. I have modified the Byzantine modes via a modulation technique I developed for this piece that is new to both Byzantine and classical music. Beneath a simple melody-accompaniment texture, the piece moves through a series of 1/6th-tone modulations designed to elucidate and support the narrative.

I believe this hybrid of Western and Byzantine sound, technique and notation is unique: I have not found any other piece like it.


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Nativity Kontakion

"Major Chord: Sixes and Sevens"
(composer's visual representation of the music's distinctive structure)