Nea Phorminx

(Athens, 1921-1923)

Prepared by Katy Romanou
Online only (2015)

Nea Phorminx: a Monthly Music, Ecclesiastical and Philological Periodical. Instrument of the Conservatory of National Music (Νέα φόρμιγξ) [NEP], was published in Athens as thirteen issues: from March 1921 to February 1923: seven single issues, three double (Nos. 8-9, 11-12, 23-24), two summer triple issues (Nos. 5-7, 16-18), and one quadruple issue (No. 19-22) that circulated after the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” and the death of the editor’s wife. Nea Phorminx has the shape and size of Phorminx, that is, a broadsheet (36,5 x 28 cm) printed in three column format. Page numbering is independent in each issue. Initially the periodical contains eight pages, but the three single issues of 1922 (Nos. 13, 14, 15) have four pages, and the double issues Nos. 8-9 and 11-12, eight, while the last double issue (No. 23-24) has six pages; the quadruple issue (No. 19-22) as well as the two triple summer issues (Nos. 5-7, 16-18) have twelve pages each. The enlarged double, triple and quadruple issues and short life of the periodical reflect the events of the so called "Asia Minor Catastrophe," the failed campaign in 1922 to liberate Greeks in Asia Minor, resulting to their violent persecution and an ensuing exchange of populations1. A special printing house was established for the publication of Nea Phorminx. Lacking a funding source other than some donations and the subscriptions of its readers, the editors regularly published short announcements reminding subscribers of their obligation. Dates appearing in NEP correspond to the thirteen day difference from the dates of the Gregorian calendar. The date of the third issue reads "June 1921" instead of "May 1921". In the copy provided for the RIPM calendar, the mistake is corrected by hand.

Nea Phorminx continued the work and purpose of Phorminx (1901-1912), namely the protection of traditional music (Byzantine music and its notation) from the fast spread of Western music. However, in the gap of the twenty years between the publications of the two periodicals, the environment had substantially changed: Western music had been imposed on music education in Greece, while (reformed) Byzantine notation was mainly offered by church chanters. This explains the term "ecclesiastical" in the periodical's subtitle.

Nea Phorminx aims to vindicate and propagate the work of Constantinos Psachos (1866 or 1874-1949)2. The journal’s founder and one of its editors, Psachos was born in Constantinople where he studied and worked as a church chanter and teacher until 1904. Thereafter he settled in Athens for the remainder of his life. In Constantinople he was an esteemed researcher of Byzantine music and a founding and active member of the Ecclesiastical Music Society of Constantinople [Ekklesiastikos Mousikos Syllogos Constantinoupoleos] (founded in 1898),3 a society distinguished for its efforts to bring Greeks in contact with Western researchers of Byzantine music.4 Theokletos, the archbishop of Athens, and Georgios Nazos, the director of the Conservatory of Athens, agreed to create a department of Byzantine music at the conservatory, hoping to end the arbitrary manner of chanting currently employed in Athenian churches. Nazos visited Constantinople in July 1903 for the purpose of discussing with members of the Ecclesiastical Music Society, the appointment of Constantinos Psachos for the organisation of such a department in the conservatory and the teaching of the Constantinopolitan way of chanting (recognised as authentic).

Regular features in Nea Phorminx are an editorial, written as a rule by Psachos, dealing with subjects related to the ritual in the churches of Athens, the professional rights of chanters, the relation of the Greek Church to the Greek state, and the activities of the Conservatory of National Music. Zetemata [Issues] is a regular column in which the habits connected with chanting in Athens, or information on Psachos's projects are discussed. Eideseis [News] is also a regular column, giving information about the "arrivals of chanters" or festivities organized in various churches. A column entitled Bibliologia [Bibliology]5 or Ekdoseis [Editions] or Neai Ekdoseis [New editions] or Nea Biblia kai periodika [New books and periodicals] appears in most issues, announcing editions related to music, to the church, or to the history of Greece. An independent piece of music is presented in every issue, in both Byzantine and staff notations (with the exception of two cases that are only given in Byzantine notation). Most are folk songs, but one is a patriotic song and two are folk dances, accompanied by special signs indicating the dance steps. The other pieces of music are Byzantine chants. Most of Psachos' s collaborators were distinguished authors in their own fields. Emmanuel A. Pezopoulos, the co-editor (1880-1946), was a professor of ancient Greek philology at the University of Athens and teacher of hymnology and aesthetics at Psachos' s Conservatory of National Music. Pezopoulos, contributed an important article on Romanos the melodist, and presents the text of an unpublished canon of the fourteenth century. Manuel Gedeon (1851-1943) was one of the most important historians of the culture, education and society of the Greeks in Asia Minor. Having been favoured with access to valuable archives of the patriarchate in Constantinople (most of which are lost today), his writings are to be considered historical sources. In NEP he publishes, from manuscripts he discovered, biographies of Byzantine musicians, such as Asinas the melodist (a fifth- century monk in Mesopotamia) and Kosmas the Macedonian. An article characteristic of Gedeon’s progressive views on the history of culture is “Musikai diachyseis oikiakai” [Domestic music diffusions], in which he gives evidence of the fusion of Greek Church music, Western music and Turkish music, superimposed on Greek secular music during the Ottoman Empire.

Other collaborators, also members of the staff of the Conservatory of National Music include Stavros Vrachames, a mathematician and physicist who taught acoustics, helped Psachos with the calculations for the construction of the "Greek" keyboard instrument. Michael Papathanasopoulos, a doctor who taught the physiology of voice writes regularly on that subject. Georgios Papagaroufales, a teacher of Greek folk dances and inventor describes his system of signs showing the steps in parallel with the dance melody. Eva Palmer-Sikelianou who also taught Byzantine music to beginners contributes her lecture given at the First Women's Conference in Greece, in which she concludes with the announcement of a whip round for the construction of Psachos' s keyboard instruments. Texts of special interest are an extended abstract from a translation of Théodore Reinach’s "Un ancêtre de la Musique d' Église," Revue musicale (1922), concerning the Oxyrhynchus Papyri of the third entury. A.D. discovered in Egypt in 1922, and a translation of: Ch.Em. Ruelle’s "Le Chant des sept voyelles grecques d' après Démétrius et les papyrus de Leyde," Revue des Études Grecques,2i (1889).

The copy of New Phornminx used for this RIPM publication is kept in the Centre of Asia Minor Studies in Athens and was provided by the head of the Centre's music department, Marcos Ph. Dragoumes.

1 Dimitri Pentzopoulos, The Balkan Exchange of Minorities and its Impact on Greece (London, 2002): 98-99.

2 It seems that Psachos was obliged for some bureaucratic reason to change the date of his birth, but it is not known which of the two dates is proper.

3 A society thus entitled operated also in 1863-1870.

4 J. B. Thibaut was the first Western researcher to become a member of the society in 1899, followed by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray and Hugo Gaisser.

5 An obsolete word meaning all knowledge concerning books.