By Mästarinna Margreþa la Fauvelle
When Their Majesties Brennan and Caoilfhionn announced that their Coronation was to be in a Byzantine theme, the Greek in (mundane) me knew two things right away: one being that I would make certain that all Greek terms would be written, transliterated and pronounced right, and two being that there had to be some flavor of chant or other as part of the ceremony.
I also knew right away that I wouldn’t have to write original chant music. There is just so much to choose from, such as “Ti Ipermacho Stratigo” (To the Defender General) sung in praise of the Virgin in her role as defender of the Empire, sung on the last Salutations Mass that happens on the Friday before Easter week, The Troparion of Cassia (with the added bonus of featuring a female composer!) sung on Holy Tuesday, the three different Epitaph Praises (Egomia) sung on Good Friday.
But almost all of those, beautiful compositions as they are, have a degree of mourning and sadness in them, since they are gearing towards the Crucifixion, and as such I decided to pass on all of them, as I wanted to tailor the contrafacta text in a way that evoked the original while keeping it 100% secular. I started to think about hymns sung for a joyous occasion, and naturally the first thing that came to mind was Christmas and the Kontakion “I Parthenos Simeron” (The Virgin Today).
The melody is striking, yet simple, could be repeated several times if needed, and the lyrics are a narration of the Nativity. And the composer was Romanos the Melodian, who was contemporary with the time frame of the Coronation itself. My search was over.
Once I refreshed my memory of the complete lyric, the contrafacta in Koine Greek started creating itself. Here is how:
“The Virgin today bears him who transcends matter” became “The Kingdom today receives new heirs”
“And the Earth offers the cavern to him who is beyond reach” became “Invincible King, Fair Queen”
“Angels with shepherds rejoice” became “Lords with Masters sing praise unto them”
“Wise men journey with the Star” became “Roses with Knights rejoice”
“For he was born for us” became “For they will be crowned for us”
“New child, the God from centuries ago” became “Caoilfhionn and Brennan of the East”
(The last two lines were only sung when TRMs were on the dais)
Once the lyric was in place, I had to consider how to best present the music in its correct form: Main melody with drone polyphony. I thought I’d have to write drones from scratch, but I was lucky to find an online article about Konstantinos Psachos, a 19th century scholar whose work codified the rules of droning chant. This discovery led to an online file of the Christmas Kontakion sheet music written with full drones. All I had to do was enter the melody in my notation program and fit it with the contrafacta lyrics, and then just assign parts for the 3 part choir that resulted.
link to file here, I have been unable to embed it to this document: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GL-NnuFO6PDPu95e_Fy26DkSo3dWkTl5
I put a call out for low range voices, a few brave souls answered the call, and with the help of the wonderful acoustics of the Coronation site we were proud to deliver a performance fit for a Coronation.
I am beyond happy that I could offer this, and that it went so well that I felt obligated to write an article about it. The following are to be mentioned and thanked for the success of this endeavor.
TRMs Brennan III and Caoilfhionn III who saw it right that we do this unto Their special day
Master Steffan ap Kennydd and Hypatissa Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina who put the Coronation ceremony together and clearly needed someone to throw music at them
And the intrepid choristers who learned the Kontakion in two weeks and nailed it:
Viscount Edward Zifran of Gendy
Master Peter the Red
THL Martyn de Halliwell
THL Ekaterina of Anglespur