Prostopinije Melodies

The plainsong rhythm of prostopinije is a characteristic it shares with many families of liturgical chant;  it is the prostopinije melodies, along with the strong tradition of congregational singing, which distinguish Carpatho-Ruthenian chant.  These melodies have been inherited from the oldest layer of Slavic liturgical singing, the znammeny chant, and broadened with the incorporation of chant from other Slavic regions, and from the native folk-song tradition of the Carpathian Mountains.

The prostopinije is a complete chant system;  that is, it provides almost all the melodies required for all the texts sung or chanted in the Byzantine Slavonic liturgy.   A few melodies are missing, and in these few cases the prostopinije is supplemented from closely-related sources, such as Galician or znammeny chant.  

How the melodies are organized

Each type of liturgical text has a melody (or a set of melodies) associated with it.

Most prostopinije melodies are used for texts which are assigned to one of the eight tones. Some of these melodies share a common structure consisting of phrases which are repeated in a specific pattern, in order to sing a text of any length. Many of them also share common melodic patterns; learning these makes it easier to understand the individual melodies in this group.

The oldest and most complicated liturgical melodies still in use are those for the canons sung at Matins, and at the Divine Liturgy on feast days.  These "irmos" melodies are some of the oldest and most beautiful in the prostopinije collection.  
Melodies for Canons.
When the short hymns called troparia and kontakia occur during the services, they are sung using simpler melodies, one in each tone, built out of repeating phrases. Special melodies called podobny are also used when appointed in the liturgical books. Melodies for Troparia
Melodies for Kontakia
Prokeimena and alleluia are used to introduce Scriptural readings; sometimes they are sung at a point in the services where a reading once occurred.  The melodies for prokeimena and alleluia are also used for certain responsorial sections of Vespers and Matins which resemble prokeimena. Melodies for Prokeimena and Alleluia.
When psalm verses are sung in alternation with short hymns called stichera, special matching melodies are used for each psalm verse, and for the sticheron that follows it. The common melodies are called samohlasen tones;  there are also bolhar (Bulgarian) melodies for use at Litija and in the funeral service, and special podoben melodies for stichera. Melodies for Stichera


The remaining prostopinije melodies are used for the parts of the services that are not assigned to one of the eight tones.

The melodies for the fixed parts of the services (blessings, litanies, prayers, and responses) are the simplest, and for many years were a matter of oral tradition.  They are all easily learned, and used over and over throughout the services.
Ordinary melodies
The melodies for the liturgical hymns (such as the Hymn of the Evening at Vespers, the Great Doxology at Matins, and the Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy) are usually more complicated.  The hymns used most often may have several common melodies. See the entry for each liturgical hymn
When psalms or sections or psalms appear in the services, they are chanted using simple melodies called psalm tones. Psalm tones
When other parts of the Old or New Testament are read, they are chanted using simple melodies called  reading tones Reading tones

In practice, it's best to learn the prostopinije melodies in the reverse order - starting with the simplest melodies, before proceeding to the more complicated ones.

Common characteristics of prostopinije melodies

Melodies in the prostopinije are primarily stepwise, with leaps occurring only occasionally;  leaps of more than a fourth are quite rare.  Although they are notated in a few common keys (primarily B flat major and G major in the Slavonic chant books), prostopiije melodies often exhibit a tonality which does not precisely match the usual major and minor scales used in most Western music.  Furthermore, when sung in church, the key pitch may be adjusted upwards or downwards, to suit the cantor and singers.

Mukačevo and Prešov - two variant chant traditions

For centuries, prostopinije was largely an oral tradition, especially where the commonly used melodies were involved.  Even today, the melodies may be sung with small variations from one parish to the next.  Two slightly different traditions of prostopinije grew up over time around the cathedral towns of  Mukačevo and Prešov.  Since the traditions of Mukačevo are the ones used in almost every church of our own Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, it is this tradition which is presented throughout this website.  For information about the Prešov chant, which is still widely used in the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown, see The Prešov Tradition.

Recommended Reading


More about: Prostopinije
More about aspects of prostopinje:  
History - Styles of singing - Rhythm and tempo - MelodiesLearnng - Chant books Singing the Services