From a liturgical and musicological standpoint, the Assyrian tradition is seminal in understanding the connections between the Hebraic and early Christian liturgical traditions, as it is the most Semitic of all Christian liturgies. This view, however, is not without contention.
Even before the establishment of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 4th century, Antioch, in present-day Syria, was, together with Jerusalem and Rome, one of the three centers of Christianity. Four disparate liturgical traditions evolved from Antioch, the earliest of which is the Assyrian, the only ancient Christian liturgy to develop outside the Roman Empire. The Assyrian tradition originated in Persian after the condemnation of the teachings of Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) and the settlement of his supporters in present-day Iran and Iraq. Over time, the Assyrian tradition spread to India, Turkestan, Tibet, and even China.
The second liturgical tradition, the Syrian Orthodox, emerged in Syria and Palestine from opposition to the Chalcedonian doctrine promulgated by the Council of 451 A.D., and preserved many translations of originally Greek texts from the defunct local rites of Antioch and, as is the case with the liturgy of St. James, Jerusalem. By contrast, those who abided by the doctrines of the council, the so-called "royalists" or Melkites, gradually distanced themselves from the Syrian Orthodox Church and assimilated their liturgy to that of Byzantium. In fact, the Melkite liturgy effectively became a Syriac translation of the Byzantine rite. It is important to note that what is nowadays known as the Melkite church is in fact a Catholic congregation that follows the Melkite rite. But the confessional heir of the original Orthodox tradition is the so-called Antiochian Orthodox Church, with allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Yet, some other Chalcedonian groups in western Syria, and eventually Lebanon, were not influenced by the Byzantine tradition, and in fact allied themselves with Rome during the Crusades. Whereas the potential influence of Western musical traditions on Maronite liturgy deserves consideration, it is the relationship to its Assyrian and Jacobite counterparts, and the amalgamation of all these traditions, that warrants closer scrutiny.
The Maronite and West Syrian rites also make use of Syriac hymnody. In fact, one of the defining aspects of the various Syrian chant traditions is the modal system each employ. Although it is not clear which system was in use by the ancient Assyrians, as the contemporary Assyrians - together with the Chaldeans and Maronites - employ the Arab scales, it is presumed that their music was based on some sort of system, which may have been of Byzantine or Persian origin. In addition to these Arab scales, or maqāmāt , the Assyrian system includes both major and minor diatonic modes which may represent a connection to the ancient Syrian system. On the other hand, the Syrian Orthodox tradition, as well as its Catholic counterpart, is the only one that employs a system analogous to the Byzantine and Gregorian eight modes. However, the Syrians adapted and indigenized the system by adding elements of Arab and Turkish origin to the musical vocabulary.
The primary sources for all four types of Syrian chant are not abundant, but several compilations have made them more accessible. The British Museum in London does possess a treasure in manuscripts from the 10th and 11th centuries, which were compiled by William Wright in a volume called ‘Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum’, and published in 1872. Among others, these manuscripts contain examples of the so-called Ionian canons, which show a clear link between the Syrian and Byzantine traditions. Furthermore, in the beginning of the twentieth century, E.W. Brooks edited a volume titled ‘James of Edessa: the Hymns of Severus of Antioch and Others ‘, which contains several Maعniāthā. These are special hymns that cannot be found outside the Syrian Orthodox monastic rite. Other important sources for the study of the diverse Syrian traditions are the compilations of H.P. Hatch, An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts, published in Boston in 1946, and W.F. Macomber’s 1970 ‘A List of the Known Manuscripts of the Chaldean Ḥudrā’.
Wright's volume is available for online viewing at the following address:
Scholarly analysis has exposed connections between the rite and the liturgies of Gaul and Spain, although the origins of such relationship have yet to be established. Likewise, there is considerable evidence about borrowings from the Byzantine rite, which point towards a direct influence from the Eastern Roman world in the liturgical traditions of Milan.
The Ambrosian repertory is associated with Milan. It is one of the two Western repertories transmitted integrally in pitch-accurate notation, which is probably due to the city's political, cultural, and economic importance. Despite the more limited presence of Ambrosian chant in modern history, the rite, which is attributed to Saint Ambrose, was more widely disseminated. In fact, historical accounts identify a geographic dominion that extended to all seventeen Roman provinces of the peninsula. Furthermore, there is evidence that the chant was sung in the southern parts of present-day Italy, in territories conquered by the Lombards and Ostragoths. The singularity of Ambrosian chant, on the other hand, can be attributed to the liturgical independence of Milan following its elevation to bishopric in the 2nd century.
Ecce quam bonum et jocundum
In contrast to the Roman rite, the Milanese - or Ambrosian - liturgy is rich in hymns, which may have been introduced by Ambrose himself. In addition, Ambrosian chant possesses a strong scriptural basis that affects the metrics of the verse. The melodies exhibit a wide range of character and length, with mostly syllabic antiphons for the ferial psalms and melismatic and elaborate canti and alleluias.
Extant manuscripts of Ambrosian masses and offices date from the 11th century, and some fragments from the 8th century have also survived. However, most notated melodies come from 12th century sources. These melodies were written in a notation that belongs to the Guidonian type, which was widely used in central Italy. It is therefore worth noting that the sources did not employ any of the notation systems that were in use in the north.
The antiphoner was divided into two parts: the pars hiemalis, for the period from the third Sunday of October until Holy Saturday, and the pars aestiva, covering the rest of the year, corresponding to the decision of the Milanese liturgy in the time when it alternated between two venues, Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla. On the other hand, there is no evidence of the existence of an Ambrosian monastic antiphoner.
The manuscript below is a Gloria.