Znamennoe singing is a term that refer to either 'any monodial, unison liturgical singing that is performed using Kryuki, "крюки" (or Znamena ('znamyona'), знамёна) notation, rather than linear notation', or 'a particular system of unison liturgical singing'. Both meanings refer to Russian Orthodox Church tradition of singing.
In both cases, a distinguishing feature of Znamennoe singing is that it is written with special signs, called Znamena (archaic for "marks", "signs") or Kryuki ("hooks"), for some shapes of these signs resemble hooks. Each sign may include the following components: a large black hook or a black stroke, several smaller black 'points' and 'commas', several red marks and lines near the hook or crossing the hook. Some signs may mean only one note, some - 2-4 notes, some - a whole melody of more than 10 notes and of a complicated rhythmic structure.
The most notable feature of this system of writing music is that it records transitions of the melody, rather than notes. The hooks are also coding a mood and a gradation of how this part of melody should be sung (tempo, strength, pathos, tenderness, etc.)
Over time the system became very complicated. It was also ambiguous, so that almost no one, except maybe the most trained and educated singers, can sing an unknown melody at sight. The hooks only help to reproduce the melody, not just coding it in a unambiguous way.
The evolution of the system halted after the penetration of Western music into Russia, called "Latin singing" by the Orthodox Church, the term was considered derogatory, since it referred to "incorrect Latin faith".
Currently hooks are used only by the Old Believers. Different denominations of Old Believers use different types of hook system. In the 19th century, some Old Believers (Edinovertsy, for example) have tried to move to the modern neume form of notation that tries to capture exact relations between pitches; currently they use a standard linear notation.
- Traditional Eastern Orthodox Chant Documentation Project - a lot of information and notes. (English)
- Observations on the Early Russian Collections of the Library of Congress - references to Znamennoe singing
- Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox church music. The Canadian Encyclopedia.