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Culture

The Byzantine Musicologist Diane Touliatos Retires; Her Work Goes On

ST. LOUIS, MO – Dr. Diane Touliatos is an internationally-renowned scholar in the areas of Ancient Greek music, Medieval Byzantine and Western music, and women composers. The University of Missouri-Saint Louis professor recently celebrated her retirement after 35 years of teaching, but her work, a labor of love combining music and history, continues.

It is a passion that extends deep into her childhood. “I had to cry and cry for a piano…my mom gave my dad the ultimatum and he got me a piano and that got me involved in music…and to this day I still play my piano.”

She earned degrees in piano performance in addition to musicology, and choosing among three job offers after her studies, she picked St. Louis for its cultural riches, to which she added with her piano performances. She also enriched the educational experience of more than 4,000 students.

As a research scholar well known to some of the world’s great libraries she has written over 60 scholarly research articles and six books. She is famous for the discovery of the earliest female musical compositions that have been musically notated, written by Casia (known among Greeks as Kasiane).

Touliatos was born in Memphis, TN. She is the only child of Greek immigrant parents. “That’s why I am married to my books and music, and to my sweet husband, Gus Miles.” They met when he became enthralled with a presentation she made at a conference in Florida and he interviewed her for his radio program. They have an adopted daughter who is pursuing a business career.

Her father, Nikos, followed the many Touliatoses from Cephalonia that settled in Memphis and her mother was from Patras.

“I didn’t learn English until I went to first grade, but it was a wonderful place to be. I got a great education including going to Greek school…I used that Greek later on.”

She didn’t think she would, but when she got involved in the musicology of Byzantium, it helped her ease into studies of Byzantine Greek.

When she was searching for a specialization that was unique she reached out to distinguished Byzantinists like Milos Veramirovich, who pointed her in the direction of the 118th (119) psalm, the longest in the Bible.

Among the places she travelled to study manuscripts was the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki. “They had microfilms from Mt. Athos, where as a female I could not set foot,” she said.

Her dissertation on the 118th psalm was very well received. Among the notable aspects of that work was studying the more than 40 composers who set one phrase or another to music through the centuries.

Her magnum opus is A Descriptive Catalogue of the Musical Manuscript Collection of the National Library of Greece: Byzantine Chant and Other Music Repertory Recovered, 660 pages which included commentaries in Greek and English on the importance of each manuscript.

That work contributed to her receiving the award she is most proud of, the Rigas Feraios medallion she was presented in 2007 by Greek President Karolos Papoulias and the presidents of all the other Balkan countries. She was honored for pioneering work in Byzantine musicology. “It was totally unexpected and I am still in awe,” she told TNH.

For the past five years she has been working on her book on Casia. “I have found 53 of her compositions and each one is unique – the woman was brilliant, far ahead of her time. Casia used musical techniques that had never been done, she said. “Her poety was almost Shakespearean and her text always blended with the music… with descriptive coloring: if there is a reference to going down to hell, the musical notes descend…the text becomes a pictorial of the music.”

Some of the texts are associated with other names, like the Monk Germanos, but Touliatos said we know the writing is Casia’s “because she was devoted to defended women.”

Musicians can’t wait to receive her work so they can record the hymns.

Among the people she worked with was the late historian Eva Topping. “She was like a mother to me.” Topping focused on the poetry and Touliatos on the music.

Her studies often migrate into areas of historical rivalry as Greeks and Latins claim priority in certain practices and creations. “While I am there working in the Vatican libraries I keep my mouth shut,” she said. “I stay out of the political arena.”

Touliatos noted that many practices were improvised and thus not written down, giving rise to controversy. She si among those who believe that he use off the ison – the drone note – by chanters long preceded textual evidence for it.

Touliatos has served as Director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Missouri-St. Louis since 1995, and she is proud that she and her husband spearheaded the fundraising that led to the creation of the Endowed Professorship for Greek Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

The drive culminated with a generous gift from Nicholas Karakas of the Karakas Family Foundation.

 

 

 

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