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Russian Orthodox Hymnody / Development of Russian part singing

Development of Russian part singing

The first meeting of the Moscovites with catholic music took place in 1605 - 1606, during the reign of the false tzar Dmitry I. Patriarch Germogen expressed his opinion about this music in such words, addressed to Saltykov: "I see the defying of true faith by the heretics and by you - traitors. I see the destruction of holy churches and I am not able to listen to this Latin singing in Moscow". This rejection of harmonious singing is quite understandable, as it was connected with foreign military aggression.

The union with appeared on the frontier with catholic Poland disturbed the peaceful life of Southern Russians and they started to leave their native places and went to Orthodox Moscow in search of protection. It was but natural that they brought part singing with them. This kind of singing interested Russian clergy and aristocracy. One of the outstanding hierarchs of the Russian Church-future Patriarch Nikon, introduced part singing to Novgorod the Great, when he was the Metropolitan of Novgorod.

His biographer Shusherin wrote: "It was inspired singing, much better than the callous music of an organ. Noone had a very similar kind of singing to that of the Metropolitan Nikon".

The Patriarch Nikon was an advocate of polyphonic Strochny singing, that was very popular in Novgorod. That was the reason of his immediate liking of part singing. When in 1652 he became the Patriarch, he began the reforms of the Church, and church singing, with equal enthusiasm. He was encouraged by the tzar Alexey Mikhailovich, who had also been an advocate of part singing.

The tzar Alexey Mikhailovich invited eleven of the best composers and choristers from Kiev. In a month one more choir consisting of nine persons arrived from Kiev to Moscow. By the time when Nikon became the Patriarch he had twenty professional choristers organized in a choir.

The Patriarch Nikon introduced part singing not only in his Moscow cathedral, but in the monasteries as well. After the liberation of Byelorussia, the Orshansk Orthodox Brotherhood was transferred to the Iver monastery in Valdai. Byelorussian monks brought the elements of Western European Enlightenment and traditions of part singing with them.

One of the centres of part singing was the New Jerusalem monastery near Moscow, where the Patriarch's private residence was situated.

Thus, thanks to the efforts of the tzar and the Patriarch, part singing was quickly spreading in Russia. But the attitude of the Russians to it was contrary. Part singing had its advocates and its opponents. The protests of its opponents continued even after the resignation of Nikon.

The question of the use of part singing at a divine service was rather problematic. To clarify it, a group of the parisheners of the Cathedral of St.Apostle John in Moscow appealled to the Patriarch Macarious of Antioch and Paisius of Alexandria. They asked the hierarchs of the Church if they were allowed to use part singing at a divine service. The answer given in 1668 by the two Patriarchs read as follows: "Though the kind of singing which is called part singing, appeared not in the Eastern church, it has never been condemned by anyone". The document was signed by two Patriarchs in Arabic and in Greek. So 1668 may be considered the date of the official recognition of part singing.

The main factor that promoted the quick spreading of part singing in Russia was the interest of the Russian masters of singing to it. The fact that the book of Znamenny chants used in churches was rearranged twelve times for four parts and four times for eight parts illustrates this. Feast day hymns of the year cycle were rearranged for four parts seventeen times, to say nothing about their rearrangement for three, five, six, eight or twelve parts.

Early Russian part singing presented the arrangements of the melodies of Znamenny chant or triphonic melodies of Strochny chant for four parts. Those scores were intended for the quadrophonic singing of mixed choirs.

The voices were differenciated according to their height or timbre. They were: bass, tenor, alto and treble voice (soprano). The directing voice was that of the tenor in part singing arrangements which corresponded to Polish - Ukrainian rules of composition.

Investigating early scores of Russian part singing, we may come to the conclusion that they presented the combination of two styles: that of Polish - Ukrainian part singing and another of Russian Strochny singing.

The middle voices of the score kept some features, characteristic of Russian Strochny polyphony, such as parallelism of the thirds and fourths, and crossing of voices. The appearance of the treble voice, subordinated to bass, was a new element. The movement of the bass also got some features, which had been never met before in Russian scores.

Creating works of their own, the composers were no longer restricted by the rules of ancient Znamenny chant. Their technique became more various. Gradually there appeared a new type of Russian choral part concert which was usually performed at the end of the liturgy.

Part singing was usually quadrophonic, but musical compositions for six, seven, eight, twelve or even more voices were not very rare. Those were multichoral compositions. Their appearance denoted a new step in the development of part singing. The role of voices changed. Tenor was no longer the directing voice. The treble voice became more active and melodious. The use of treble voices and altoes as main parts changed the character of sounding. Choirs became mixed and acquired a special timbre, because of the combination of male and boys' voices.

Part singing brought a new (Western) manner of singing to Russia. It was distinguished by the smoothness of voices, flexibility of vocalization, the care for trained voices, and correct breathing.

Aesthetic significance of multichoral compositions was in the mass sounding that covered the whole compass of vocal music. Those monumental choral compositions demanded the amplifying of architectural volumes. The size of cathedrals grew, this growth reached its climax in the great cathedrals of St.Petersburg.

S.Smolensky - a well known specialist of the history of church singing, wrote in the XIXth century: "It is almost impossible to imagine how sixteen, twenty four or forty eight part vocal compositions (for four, six or twelve separate choirs) were performed in a cathedral. However, frayed pages of choral scores, stained with candle wax, witness their repeated use".

Some musical experts consider this increase of the choir staff to be the result of the influence of catholic instrumental and vocal music. The use of musical instruments in the Orthodox Church was prohibited, and the choir, which was two or three times bigger than usual, substituted the orchestra.

Multichoral compositions paved the way to the development of orchestral symphonic music. That is why they disappeared from the repertoire of church choirs, alongside with the introduction of orchestras in the middle of the XVIIIth century, without any demands for their removal by the church authorities.

Concert style of part singing enriched Russian sacred music with new methods of artistic expressiveness.

Russian part concert, contrary to catholic music, stayed purely vocal - a capella.

First information of the theory and rules of this new style of musical composition was published in the book by N.Diletsky "Musical grammar". This book became the basic text book for the composers of part singing style in Russia and the Ukraine. It contained the system of rules for creating polyphonic choral compositions. The flourish of the concert style of the XVIIth century Russian music is connected with the name of an outstanding composer, musical theorist and teacher N.Diletsky. The first quarter of the XVIIth century was the time when the development of the concert style reached its climax. It was the time when V.Titov, M.Kalashnikov, Ph. Redrikov and other outstanding composers worked. They wrote a lot of liturgies and concerts of choral sacred music.


The epoch of Peter the Great

Russian culture, which had undergone a great change between the XVIIth and the XVIIIth centuries entered a new period of its development.

The reforms of the tzar Peter the Great completely changed the order of cultural and social life of Russia. Old habits as well as the foundations and principles of the medieval world outlook were ruined. The questions of enlightenment acquired great importance. Peter the Great opened new theological seminaries and schools. A large number of secular schools were also opened; exact sciences became very important.

The Academy of Science was founded in 1724 by the tzar's edict. New cultural relations with progressive countries of Western Europe were set up. Old boyar Russ gave up its place to the young state of Peter the Great. This state was strengthened by local reforms and military victories.

The policy, which brought Russian social life nearer to the European standards, was necessitated by the natural wish to strengthen the Russian state and to raise its international authority. Actually, all the norms of the social order of life, people's everyday behavior and court etiquette, were subordinated to those purposes. Peter the Great tried to give the masses access to the new European culture, which differed greatly from the secluded Russian medieval order of life.

To break the ties with that secluded life, which most of the Russians led, Peter I organized palace assemblies with dancing, street holidays in honour of great events, such as victories over enemies and conclusions of peace. He prohibited the nobles to have their own "home churches", in order to make parish churches and cathedrals the social centres, where people could communicate and get together. All these efforts promoted the further development of secular and sacred music of a new type.

New functions of musical art were expressed in the genre of festival gala music, music for parades. At state celebrations in honour of some victory the streets of Moscow and later the streets of St.Petersburg were decorated with specially built Gates of Triumph, which were usually ornamented with popular antique symbolics. The victors were met at those gates by the fanfares of military orchestras and choirs. Specially composed panegyrical or vivat hymns (from the Greek word "panhguricoz", which means " song of praise"; and Latin "vivat", meaning "Long live!') were performed in honour of Peter the Great and his generals. Those hymns were called "cants". As regards the music and verse of those cants, they presented the typical expression of the heroic and patriotic mood of the epoch of Peter I. They brought with them new patterns of civil patriotic poetry, filled with the realization of the power of the state. Those cants gave birth to a new style of hymnody of festival splendour. Choral concerts dated to the end of the century are the best examples of this style.

The Court choir was founded on the basis of the choir of the tzar's deacons - choristers, which existed for more than two hundred years. The Court choir took part in all state festivals and ceremonies. When the capital of Russia had been transferred to St.Petersburg, the Court choir also moved there. The choristers often accompanied the tzar in his voyages abroad and in military compaigns.

There was one more leading choir in Russia. It was the choir of the Patriarch's deacons - choristers in Moscow. In 1721 it got the name of the Synodal choir.

Besides these two choirs, the choristers of the St.Alexander Nevsky Lavra were very famous. Some nobles of Peter's court had their own choirs.

The beginning of the XVIIIth century was the golden age of polyphonic part singing. Great masters of this style: Titov, Redrikov, Kalashnikov and others, continued their work. Basil Titov was the member of the Court choir. These composers created festival concerts relevant in style and spirit to the aims of official holiday music.

Choral concerts of those times acquired new intonational elements, which were charasteristic of panegyrical cants, with their march like rhythm and triumphant fanfares. Many concerts were specially composed to mark some events of state importance, they were executed in honour of Peter's the Great victories. The bright example of such music is the twelve part concert by B.Titov, created in honour of the victory at Poltava.

It must be specially noted, that polyphonic part style compositions had not completely supplanted the old traditions of Znamenny singing. Ancient monophonic singing tradition, enriched with new chants, was still alive ; and though its life was sinking, this sinking was glorious. Some churches in villages and small towns could not afford to have a large choir, they were content with ancient monophonic singing. Strochny singing and polyphonic arrangements of Znamenny chant were also used. A famous musical expert Y.Keldysh explained: "The struggle between the new singing tradition and the old one is being substituted by their synthesis during this century".

The role of choral music in Russian theatre must be specially noted. The old tradition of mysterious perfomances, which flourished in the epoch of Peter I, was predominant in the work of the theatre. Among the educated clergy in theological seminaries and academies, the XVIIth century traditions of so called "school drama" or "school theatre" were being developed. The plots of those dramas were mostly religious: Bible stories in the form of drama perfomances of instructive character.

The works of Pheophanes Prokopovich - a Novgorodian Bishop and one of the closest associates of Peter the Great were written in the form of drama. Pheophanes Prokopovich developed the principles of Russian and Ukrainian sacred perfomances of the XVI - XVIIth centuries. Music occupied a great place in school drama. Choral music prevailed, and its functions were strictly regulated. The final chorus was obligatory. The best example of the mixed literary-musical drama is the Christmas play written by Dmitry of Rostov. It was staged for the first time in 1702 in Rostov. Alongside with solos it contained a member of choral perfomances adopted from traditional psalms of the XVIIth century.

Ways of the development of Russian sacred music in the post Peter the Great epoch (1730 -1760)

In the epoch following the reign of Peter the Great the Emperor's court still stayed the centre of Russian musical culture. The very aims of art were considered in the light of the court etiquette. The businesslike and comparatively modest mode of life of Peter's court was changed by the magnificence and brilliance of the courts of his successors - Empresses Ann and Elizabeth.

Feasts, balls and masquerades followed after musical entertainments and chamber concerts. The atmosphere of court life, which struck foreigners with its splendour, effected all the fields of Russian art.

Russian art of those times was orientated around Western European standards. The ode was the main genre of poetry, the portrait and heroic-mythological composition were predominant in painting, architects worked in the Baroque style. Palaces, built by a famous architect Rastrelli are bright specimens of Russian architecture of the period of Empress Elizabeth's reign. They reflected the power and might of the Russian state.

Italian opera became most popular. Having appeared in Italy at the very beginning of the XVIIth century, the opera presented the development of a new solo vocal style. Music reflected the feelings and moods, expressed in verse. Arias and recitatives were sung by one singer with an accompaniment. So polyphony gave its place to monophonic singing with an accompaniment. Arias, in which there was only one expressive vocal line with harmonious accompaniment, had the greatest success. This method was later adopted by sacred music composers; especially it concerned choral concerts in Italian style, in which the upper melodious voice played the leading role, while other voices sounded as if they were accompanying it. The method of repeating separate words of the text several times also came to Russian sacred music from Italian opera. In earlier times it was prohibited either to repeat the words of holy texts or to change their places. The lengthening of sounding was reached by means of a slow tempo and intersyllable prolongations - that is repeating one and the same syllable many times.

Broad musical forms of opera arias and Italian concerts were created with the help of numerous repetitions of words and their transpositions.

The appearance of Opera theatre in Russia in the epoch following the reign of Peter the Great made the Court choir come into contact with Italian music. The Empress Ann ordered the choristers of the Court choir to take part in the performances of the Italian opera.

First opera performances in Russia took place in 1731, when a group of Italian singers was invited to Moscow. Those singers had worked at the court of the Saxon elector Friedrich August. Regular performances of Italian opera started in the middle of the thirties of the XVIIIth century, in a specially built Opera house in St.Petersburg.

Francesco Araya - a composer from Naples, who came to Russia together with a group of Italian singers, became the director and conductor of the Opera theatre in St.Petersburg in 1742.

Operas were performed in Italian. Spectators had Russian translations of a libretto, with the help of which they could follow the performance.

At the beginning of his work in St.Petersburg F.Araya had to attract Russian singers to his performances.

Talented singers, Mark Poltoratsky and Gabriel Martsinkevich, came from the Court choir. The Court choir also took part in opera perfomances; it gave the opportunity to stage mass scenes.

It must be specially noted, that all these innovations did not concern the Synodal choir (the Patriarch's choir), as it was under the command of the Church authorities, and that is why it was impossible for the choir to take part in secular performances The repertoire of the Synodal choir included at those times monophonic Znamenny chants, Kievan and Greek chants, and also part singing.

Russian sacred music of the last third of the XVIIIth century

The last third of the XVIIIth century was the time of the reign of Catherine II. She tried to strengthen the basics of the tzarist autocracy and the international authority of the Russian Empire, the borders of which were considerably broadened by that time.

Catherine II was a patroness of arts and sciences. She cared for the enlightenment, literature, theatre, music and their development in Russia. The most famous artists, architects and musicians from the countries of Western Europe were invited to Russia by the Empress. Among them there were some famous Italian composers: B.Galuppi, G.Paisiello, D.Chimarosa, S. Sarti.

Their work in Russia helped the singers of the Court choir to master the complicated tecnique of belcanto.

After coming to the throne, Catherine II gave the Court choir a new name of the Emperor's choir, and entrusted the Italians with the teaching of court singers and musicians.

Italian composers, who worked in Russia, created choral hymns on the basis of Slavonic ecclesiastical texts. Their compositions presented the patterns of " Italian concert ", which later was so widely used in the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox church. Russian disciples of the Italians, such as M.Berezovsky, D.Bortnyansky, A.Vedel, S. Dekhtyarev and others, also used the form of the Italian concert.

In 1770 -1780 Berezovsky and Bortnyansky had been finishing their musical education in Italy, where they had the possibility to get acquainted with the outstanding patterns of Italian music.

Gradually some features of the Baroque in Russian sacred music were changed to those of Classicism, which later became the main artistic style of the Enlightenment.

The ideals of the harmony of forms, plastic images, and clearity of expression is characteristic of the aesthetics of Classicism. In music these ideas were expressed by the strict logic of musical thinking, which was based on the regularity of classical functional harmony and classical polyphony.

The principles of Classicism found reflection in the works of M.Berezovsky and D.Bortnyansky. M.Berezovsky was the founder of St.Petersburg classical choral style. D.Bortnyansky drove the development of Russian classical choral concert to its completion.

Characterizing the type of classical choral concert, we may say that it preserves some features, which were charactestic of the part concert style of the Baroque, such as the "tutti" sounding, and the sounding of small groups of voices. Part concert with its typical instrumental masterly passages, may be compared with Western European Concerto grosso.

Classical concert includes some features of the opera, melodics of chants and psalms, and also some features of folk singing.

The structure of the classical concert was based on the contrasting of three or four parts (the difference between them was in their tempo), the last part was mainly polyphonic.

The principles of contrasting of parts, complicacy of thematic development and the richness of polyphonic sounding, made vocal concerts very similar to symphonic music.