Russian version


"My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord..."
(Ps. 5: 3)

Orthodox hymnody is a part of Russian musical culture. It is a specific world, the aim of which is the appeal to God and the service of Him; contrary to secular music, which satisfies the aesthetic needs of people.

Church singing, as a variety of sacred music, has its own rhythm and order and differs greatly from any other kind of music.

From ancient times till now all world cultures have used sound as a means of fascination and intoxication. Sound was always considered to have heavenly supernatural power. But speaking about the influence of music upon men, we must take into consideration that in ancient times the influence was much stronger, because of the absence of that acoustic sphere of "sound pollution" that today causes acoustic shock and diminishes the sensibility of modern men, distracts their attention, and therefore undermines their perceptive abilities.

In ancient times sounds, and sounds of music in particular, made people tremble with holy awe. We can assume that sound in general is connected with different spiritual worlds.

To leap from their own internal world to that of the spiritual level special music is often used because it is impossible for ordinary people in their usual state of mind to communicate directly with the higher spiritual world. Thus music becomes a kind of the bridge between earthly and spiritual worlds. Sound, in the language of people appealing to God, and harmony, can be the language of the Spirit in communication with people. That is the reason why every world religion makes use of music. This type of music supposes a collective perception of it. Actually, it is not only listened to, people plunge into it, taking part in a sacred service.

So music helps people to communicate with spiritual worlds. But the nature of spiritual world is not homogeneous. Fathers of Eastern church believe that the spiritual world can be heavenly and demonic. The lowest spiritual world is inhabited by demons - fallen angels with Satan at the head; the highest spiritual world is the world of the Holy Spirit. But the aim of Orthodox church music is to elevate the human soul to the heights of the world of the Holy Spirit. There is no instrumental music in the Orthodox church, though as Fr. Alexander Men wrote: "The use of musical instruments in church does not contradict Orthodox Christianity". The Bible says: " Praise Him with stringed instruments and organs " (Ps. 150: 4). In the times when Russian Orthodox Christendom was at its initial stage, the fathers of the Church connected the use of musical instruments with the service of demonic force, because instruments were widely used in pagan ceremonies. In attempts to draw a line between Christianity and heathenism the Russian Orthodox Church did not allow the use of any musical instruments at a divine service.

Psalm 150 says: "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord". The Russian Orthodox Church considers that the praise of God has to be connected with breathing, it has to be vivid and inspired. A person that praises God plays the role of a musical instrument with a soul, contrary to ordinary instruments, that can not possess a soul. We often meet the comparison of a saint with a musical instrument, for example, an organ in Orthodox literature. The Church calls such a saint "the organ of the Holy Spirit". No musical instrument can surpass the human voice in the influence it produces upon men. That is the reason for the huge impression produced by this "angelic singing" upon our ancestors - the ambassadors of Great Prince Vladimir. They heard it during the divine service in the church of St.Sophia in Constantinople a thousand years ago. They told Prince Vladimir after that they did not know where they had been: either upon the Earth or in Heaven. Soon "angelic singing" could be heard all over Russia in numerous churches that began to appear after the Baptism of Russia.

Thousands of years passed. The singing that we can hear in churches nowadays is quite different from that "angelic singing" that came to Russia from Byzantium in the X-th century. But it still preserves that special reserve and solemnity, which elevates the human soul.

A lot of factors influenced Russian church singing during its thousand year existence. We can name the influence of secular music (including instrumental music as well), Russian folk singing traditions, and the interaction with Western culture as just a few of such influences. The centuries has formed Russian hymnody, melting the factors hostile to it in the flame passage of the Church. This long period of development resulted in three styles of hymnody, which we can distinguish today: cathedral hymnody (singing in cathedrals), parish hymnody (singing in provincial churches of parish significance), and cloister hymnody (singing in monasteries and convents).

Cathedral hymnody was formed in the great cathedrals of big cities, where the service was often conducted by bishops, and a lot of people were present at them. This kind of hymnody is distinguished by its solemnity and the brilliance of its sounding. Mixed four part choirs sing usually in such cathedrals. There is always a group of soloists, and large groups of men and women choristers present. Specially composed sacred music, of concert character, is performed there. All choral parts are usually doubled, and vertical lines of chords of such choirs cover a range of four octaves (or five octaves, in case the choir includes a basso profondo). The arrangement of chords in ektenes and tones is usually wide. It is the hymnody of Orthodox holiday splendour.

You can hear parish hymnody in small churches of provincial towns and villages, with their homely unpretentious atmosphere. There are not many parisheners present at week days there. But they attend their church regularly and know each other. The service is conducted by one and the same priest both on week days and on holidays. The sound of the choir is calm and of chamber quality. Small choirs or ensembles consisting mostly of women - choristers sing there. Men's voices are not numerous, and you can only hear them on feast days. The singing is melodious and harmonious. It corresponds to the interior of the church, and its decorations. It is characterized by special warmth, prayerfullness and sincerity. Worshippers often sing together with the choir. It is a plain sincere prayer, which is very close to the traditions of folk singing in spirit.

Cloister hymnody can be heard in convents and monasteries. This kind of singing has preserved its ancient basics to a greater degree. You will not hear ancient monophonic Znamenny chant there, but cloister hymnody still preserves the atmosphere of reservedness, contemplativeness and loftiness. Its sounding illustrates the words of the Cherubic song: "Let us now lay aside all earthly care: that we may receive the King of all ". This hymnody is like the quiet burning of a candle, or a flicker of an icon-lamp. It captivates the soul and leads it from earthly matters to the world of spiritual joy and prayerful contemplativeness. The choristers are only men or only women. This hymnody can be triphonic or quadrophonic, but it is usually unsophisticated, and presents cloister chants of diurnal cycle. It is an old tradition of big monasteries and convents to have two choirs, that stand on both sides of the altar and sing in turn. Small cloisters have only one choir usually. Cloister hymnody differs from any other kind of church singing. It is the singing of incomparable spiritual delight, the singing of Christ''s love and intelligent prayer. Cloister hymnody cannot be imitated by any secular, cathedral, or parish choir. To sing like monks one has to live a monastic life.

Therefore Russian Orthodox church singing at its present stage touches upon every possible spiritual state of a worshipper: from the tender and chaste joy of Announcement, warmth and brightness of Christmas, anguish and sorrow of Calvary, to the boundless triumph of Easter. Three styles of Russian hymnody fully express the whole range of feelings and states of the human soul.



Introduction of Byzantine liturgical hymnody to Russia

Ecclesiastical hymns were brought to Russia from Byzantium together with Christianity. It is known that there had been Christian communities and churches in Kiev and even in Novgorod the Great, where divine service had been conducted before the Baptism of Russia in 988 by Prince Vladimir.

There were some Christians among the vikings in the troops of Prince Vladimir. Old and close connections of Early Russia and Byzantium lead us to the supposition that those occasional Christian communities were of Byzantine rite. It obviously prepared Prince Vladimir to prefer the Byzantine rite of church service to the Latin one.

The Chronicles have an interesting story about the Russians that looked for the Faith in Greece. The main reason of their preference of Christianity of Byzantine rite was the amazing beauty of the Greek divine service. "And we came to the Greek land, and they lead us to the place where they worshipped their God, and we did not know whether we were in Heaven or upon the Earth because there was not another sight of comparable beauty upon the Earth, and we do not know how to tell about it in words. We only know that God is with the people there, that their service is better than in all other countries, and we shall never be able to forget its beauty". It was the beauty of the Greek divine service and the beauty of the church interior that according to the Chronicles, made the ambassadors of Prince Vladimir prefer Greek Christian Faith to all the rest.

The Russians kept this love for the beauty of the rite for centuries. They have always loved long solemn services and magnificent hymnody. The beauty of the Greek divine service brought to Russia, charmed the hearts of the Russians and, struck by the beauty, the Russians appealed to Greek wisdom.

The ideas of Plato and Dionysius the Areopagite about the identity of this beauty, the truth, and God, realized in the Greek rite, appeared to become very dear to Slavonic hearts. This is the reason why Russia was able to prolong the continuous line of Orthodox Christian tradition.

The beauty of the divine service is one of the main criteria of any religion's faith. Love and admiration for this beauty, not a simple subject in itself, but one of refinement and its own complicated symbolics and figurative language, speaks about the readiness of one to the perception and understanding of the service.

Byzantine philosophy considered the Beauty to be the virtue of God. The Gospel according to Saint John says: "God is Love". The Greeks could also add that "God is Beauty". The aim of the icon-painter, according to Orthodox theology, was to reproduce divine beauty of immaterial light in icon images. The aim of a singer was to perform divine melodies of celestial hierarchy. Orthodox theology teaches that ecclesiastical hymns are the echo of celestial singing of the angels, heard by a composer's soul and transmitted to people in his works. A hymnographer must follow strict standards of heavenly origin, without adding anything personal, because ecclesiastical hymns are dictated by angels. Those hymns were not created by men, but by celestial hierarchy; that is why they were anonymous. The aim of the hymnographer was not to express his individuality, but to understand, and to reproduce heavenly standards with the help of sacred patterns of Byzantine hymnody "Canon", which had to be strictly followed. The Canon of Byzantine hymnody was formed in the Xth century, when Russia became Christian officially. Its forms were transmitted from Byzantium (as if from the Heavens) to the Russian soil.

Formation of Early Russian hymnodical traditions

The middle of the XIth century in Russia is characterized by the increase of spiritual enlightenment and book publishing, which is usually connected with the name of Prince Yaroslav the Wise. The first Russian chronicler wrote: "Orthodox Faith began to be fruitful and multiplied under him".

The basic fund of ecclesiastical literature in translation brought to Russia from Bulgaria, was being replenished by Russian translations of the Greek originals. The translations did not coincide with the originals exactly, because of the difference in Grammar and Phonetics. Original Greek ecclesiastical texts were written in a form of a poem, while the translation was done in a form of rhythmical prose. It caused a change in the manner of its execution.

Comparing Greek and Slavonic variants of one and the same hymn, the researchers noticed that it was not mere imitation, but the process of adaptation of the Byzantine style on Russian soil took place. Formation of Early Russian hymnodical traditions was a complicated process of adaptation of Greek standards to local conditions.

Byzantine - Russian connections in the field of hymnody had been constantly kept. Greek hymnody coexisted with Slavonic in Russian churches, and that coexistence found its reflection in the oldest manuscripts and other written sources, one of which says that in the church of the Virgin in Rostov the Great, the right choir sang in Greek and the left one in Slavonic.

In the cathedrals of great cultural centres of Early Russia the service itself had been conducted in Greek, because bishops and metropolitans had been of Byzantine extraction (some Greek phrases are used during a divine service conducted by a bishop even now).

But in the heart of Russia in its numerous small towns and villages, hymnody used to get adapted to local conditions. This process of adaptation was obviously influenced by the Russian "national stream",which had Slavonic heathen culture as its source. This new type of hymnody, that was formed there and that was more democratic and closer to folk traditions, determined the peculiarity of Russian hymnody.

Thus, Byzantine culture of the Xth century greatly influenced the development of Russian culture on the whole and ecclesiastical musical culture in particular. The Gustin chronicles witness that Prince Vladimir brought the first metropolitan, bishop and priest of Bulgarian extraction from the place where he had been baptized. Besides, the chronicles say that a Greek Princess Ann, the Christian spouse of Prince Vladimir, came to Kiev with her own choir, which was called "the Tsarina's choir ". Thus, the singers that came with Ann and Vladimir could become the teachers of newly baptized Russian choristers. The chronicles say that three more Greek singers were called to Kiev by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, soon after the building of St.Sophia Cathedral. They brought Demestvenny chant to the Slavs.

Native Russian masters of hymnody began to appear in a due period of time. Pheodosyus of Pechery - the founder of the first Russian monastery in Kiev paid great attention to the harmonious singing of the monastery choir.

He introduced the basic principles of Byzantine teaching of "angelic singing" into Russia. He substantiated the most important Byzantine conception of celestial angelic hymnody, that presented the reflection of heavenly hymns, and had the aim of bringing the human soul to harmony with the Heavens. Besides St.Pheodosyus of Pechery, there were two more well known individuals: Kyryk (a cantor of the Antoniev Monastery in Novgorod, the 1st part of the XIIth century) and Luke (a cantor from Vladimir, the XIIth century). Luke's choir was called by a chronicler - "Luke's children ".

The concept of angelic singing in Early Russia was formed under the influence of foreign literature in translation. Some features of Hebrew ritual singing were reflected in the legends of the prophets' visions, in the vision of the Prophet Isaiah, for example. Prophet Isaiah had a vision of the angels who had been singing loudly and harmoniously with one voice before God's Throne. Two choirs of angels stood to the right and left of the Throne. They sang hymns, and the nearer they were to God, the louder their singing was. In this discription we can easily distinguish the features that are characteristic of Russian hymnody, the basis of which was formed by sonorous monophonic singing of two choirs.

Thus the principles of the Byzantine Canon of hymnody were applied to all kinds of ecclesiastical musical creative work of medieval Russia and dictated the character of its performance. But old masters did not blindly follow the Byzantine patterns. A characteristic feature of the Russian people - the ability of reworking everything borrowed into something uniquely Russian, manifested itself here too. The Russians used those patterns to create invaluable national Russian pieces of art of unsurpassed beauty. Church singing, icon-painting and architecture present the most original part of Russian culture.

Byzantine hymnody in Russia. Periods of development

What was the Byzantine hymnody that served as the initial material for the formation of Russian hymnody like?

The absence of the instrumental accompaniment and the principle of monophony determines the essential difference between the Eastern (Slavonic) and Western (Catholic) hymnody. Already in the VIth century some churches in Western Europe used organs at divine service. At the end of the IXth century hymnody there becomes polyphonic. But in Greece the tradition of monophonic singing is kept even nowadays. Of course, modern Greek hymnody did not stay the same as it was in Byzantium. It had its own periods of development.

The period between the middle of the Vth century and the IXth century was the most fruitful for the Byzantine hymnographers. They created poetry and tunes in which music and words were unseparable. This tie between the music and the word was broken later, when hymnographers gave their way to so-called "chanters", who composed new melodies to old texts or remade old melodies.

St.Roman the Sweetsinger is considered to be the founder of Byzantine hymnography. He created the form of a polystrophe verse, that was called kontakion and consisted of troparia (stanzas). The names "kontakion" and "troparion" aquired quite different meanings with the time. The form of the Canon appeared in the late VIIth - the early VIIIth century.

Each Canon consisted of nine hymns, subdivided in their turn, into stanzas (or troparia). The poetic content of the Canon was based on nine topics of the Old Testament. Later the New Testament topics came into use as well. All stanzas of the Canon are built according to one and the same pattern (hirmoi) and are of the same melody.

The genre of the sticheron (the canticle that presented a short story about a feast day or a saint that was magnified) appeared in the XIth century. In accordance with its contents, some groups of stichera were distinguished (Eg.: Dogmatic, Gospel sticheron, etc.). All those forms came into practice of the Russian Orthodox Church under their original names.

All Byzantine ecclesiastical hymns submitted to the system of octophony. All hymnodical forms of the Canon (kontakion, sticheron, troparion, hirmoi) had eight parts that differed in their melodical construction. In the VIth century a special hymn book was published in Byzantium. It contained Sunday and everyday octophonic hymns with each part in succession. Two centuries later the book was revised and enlarged by St.John of Damascus - a famous Byzantine theologian and hymnographer.

The construction of each tone consisting of a certain number of melodical formulae gave birth to the special form of melody-making that got the name of the cento-form (from Latin cento - a rag, a piece). The essence of it is that the melody is made as if out of a number of mosaic pieces. These pieces present already existing and canonised melodical structures. Thus the process of melody making is very similar to the process of making an inlaid picture. Different combinations of these structures provide a great variety of melodies, yet all have something in common. This kind of technique is the manifestation of the creativity of a special kind - the ecclesiastical creativity, that sums up the century-old experience of church traditions and is unachievable by ordinary men.

Ancient types of notation. Neum and kryuk notation

To understand the ways of development of Early Russian art of singing properly, we have to answer a question: When and under what circumstances did Slavonic notation appear?

Byzantine hymnody was a recorded phenomenon. In Russia this tradition was carried on. The method of neum notation first appeared in Byzantium. The origin of the neum system of notation was connected with cheironomy (the art of the movement of the conductor's hands and fingers). The principles of cheironomy are very old. We can see pictures of different gestures fixed on the 3rd millennium B.C. Egyptian bas-reliefs. Cheironomy was a means of presentation and transmission of sacred musical formulae. The neum notation presented the pictures of hand movements fixed on parchment.

The oldest type of neum notation was the one that served to record solemn chant-like reading of The Apostle and the Gospel. It was called ekphonetic notation. Syntactical division of a text and intonational formulas were recorded with the help of special signs that were borrowed from Greek syntactical stress system. They did not show the exact height and length of separate sounds, but marked the stops, the rise and fall of the voice, and marked out separate words and phrases.

Ekphonetic signs were not widely used in Russia. We know only two manuscripts dated back to the middle of the XIth century, where those signs were used. They are the Gospel of Ostromir, and so-called "Kuprian's sheets". Most probably the tradition of solemn reading of the Gospel and the Apostle was transmitted orally.

Neums are met in Early Russian manuscripts from the early XIIth century. This special kind of neum notation presents a variety of Early Byzantine system of notation, that was formed in the XIth century. This notation was the basis of Russian kryuk notation (kryuk means a hook).

Thus the basis of kryuk notation was Early Byzantine notational system revised and enlarged by the Russians. This revision reflected the peculiarities, typical of Russian national character: when transmitted to Russian soil, Byzantine melodies lost their original sharpness and agitation and acquired a calm and even character. Thus appeared the main chant of Early Russian hymnody - Znamenny chant.