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Russian Orthodox Hymnody / The XIXth century. Ancient hymnodical tradition in the light of classical russian musical school


Back to basics

The beginning of the XIXth century in Russia was marked by the quick development of a new tendency, that of Romantic Movement. This new tendency appeared at the time of the decay of feudalism. This period was characterized by great political events of the utmost importance. Romanticism spread in all the countries of Europe and greatly influenced world art.

Secular humanistic culture, which was the result of the development of the humanistic ideas of the Renaissance, did not satisfy the XIXth century, because of its atheitic and materialistic nature.

This unacceptability of contemporary reality resulted in the idealization of the past by Romanticism's adherents. They made a cult out of personal feelings and mystical contemplative moods. Rejecting everything real that surrounded them, they were sinking in the poetic world of dreams, fantasy, old myths and legends, which they considered to be the echo of the mystical incognizable unreal world. The cult of "pure art", and the acknowledgment of its divine nature was connected with idealistic philosophy. The ideology of Romanticism reflected the stormy epoch of national-liberational movements. This tendency of the aesthetics of Romanticism - struggle for national originality of artistic forms, style and methods of expression - was very important for Russia.

The situation in Russia at the beginning of the century gave a powerful incentive to the development of public and political life. Napoleon Buonaparte's invasion of 1812, which threatened the independence of the Russian state, animated the patriotic feelings of all Russian. This stimulated the development of Russian national culture. Russian writers, poets and composers tried to raise society's interests to the life of people, their historical past, their songs, myths and legends. Publication of "The Song of Igor's Campaign", and the "Ancient Russian Verse" by K.Danilov, as well as collections of Russian folk songs contributed to the development of this interest. Genres of "Russian songs" and "Russian tales", similar to the genres of Russian folklore, became very popular in literature.

These features of romantic world outlook influenced the further development of Russian sacred music. The struggle with "Italian dominance" in church hymnody began with the appearance of an article of an outstanding hierarch of the Russian Church Metropolitan Eugene (Bolkhovitinov) "Historical arguments on ancient Christian hymnody in general and Russian church singing in particular". The article was published in 1804. It contained the idea of the alien nature of foreign singing for the Russian Church. Metropolitan Eugene proclaimed the necessity of the careful research of the history of Russian hymnody. He was against all kinds of foreign influence.

This appeal was heard by D.Bortnyansky who then occupied the high post of the Director of the Court choir. Though D.Bortnyansky was a composer of Italian style, he realized the importance of coming back to the basics of Russian hymnody. In 1810 he formulated a project for the publishing of a year cycle of church hymns, deciphered from kryuk notation "In order to restore the historical ties in the development of ancient native singing". Unfortunately, this project has not been fulfilled, even upto today.

D.Bortnyansky used to rearrange ancient monophonic Znamenny, Greek, Kievan and Bulgarian chants for four parts. Bortnyansky's younger contemporary, Fr.Peter (Turchaninov), harmonized ancient melodies, which he found in church books. Those practical attempts to bring ancient hymnody back to church singing practice were supported by theoretical research in the field of ancient Russian hymnodical system. In 1864 the article "Some remarks on the history of church singing in Russia" by V.Undolsky was published. It contained some fragments of theoretical musical treatises of the epoch, which preceded the epoch of Peter the Great. Somewhat later, the article "Russian hymnody research" by I.Sakharov appeared. it also contained some valuable historical and archeological information. Then there appeared some articles by Prince V.Odoevsky. They were devoted to the history and structure of church singing. V.Odoevsky writes in one of his letters : "discovered the definite theory of our melodies and harmony, which is similar to the theory of medieval Western tunes, but has its own peculiarities". V.Odoevsky started collecting notational manuscripts, thus helping to preserve them for future generations.

The newly organized "Society of ancient written languages lovers" began to publish the works of the ancient hymnodical system researchers. Among those books we must name "Church singing in Russia"(1867) by Fr.Dmitry (Razumovsky), "ABC of Znamenny singing by A.Mezenets"(1888) by S.Smolensky, and "Octophony of Znamenny chant"(1899) by V.Metallov.

Research done by those authors gave a chance to study and perform ancient hymns in their initial forms. It helped the composers of church music to rearrange ancient chants, making them polyphonic, without distorting their character and original structure. The names of A.Lvov, A.Arkhangelsky from St.Petersburg and A.Kastalsky from Moscow, must be specially noted.

A.Lvov was the first to acknowledge the possibility of using nonsymmetrical rhythms for harmonization of ancient chants. It made the contents of ecclesiastical texts most important and the rhythm of music thus began to subordinate to the rhythm of the text. A.Lvov rearranged a great number of ancient tunes of feast days and the Lent. A great number of choirs of our time use his rearrangements of ancient chants in everyday liturgical practice.

A.Arkhangelsky was an outstanding representative of the St.Petersburg school of composition. His rearrangements of monophonic church hymns are easy to perform, and they preserve initial harmony of ancient melodies. Almost all of his rearrangements ("All-Night Vigil" and "St.John Chrisostomos Divine Liturgy" among them) are used nowadays in the everyday liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church. His concert activity (he worked as a choir leader) helped to acquaint the Russian public with choral compositions of forgotten church composers: Berezovsky, Phomin, Danilov, Titov, and with choral compositions of Slavonic and other European peoples. In 1887 A.Arkhangelsky began a series of thematic concerts, which were a kind of continuation of famous "historic concerts", organized by A.Rubinshtein in 1885 - 1886.

A.Kastalsky brought Znamenny chant back into the liturgical practice of the Church. This outstanding representative of the Moscow church singing school made polyphonic rearrangements of monophonic ancient chants. His rearrangements strike us with their inner freedom, they reveal the real original beauty of ancient melodies. His rearrangements may be compared to golden or silver settings, in which precious stones of ancient melodies shine brightly. A.Kastalsky used the traditional Church order of sounds. He preferred diatonic sounding, which was typical of ancient chants. Once he called himself a "restorer" of ancient singing. We have to agree with this assertion, though the "restoration" was done with the help of the methods of the classical musical language of his time.

Such famous secular music composers as M.Glinka, P.Tchaikovsky, and S.Rakhmaninov also harmonized church chants. All the world knows "All-Night Vigil" by S.Rakhmaninov and the "Divine Liturgy" by P.Tchaikovsky.

Those compositions were created at the beginning of the XXth century. P.Tchaikovsky made ancient melodies quadrophonic, and S.Rakhmaninov used different timbres of voices to create brilliant polyphonic masterpieces. These compositions raised the old church singing tradition to the very summit of world musical art.

Besides rearrangements of ancient chants, Russian composers created their own works, which presented the bright patterns of church hymnody. A lot of works by Turchaninov, Lvov, Arkhangelsky, Kastalsky, Lomakin, Smolensky, Chesnokov and played out others are executed nowadays at the divine services of the Russian Orthodox church.

The unusual upsurge of Russian culture during the second part of the XIXth century was felt in all fields of Russian art, literature, philosophy. When searching for the analogy in architecture or painting, first of all we remember the cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in St.Petersburg, with its beautiful mosaics by M.Nesterov, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Creators of these cathedrals also appealed to national artistic language, with its colourfulness and expressiveness.

The Formation and Development of leading singing schools in Moscow and St.Petersburg

Two leading schools of church singing developed from the two existing leading choirs: the Synodal choir in Moscow and the Court choir in St.Petersburg. Both of them had a long history. The Court choir appeared in the XVth century during the reign of Ivan III. The initial name of this choir was the Tza's deacons - choristers choir. The Synodal choir was organized in the XVIth century, after establishing of the Patriarchate in Russia (1589). It was the choir of the Patriarch's deacons - choristers. When St.Petersburg became the capital of Russia, the Court choir moved to the new capital, while the Synodal choir stayed in Moscow.

It must be noted though, that both the choirs had the ancient Novgorodian school of singing as their base. Ivan the Terrible brought Novgorodian masters of singing to Moscow, where they taught Moscow choristers the principles of the Novgorodian school of singing. The Synodal choir continued to develop Novgorodian hymnodical traditions. It never took part in secular performances and never sang secular music. Its singing traditions developed in the Church and for the Church. Though, like many other choirs, it also was influenced by Western part singing, ancient traditions formed the basis of its work. The Moscow school of singing is characterized by melodiousness, based on Znamenny chant technique and Strochny polyphony. Diatonic harmony (sometimes duplicated) prevails. The tempo is rather slow. The movement of voices is not in chords; a voice "weaves" around basic sounds.

The St.Petersburg school of singing was formed under the strong influence of Western sacred and secular music. It is characterized by classical four part harmony (which is very seldom duplicated). The melody is always sung by the upper voice; voices in general move in chords, the bass moves either by qwints and fourths, or does not move at all. The minor key is widely used as well, as D7-chord and its variants. The tempos are faster than those of the Moscow school.

The outstanding representative of the Petersburg singing school, A.Arkhangelsky, had changed the staff of a church mixed choir.

In the past, all church choirs consisted of men and boys. In 1887 Arkhangelsky refused the participation of boys in his choir and substituted them by singing women with music education, because concert programs were too laborious. Soon following afterwards other choirs included women in their staff as well.

In regards to the Novgorodian singing school, its development had stopped with the Novgorodian republic's fall and annexation of Novgorod to Moscow Russ by Ivan the Terrible. The Novgorodian singing school flowed into the Moscow singing tradition and was later influenced by the Petersburg school of singing. Nowadays it features both schools though it has its own pecularities . Metropolitan Anthony (Stadnitsky) took notice of it at beginning of the XXth. He was an expert of church singing , and with his blessing original every day chants were collected in book entitled Guide of psalm-reader (1911). This collection used quadrophonic [Kievan znamya (sign)] and contained Znamenny, Greek, Bulgarian and Kievan chants in novgorodian versions. In addition in 1910-1912 metropolitan Arseny convoked chorister's conferences with aim of liberation of church singing from alien influence and return to ancient basis.

Cloister chants

Cloister chants (the songs, vocal of monasteries and convents) appeared in every monastery centre. First of ones was Kiev Pechery lavra (monastery of highest rank). There are many other ancient monasteries - Troitse-Sergieva (Trinity&St.Sergy) lavra, Vallam and Solovky monasteries, Optina pustyn (hermitage) - in Russia. Every one had original chants and were widely famous . The XIXth was a time there developed and fluorished in many monascerves anchorite's traditions, ecclesiastical prayer, all best precepts of ancient monkhood. All this strongly influenced the spiritual life of Russian society.

Though cloister chants were created on the basis of ancient one-voiced chant, singers added over basic melody what was wrote in ancient books second voice duplicated this melody in third. While lower voice was "walking" on bass notes of basic harmonic functions. As a result three-part singing was formed as a middle between Strochny chant and early part (or cant) singing. Accentuated functionalism and tonic-dominant relations gave originality, especially in combination with plenty of parallelism and intentional primitivness.

Most cloister chants of the XIX century were based on Znamenny chant and its modifications or on melodies of other chants (Greek, Bulgarian) and on original, local melodies too. The features peculiar to cloister chants lead us to believe these chants have common primary source - videlicet a ancient one-voiced tradition. Though it's difficult for us to know original because it has been hidden the beneath changed through years, centuries.

It may be said that the XIXth was period of the fluorishing of cloister's chants . These chants are inspired by specific religious beliefs and at the same time are full of such beautiful simplicity. It is inaccessible for author's compositions of the most talented sacred compositions.