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Russian Orthodox Hymnody / Znamenny chant

Znamenny chant

Znamenny chant is the primordial age old form of Russian hymnody. It survived a long history of Russian church singing up to today, while other forms appeared and disappeared with the time. It was converted from the neum notation of Early Byzantium. Its intonations are determined by Russian original musical language. Znamenny chant, as well as Byzantine hymnody, are inseparable from the church calendar.

Byzantine octophonic polyphony was connected with the peculiarities of Byzantine calendar. According to this calendar, the year began on September 1. Each feast day was celebrated on a fixed date. The feasts of the Solar calendar centered around Christmas (December 25). Besides there were "moving" holidays connected with Easter, the date of which was determined by the Lunar calendar. Each month of the Lunar calendar had a different number of days. That is why the dates of Easter and other holidays connected with it (The Entry into Jerusalem, Ascension Day, Whitsun) changed every year ("moved"). Calculation of weeks started at Easter. Each week had its own special hymns of specific tones. The first week after Easter corresponded to the first tone, the second week to the second tone and so on. Weeks were united in eight-week periods. One eight-week period followed after another. Thus hymns and corresponding tones were repeated regularly every eight weeks.

Feast day hymns also submitted to the system of octophony. On feast days several tones could be used, and it made the difference between the feast days on the one hand and week days, when only one ordinal tone could be used, on the other hand. The use of several tones on feast days made them especially solemn. Feast days, normal days and Sundays, were associated with certain hymns and tones. It made clearer the spiritual side of the holiday and outlined its place in the calendar.

Early Russia borrowed the calendar from Byzantium. This was very important, because the calendar unified the time for rest and labour at a state level, giving it Christian significance. The seasonal work of the peasants was also connected with the calendar. The calendar helped to define different astronomical and climatic phenomena. Holidays defined the terms of labour contracts.

Thus the introduction of the Byzantine calendar into Russia helped to preserve the octophony; but as the borrowed Byzantine ecclesiastical texts had lost their original rhythm in translation, it created the problem of working out a peculiar Russian octophonic system. It took a long time to solve that problem. The process of its solving began in the XIIth century, when the ideas of Christianity were brought to Russia and the art of hymnody began to get rid of Byzantine influence, acquiring particular features of its own. The process ceased at the early XVIth century. At that time, each day of the eight-week periods and each feast day had their own tones, and the melodics of Znamenny chant arrived to its climax.

The general character of the melodical order of Znamenny chant can be described as lofty, reserved and lucid. Whimsically ornamented Byzantine hymnody became severer and more laconic, as if frozen in the snowy spaciousness of Russia.

Znamenny chant is characterized by the disconnectness and openness of its melodical structures, which allow them to penetrate each other easily. Each completed structure of Znamenny chant is always an element of a larger structure, it is always disconnected and open. Thus a tone is an element of a hymn, a hymn is an element of a divine service, a divine service is an element of a diurnal liturgical cycle, which is in its turn an element of a weekly liturgical cycle, that presents an element of a years'' circle of feasts.

Constant presence of a common part in each separate element is the fundamental quality of the Znamenny system of octophony. An individual melodic picture of each separate tone, its unique intonational outline, is combined with affiliation of each tone to the general melodic system. The total system of octophony can be clearly seen through the individuality of each tone. It can be achieved only with the help of above-mentioned "cento-tecnique". No other means can help. That is why we can say that Znamenny chant, which presents the climax of cento-tecnique development, reflects the ideas of octophony to the greatest degree.

Putevoy, Demestvenny and Great Znamenny Chants

New tendencies of Russian spirituality, the influence of a new ascetic outlook and the growing attention to the inner world of men, called forth a new type of melodical thinking and new melodical forms of Russian liturgical hymnody. Znamenny chant was considered to be the reflection of angelic singing, it expressed the state of estrangement of men from earthly matters. Melodics of a new type, however, became more personal.

Besides, hymnody was influenced by the new flowery and ornate literary style (so called "word-weaving"), that was characterised by the abundance of stylistic devices, through which the main idea could be hardly seen. Magnifications of saints and Russian princes are bright examples of this style. In hymnody it found its expression in the exaggerated attention to the melodical elements that lost their touch with the text.

Melodical structures of liturgical texts became longer, because each syllable could contain more than one sound and present by itself a separate melody. New chants, contrary to austere melodies of Znamenny chant, were characterised by florid, ornate structures.

There were three of them: Putevoy, Demestvenny and Great Znamenny chants. They differed from the original Znamenny chant by their long and developed melodies, that had their own peculiar characters.

Putevoy chant, though more rhythmically ornamented, preserved ties with Znamenny chant to a greater degree. In the XVIIIth century it completely disappears from the Russian Orthodox church practice.

The first mention of Demestvenny chant dates back to 1441. Its peculiar feature is the absence of the usual system of octophony. Through this chant a great possibility arose for choir leaders to express their individuality. Demestvenny chant was that very seed, from which the great tree of creativity of church music composers grew with the time.

Its melodies are bright and magnificent. The Chronicles of that time called it "red", which meant beautiful, splendid, magnificent. Demestvenny chant is the chant of Feast Days, especially that of Easter. It was the favourite chant of the XVI-XVIIth centuries. But already in the XVIIIth century it runs out of church practice, as well as Putevoy chant. Demestvenny chant is used nowadays only in the service of "Old Believers".

The first mention of Great Znamenny chant is met in the chronicles of the late XVIth century. It used to denote the most developed kind of hymnody, rich in melodical ornamentation. Those ornaments often presented separate musical structures ; they were not based on the text and were sung only for the sake of their beauty.

Great Znamenny chant was a musical analogue of the literary style of "word-weaving"; that is why the loss of the meaning of the words, because of bulky musical constructions of each syllable, was not very important.

Putevoy, Demestvenny and Znamenny chants formed a special feast day melodical order. Some researches of Early Russian hymnody consider that this order appeared with the introduction of the "Jerusalem Rule" into the practice of the Russian Orthodox Church liturgical life. It greatly increased the level of solemnity and magnificence of the service.

Greek, Bulgarian and Kievan chants

After the decline of Byzantium a new doctrine of Moscow as "the Third Rome" appeared in Russia. They claimed, that the fall of Byzantium (the second Rome) made Russia the stronghold of the Orthodox Faith - that is "the Third Rome". Realisation of Moscow as the centre of the Orthodox world, where one prayed for the humanity as a whole, caused the broadening of the conception of national limits. It was expressed in the introduction of three new chants (Greek, Bulgarian and Kievan) into the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the middle of the XVIIth century.

Greek chant was used most often. Russian researches of the XIXth century considered it to be originally Greek, and its prevalence over other chants was connected with the strengthening of connections between Moscow and the Near East. A Greek singer deacon Meletious was invited to Moscow by the tsar Alexey Mikhailovich to teach his choristers and later to Moscow, to teach the Patriarch's choristers Greek singing. In the second half of the XVIIth century Moscow was fascinated by Greek singing. Broad use of Greek chant in liturgical practice was supported by Patriarch Nikon.

The Patriarch choir, taught by deacon Meletious, sang Greek chant in Greek at the divine services conducted by the Patriarch.

But there is a great difference between Greek chant in Russia and original Greek church singing. We may suppose that Greek chant in Russia presented a variety of Greek church singing, brought by deacon Meletious and influenced by Russian national melodical thought.

Greek chant is inherent in its characteristic radiant joyousness and solemnity. The melody centres around one axis sound that makes the whole construction complete.

Approximately at the same time in the middle of the XVIIth century, there appeared in Moscow Bulgarian chant. Its name speaks of its origin, though it is still uncertain. Even Bulgarian music researches do not have a common view on Bulgarian chant. This chant is often met in Western Ukrainian hymn books that may denote its Western Slavonic origin. Its melodies are emotional, smooth and drawling.

Most researchers consider Kievan chant to be a Ukrainian variant of Znamenny chant. After the reunification of the Ukraine and Russia and invitation of the Ukrainian choristers to Moscow, Kievan chant began to spread widely in Russia. Choristers from Kiev brought new notation alongside with new chant. It was a type of square linear notation that got the name of "Kievan Znamya" (Znamya means a sign).

Soon Znamenny chant was supplanted by Kievan chant. The whole system of octophony of liturgical practice of nowadays is based generally on Kievan chant.

Contrary to Znamenny chant, Kievan chant is based on tune thinking, that is drawn towards clearly expressed major or minor keys. Its rhythm has a propensity to symmetry of musical constructions, that goes back to song and dance periodicity. It tells about the influence of the Ukrainian folk songs upon the melodic image of Kievan chant.

The three chants (Greek, Bulgarian and Kievan) have common qualities: clear tune base in either minor or major key and periodical squareness of melodical picture.

Thus those chants brought the element of folk singing into liturgical hymnody of the Russian Orthodox church.

Town and cloister chants

Some chants, the names of which show their origin, such as: Tikhvinian, Kyrillovian, Kiev Pecherian and others had been spreading in Russia since the middle of the XVIIth century. They reflect singing traditions of some towns and cloisters, that were the cultural centres of Russia.

Novgorodian chants are the most interesting among them. They are smooth and slow because of the influence of drawling lyrical songs of the Northern Novgorodian lands, that had been preserved in those parts upto the beginning of the XXth century. The songs of the Southern and the Western parts of Novgorodian lands were more laconic. Their intonations and melodical constructions keep some features of Kievan chant.

Singers and singing groups of Early Russia

Early Russian written sources witness the existence of singing groups and separate singers in Russia. The earliest sources of pre-Mongolian period only mention the names of them, such as the above mentioned Novgorodian cantor Kyrik, cantor Luke from Vladimir and "Luke's children" or "Tzarina's choir". Later witnesses give more concrete information that lets us know about the character of the singers' activities. Thus the literary monument of the XVIIth century, "The introduction of octophony in our Russian lands - from where and from when?" informs us about three generations of Russian singers in detail.

As for the singing groups, they existed in every church and every cloister. Those were church choirs, each church had two of them, and they stood to both sides of the altar: to the right and to the left.

Cathedrals had especially big singing groups. They sang at divine services conducted by a bishop and were maintained by the Bishopric. The book of "Divine Service Rules for a year cycle for the Cathedral of St.Sophia in Novgorod" mentions the choir of the Cathedral deacons that sang at feast day services clothed in special garments.

One of the earliest singing unions still exists, though in another form and is the corporation of the Sovereign's deacons-choristers who in the XVIIIth century transformed themselves into the Court choir. Later this union got the name of "M. Glinka Leningrad State Choir", and now is known as the "St.Petersburgh Choir".

This group was organised as a Great Prince's choir during the reign of Ivan III (1462 - 1505). The Sovereign deacons-choristers choir presented a certain standard for other choirs. Thus with the establishing of the Patriarchate in Russia, the choir of the Patriarch deacon-choristers was organised.

The largest number of choir leaders of earlier times, whose names are known to us, were connected with Novgorod. It is not accidental. Novgorod was famous for its singing school. The above mentioned book, "The Divine Service Rules of St.Sophia Cathedral" witnesses that singers took part in the magnification of local Novgorodian saints and local wonder-working icons. It also witnesses that chants of Novgorod were sung at matins, vespers and vigils.

Chronicles mention certain singers-members of St.Sophia Cathedral choir. An example of it is the mention of the name of a famous singer Naum in the Chronicles of 1404.

The most distinguished among the names of the Novgorodians of the XVIth century is the name of Markel the Beardless - a hymnographer and choir leader who was the Father - Superior of the Khutyn monastery. He harmonised the Psalter and created special liturgies, commemorating the memory of a large number of newly canonized saints. He composed a graceful Canon devoted to Bishop Nikita of Novgorod (before being canonized Nikita had been the Bishop of Novgorod in the late XIth - early XIIth century, his undecayed relic is kept in St.Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod). Some troparia of this Canon (harmonised for four parts), are still sung in Novgorod. Markel the Beardless died in St.Anthony of Rome monastery in Novgorod.

Brothers Basil Rogov and Savva Rogov who came to Novgorod from Karelia, were also famous representatives of the Novgorod Singing School. Basil who was given the name of Varlaam, when he took monastic vows, became later the Metropolitan of Rostov.

"Metropolitan Varlaam was a creator and singer of Znamenny and Demestvenny chants". Metropolitan's brother Savva Rogov was known as a teacher of a large group of brilliant choir leaders of the next generation, such as Stephen Golysh, Ivan Nos and Pheodor Christian. Novgorodians Ivan Nos and Pheodor Christian worked in the residence of the tsar Ivan the Terrible in Alexandrova Sloboda, where they were busy with various sides of singing activity: teaching, performing and creating, highlighted in the composing of new hymns.

It is a known fact that Ivan the Terrible sang in a church choir and compiled divine services. Two of them are known to us: the first is devoted to the Moscow Metropolitan Peter and the second - to Vladimirian icon of our Lady.

But it is not right to think that all musical life of the XVIth -XVIIth centuries centered around Novgorod or Moscow. The XVIth century is characterized by the flourishing of local singing schools. Stephen Golysh - a pupil of Savva Rogov - was the founder of the Usolye and the Stroganov schools. His pupil Ivan Lukoshko was also connected with the Stroganovs - well known merchants - whose domains in the Arkhangelsk region were the centre of Russian icon-painting and singing art in the late XVIth - early XVIIth centuries.

From those times came to us some hymns of choir leaders such as Opekalov, Radilov, Nikitin and others, whose works combined tradition and personal mastership. The work of Ivan Shaidurov - a Novgorodian master and musical theorist, who improved Znamenny notation must be specially noted.

Alexander Mezenets is considered to be the last of the early Russian choir leaders and musical theorists. He summed up the development of early Russian hymnodical tradition. He organized and headed the Committee of great masters of hymnody of that time. The Committee collected musical manuscripts and used them to create a common, regulated melodical system.

It is worth mentioning that Alexander Mezenets, an outstanding Moscow musical theorist, lived in Novgorod for some period of time and, perhaps, got his musical education there.

Evolution of notation

As it has been already said before, the basis of Russian kryuk notation was formed by early Byzantine notation system, which was brought to Russia through Bulgaria together with church books. Monuments of Znamenny notation known to us are dated not earlier than the beginning of the XIIth century. Some hymn books of the XIth century survived till our times but they do not include notation. There is a tendency among researchers to assume that, for a long time the oral tradition was predominant in the hymnodical art of the Southern and Eastern Slavs. Systematic notation of hymns began, supposedly, in the late XIth century.

The key to decipher ancient Znamenny notation has not yet been found. Paleographic analysis helps us to get an approximate idea of the general melodical picture of this chant.

M.Brazchnikov, Russian scientist and researcher of ancient Znamenny singing came to a number of interesting conclusions, relating to Znamenny singing: on the basis of graphic analysis of Russian hymn manuscripts of the XIth century he realised that the number of signs, used in them, was rather limited; the leading role among those signs belonged to three of them: kryuk, stopitsa and plain statya. Later new signs appeared, but those three have remained the basis of Znamenny notation.

Here is the list of those signs:

statya prostaya (plain)
statya svetlaya (light)
paraklit (a letter of Greek alphabet)
strela prostaya (plain arrow)
chashka (cup)
kryzh (cross)
phita (a letter of Russian alphabet)

Oral tradition prevailed in hymnodical education at first. Later, with the growing complication of the art of singing and that of the Znamenny sign system, there appeared the need for special books for learning the basics of the singing art. The first books of such a type, which were usually called ABC books, were dated from the XVth century. Initially they contained a list of Znamenny notational signs - a kind of "musical ABC", which had been usually placed at the end of the book. Later, from the second part of the XVIth century singing ABC books began to grow in size; they contained not only the lists of signs but the explanatory notes on "how to sing" as well. Unfortunately, those commentaries said nothing about the absolute height and length of sounds. They only pointed out relative meaning of each sign in comparison with the others. Thus oral tradition in the teaching of Znamenny singing continued to be its basis.

A great melodical fund had been accumulated by the beginning of the XVIIth century. Its abundance and variety demanded an exact written fixation of melodies. The reform of Znamenny notation took place at the end of the XVIIth century. The essence of it was the introduction of some supplementary letter designations, which were placed above the sign and denoted the exact level of each separate sign of the melody, and relations between the different signs. For a better visual demonstration, they were written with red ink (cinnabar), that is why those marks got the name of cinnabar marks.

Similar letter marks were known in Western neum notation long ago. They had been used by a Hungarian monk Henry Contractus already in the XIth century.

We do not know for sure if Russian choir leaders were acquainted with Western singing practice. The principle of letter designation use is one and the same, both in Russian and Western practice; but the Russians pointed out the height and character of the sign's execution, while Western marks denoted the length of a note.

Novgorodian master Ivan Shaidurov invented a clear system of cinnabar marks at the first half of the XVIIth century. He introduced them into the practice of kryuk notation.

His marks were the most perfect, they were used everywhere and got the name "Shaidurov's marks".

Shaidurov's marks consisted of the letters of the Slavonic alphabet; first letters of words used in the teaching of singing practice denoted the height of each separate sign.

Cinnabar marks rested on twelve steps diatonic scale from sol of the great octave to re of the one-line octave. The scale corresponded to the average man's voice compass. The scale was devided into four parts, each containing three steps: plain, dark, light and radiant.

Letter designations pointed out the steps of those parts.

There was one more reform of musical notation in the second half of the XVIIth century. The results of it were reflected in a book by a monk-scientist, Alexander Mezenets, in 1668. He substituted cinnabar marks for special line-signs, which were added to a note and thereby denoted its relation to some part of the scale. The substitution of cinnabar marks by special line-signs was of great importance, because this system of signs was much more exact.

Ecclesiastical hymns fixed with the help of marks and line-signs, can be easily deciphered and converted to the five line notation system. That is why the whole period of Znamenny chant development is usually devided into two main periods: that without marks (written documents cannot be deciphered), and that with the marks (documents can be read easily).

At the end of the XVIIth century there appeared in Russia the so called "Kievan square five line notation". It is called so because of its Ukrainian origin; it had been widely used in the Ukraine instead of Znamenny notation from the beginning of the XVIIth century.

By the end of the XVIIth century the majority of kryuk system sheet music in Moscow had been converted to the new system of notation. That conversion made Znamenny chant a bit more schematic; the chant lost most of its rhythmical and intonational freedom.

The point is that the Kievan notational system was quite a different one; it was the system of Western standards. Later, it developed into a modern system of notation.

New Western musical thinking demanded for a new system of written fixation of hymns. This new type of thinkings as regards Russian hymnody, was based on the instrumental technique - that of the orchestra and organ. Line notation was invented for instrumental music. The necessity to tune instruments with the help of a tuning fork influenced choral singing; it also developed the principle of exact tuning, which lead to the breaking of liturgical form integrity.

After the Schism of the Church at the end of the XVIIth century old traditions of Znamenny singing and kryuk notation were being preserved by Old Believers, the official church kept them back.

Before the Schism of the Church, the Committee headed by A.Mezenets collected the year cycle of Znamenny melodies, which later was converted to the line system of notation (Kievan system) and published during the reign of Catherine II in 1777. Thanks to those publications, old hymns were used in liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, though the knowledge of Znamenny kryuk notation had been already lost.

Despite the following flourish of part singing and Italian style of singing, Znamenny basis was felt in the polyphonic hymnody of the Russian Church and in works of Russian church composers.