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HYMNS OF THE RUSSIAN
ORTHODOX CHURCH


1. Stepenna in tone 6
2. Stepenna in tone 4
3. Stepenna in tone 5
4. Praise the name of the Lord (Psalm 135)
5. Our Holy Father
6. Exaposteilarion of the Easter Sunday
7. The Lord is with us
8. Stichera of the Good Friday
9. Now the Powers of Heaven
10. It is meet to bless Thee
11. Cherubic Hymn
12. Receive the body of Christ
13. The Troparion of the Easter Sunday
14. The Song of St. Symeon
15. Open the doors of Repentance
16. The Troparion of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ



Cathedral of the Dormition Choir
Vladimir Koshkin, Music Director


Catalog #S022580CD [DDD]

Program Notes

Music is uniquely integrated into the worshipping traditions of the Eastern Churches. In the Orthodox Churches music and liturgy are interdependent. In well-endowed churches the singing is by choirs, or by priest and people in a humble village church. Following the injunctions of the Church Fathers, musical instruments have never been accepted. The sound of the human voice raised in song is central. One of the most striking musical features of Orthodox worship must be its hymns, which have been composed in huge numbers from the fourth century onwards. One compilation lists at least 6,000. Orthodox hymns have traditional structures which all have their proper place in the liturgy.

The common term for a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas, is troparion (this may carry the further connotation of a hymn interpolated between psalm verses). A famous example, whose existence is attested as early as the fourth century, is the Vesper (Evening Service) hymn "Gladsome Light"; another, "Only Begotten Son," ascribed to Justinian I (527-565), figures in the introductory portion of the Divine Liturgy. Perhaps the earliest set of troparia of known authorship are those of the monk Auxentios (first half of the fifth century), attested in his biography but not preserved in any later Byzantine order of service.

Another kind of hymn, important both for its number and for the variety of its liturgical use, is the sticheron. Festal stichera, accompanying both the fixed psalms at the beginning and end of Vespers and the psalmody of the Lauds (the Ainoi) in the Morning Office, exist for all special days of the year, the Sundays and weekdays of Lent, and for the recurrent cycle of eight weeks in the order of the modes beginning with Easter. Their melodies, preserved in the Sticherarion, are considerably more elaborate and varied than in the tradition of the Heirmologion, a bulky volume which first appeared in the middle of the tenth century and contains over a thousand model troparia.

Stepenni (graduals) are antiphons, hymns that are sung by two choruses in alteration. They consist of 3 or 4 stanzas. Each stanza is sung first by one chorus and repeated by the other. These hymns are called graduals because their contents are based on Psalms 119-132 referred to as "Songs of Ascents".

Exaposteilarion is a special hymn sung at Matins (Morning Service). It refers to Christ's activity after the Resurrection, particularly His dispatching of the disciples to preach to the world.

After having received Christianity from Byzantium, the early Russian Church soon began to modify the newly acquired Byzantine chant, while at the same time drawing upon the musical experience of pre-Christian Russia. The Russian Church attributes the creation of the system of the eight tones of the Byzantine Church to St. John of Damascus (8th century AD). Although the Russians accepted the Byzantine form of chanting according to the system of the eight tones, the Russian tones (glasy) differ considerably from the Byzantine. The system grouped melodies not by underlying scale, but according to typical melodic patterns that certain groups of melodies were found to have in common. These patterns were called popevki. For example, the first glas (tone) was characterized by ninety-three of the popevki, and all of these popevki could be considered to have a festive mood, but at the same time, a general feel of solemnity was preserved. Each of the eight tones had such defining patterns, and each had a certain mood or feeling that it conveyed. The second tone was sweet and tender; the sixth was mournful, etc. A master chanter would have all of these tones memorized, all of the patterns memorized and even the names of the 400 or so patterns memorized as well.

Byzantine priests brought with them the best Bulgarian chanters who made use of Bulgarian melodies. These were Byzantine melodies adapted to fit Slavonic, the language of the Bulgars. The Russians were attracted to these melodies, which seems only natural considering that the Bulgars and Russians share a common language. The Bulgarian chants were similar to the Russian Znamenny Chant.

Within the canonical liturgical singing of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is possible to identify several different systems or chants (rospevy).

Znamenny Chant is the most ancient and most complete chant of the Russian Church. Its oldest written monuments date back to the end of the eleventh century. The term Znamenny Rospev (Chant) originally distinguished chant that was set down in some type of written notation from that which was passed along by oral tradition. The Znamenny chant is slow moving and makes use of lengthy melodic lines. It was originally written down using a series of signs (the word znamenny itself originated from the Russian word znak, or sign). The Russians invented hundreds of different signs, which represented single notes, two or more notes, or short musical patterns, and placed them above the liturgical text. Znamenny chant was diatonic (recognition of whole-steps and half-steps). The scale used in Znamenny is a little over an octave consisting of twelve pitches from a low B to a high D. Every three pitches are divided into a different accordance (soglasya): low, somber, bright and very bright. When writing a chant, the composer would indicate in which accordance the chant was to be sung. A single chant could also move between different accordances, which was indicated in the notation. The melody was usually in strict conjunct motion (no skips in the pitches) and leaps of a fourth or a fifth were used for added drama in a cadence at the end of a chant. The rhythm was mainly quarter notes and half notes, with the beat determined by half notes. There were occasional whole notes that when used were only to end a phrase or line. Eighth notes can be found in the manuscripts, but overall were very rare. Chanters could take expressive liberties by sustaining half notes and whole notes longer, but sometimes the notation dictated this lengthening.

The main problem of this notation was that the average chanter could gather in what accordance to sing, but he had no idea which of the three notes in the particular accordance he was supposed to sing. For the chanter to know, he would have to memorize every individual pattern (popevka) to be able to recognize it immediately and know on what pitch to begin. This was a significant problem until the mid-seventeenth century when the Novgorod master Ivan Shaidur invented a system of auxiliary red letters to be placed alongside the Znamenny notation above the text of the chant. Each of the letters corresponded to a particular note in the church scale. The chants with Shaidur's red letters were much more accessible to the general public and it is a shame that Znamenny Chant was soon put aside in favor of the new Kievan Chant.

Kievan Chant came into being at the time when western and southwestern parts of Russia were under the rule of Lithuanian and Polish kings. The evolution of Kievan Chant out of the original Znamenny did not occur without a certain influence from Western European music. The sign system of musical notation was replaced by a system of square notation, which more closely resemble modern notations. This notation was brought to Kiev from the West in the 17th century. Until the chanters were able to convert completely to the square notation, many chants were written with both square and sign notation. Having developed as a regional variant, Kievan Chant gained in importance when it was brought to Moscow by church singers from Kiev, following the political union between eastern Ukraine and Moscow in 1654.

Within the context of a given chant system, it is necessary to distinguish still another category: melodies for a given type or group of hymns, often referred to as napevy. The term napevy refers either to a group of melodies related to a specific hymnographical group, or, more commonly, to melodic variants of local or regional origin (e.g. Moskovskii napev - the Moscow tune or variant of a given chant, Valaamsky napev (tune) -the variant of the Valaam Monastery, Galitsky napev (tune) - a variant of Galizia in Western Ukraine, Kievo-Pechorsky napev (tune) - the variant of the Kievo-Pechorskaya Lavra in Kiev, etc).

However, the character of Russian church music today owes more to the nineteenth century than to any other period. It was dominated by Fyodor L'vov and his son Alexey (1798-1870 and musical director of the Court Chapel for 25 years), Pyotr Turchaninov and many others. They created the sonorous and sometimes sentimental style of singing associated with Russian liturgical music today, sometimes dubbed the "St. Petersburg style".

The chants used in the Court Chapel were simplified and shortened versions of traditional melodies and these romantic and rhetorical harmonizations of them were published in an edition of the Obikhod (canticles of the Common) in 1848. They were thus disseminated throughout Russia and are still the basis of Russian Orthodox music today. In one sense, Common Chant can be seen as a complete system of liturgical singing, containing melodies for all hymnographical groups. In another sense, however, it lacks the unified character of other chant systems, being composed of an unsystematic conglomeration of greatly simplified and abbreviated melodies from various other chants, including some melodies of unknown origin.


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