The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom — Liner Notes Part Three


A Second Generation of Greek American Church Musicians

After the Second World War a second generation of Greek American church musicians emerged, some of whom had received training in Western art music at American universities. The composers among them soon began to recast the legacy of Sakellarides by rescoring his harmonized works idiomatically for mixed chorus, and dressing his melodies in more sophisticated harmonic and contrapuntal garb. A seminal figure in the advancement of these trends throughout the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America was Frank Desby (1922–92). Based at the newly opened St. Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles, Dr. Desby drew on knowledge gained from academic study of chant, the liturgical music of Western Europe, and Russian choral music to create settings inspired by Renaissance, Russian, and modern prototypes. In 1951 the Society for the Advancement of Greek Orthodox Ecclesiastical and Greek Folk Music (today Greek Sacred and Secular Music Society), co-founded by Dr. Desby, published his Choral Music to the Divine Liturgy for Mixed Voices, a collection combining reworked versions of Sakellarides with a modicum of original material located mostly in the service’s short responses (“Amen,” “Lord, have mercy,” and so on).

Disseminated through regional music conferences of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese at which a massed choir accompanied by an organ was prepared, often by Dr. Desby himself, to sing the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, this collection influenced the subsequent development of Greek American liturgical music in a number of ways. Dr. Desby’s Liturgy provided composers with a precedent for the composition or compilation of complete choral settings of the Orthodox Eucharist comparable in scale to those of such earlier Russian composers as Tchaikovsky, as well as an institutional framework for their performance (the regional choir conference). Its copious and audibly recognizable use of material by Sakellarides helped not only to perpetuate the hegemony of his work in the Greek Orthodox churches of America, but also to secure the rapid acceptance of Dr. Desby’s arrangements by clergy and laity.

Like Desby and Peter Michaelides (whose own setting of the Divine Liturgy Cappella Romana has previously recorded), Tikey Zes (b. 1927) was trained professionally in music at the University of Southern California. Although active as a composer of Greek Orthodox choral music since the 1950s, his first complete setting of the Divine Liturgy was published only in 1978 by the Greek Sacred and Secular Music Society. This work finds Dr. Zes adhering to Sakellarides for the melodies of its major hymns, but also including features that were unusual or innovative in Greek American liturgical music. In it the tunes of Sakellarides are frequently disguised: they are absorbed into polyphonic textures; secondary dominants and other characteristics of Romantic harmony are avoided; organ parts not infrequently do more than double the voices (independent writing for organ is also to be found in settings by Anna Gallos [b. 1920], a Greek Orthodox church musician who worked primarily in the Eastern United States); and original melodies occasionally appear. 

—Alexander Lingas

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