Sacred Songs of Serbia — Program Notes: Part One
Sacred Songs of Serbia
Serbian Chant and Church Choral Music
Serbian chant is a type of monodic music which has remained in use as part of the Church’s liturgy from the time of Cyril and Methodius (the 9th century) to our day. With the granting of the independence to the Serbian Church in 13th century and the gradual introduction of regional and national elements into the Old Church Slavonic language (Bulgarian, Serbian, etc), certain vernacular musical characteristics possibly found their way into Slavic versions of Byzantine chant. This came about mostly through the creation of new services in honour of Serbian saints. The most important method of transmission of these melodies has always been the oral tradition, though of course manuscripts of old Serbian Church music are extant, and serve as a guide to the tradition. They were all written in late Byzantine neumatic notation. About 140 Greek and Slavonic neumatic manuscripts from the 18th and 19th century are preserved in the Serbian monastery of Chilandar on the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos. The sticheron for St. Stephen of Dečani Rejoice, all ye western lands, Tone I, is an example of a beautiful melody based on a text from the Service of the Holy King Stephen (15th c.).
A hugely important stage in the development of Serbian chant, directly linked to the development of choral music in the 19th century, centred around the Metropolitanate of Sremski Karlovci. At the end of the 17th century, after Austria’s defeat in the Balkans, under the pressure of Turkish atrocities, the great mass of the Serbian population, organized by their Patriarch, Arsenije Čarnojević, left their ancient homeland, the region of Kosovo. These emigrés took with them the holy relics of the medieval Serbian princes and martyrs, icons, manucripts and early printed books, all of which helped them to preserve their national integrity, religious faith and distinctive culture. While coming into contact with the music of Western Europe and Russian Church music, the Serbian chant underwent some changes. There was, in fact, a process of adapting the old modal melodies to the major and minor tonal system and creating a form of chanting known as Karlovačko pojanje. The Christmas sticheron The Magi, kings of Persia, Tone V, displays a highly Eastern character through its melismatic melody. The traditional Serbian song Holy, holy, holy from the Liturgy of St. Basil, from the repertoire of veliko pojanje (Great chant) through its mixolydian melodic structure, also shows strong Byzantine roots.