Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the peoples of Russia and Ukraine began to look to the West not only for trading partners, but also for political, intellectual and artistic models. The Westernization of northern Slavic societies rooted in Byzantine traditions of governance and religion accelerated during the tumultuous seventeenth century, which saw the founding of the Romanov dynasty (1613), the Old-Ritualist Schism, and the accession of Tsar Peter the Great (1689), who transferred the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. Meanwhile the liturgical arts of architecture, iconography and singing all began to display influence from the Baroque culture of the contemporary West, evident in music from the adoption of staff notation and the cultivation of Italian and Central European styles of polyphonic composition (so called partesny singing).
Western influence on the music of the Russian Orthodox Church reached its apogee during the reign of the Empress Catherine II the Great (1762–96), who continued the practice of her immediate predecessors of appointing Roman Catholic composers of Italian opera as directors of the Imperial Court Chapel. The first of these was Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785), a student of Antonio Lotti and Maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice whose three-year contract for service in St Petersburg (1765–68) was secured after protracted negotiations with the Venetian Senate. In addition to producing the secular and ceremonial music for voices and instruments that had been expected of previous imported maestri, Galuppi composed unaccompanied choral works in Church Slavonic for Russian Orthodox worship. These range from such compact settings of hymns as “Only-Begotten Son” from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to “Pass Judgment, Lord” and other lengthy works in multiple movements known as sacred concertos. Often featuring texts chosen freely from the Bible, sacred concertos came to be performed during the communion of the clergy at the Divine Liturgy, where they would supplement or replace the chanting of the liturgically appointed communion verse.
Galuppi also influenced the development of Russian Orthodox music by fostering the careers of two court singers of Ukrainian origin: Maxim Sozontovich Berezovsky (ca. 1745–77) and Dmitri Stepanovich Bortnyansky (1751–1825), both of whom were sent to Italy for advanced musical study (respectively, 1769–73 and 1768–79). Berezovsky may already have been active as composer of Orthodox sacred music at the time of Galuppi’s arrival, for there is evidence of mutual influence, as well as conflicting attributions for several works including the settings of ‘It Is Truly Right’ and the Lord’s Prayer from the Divine Liturgy performed in this program.
The only other Italian opera composer known to have written a significant body of music for the Russian Orthodox Church was Giuseppe Sarti (1729–1802). Between engagements for the Danish monarchy in Copenhagen, Sarti was maestro di coro of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice in 1766–67. Sarti left a subsequent post as maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral (1779–84) for in Russia, where he would remain for nearly twenty years, during which he would serve two terms (1784–86 and 1790–1801) as director of the Court Chapel in St Petersburg and teach students including the Ukrainian Artemy Lukyanovich Vedel (1767–1808) and the Russian Stepan Anikiyevich Degtiarev (1766–1813), a serf of Count Sheremetev who accompanied Sarti on a journey to Italy in 1790.
By the time that Bortnyansky succeeded Sarti as director of the Imperial Court Chapel in 1801, it had become the most important musical establishment in the Russian Church. Granted censorship by over publications of Russian Orthodox church music in 1816, Bortnyansky consolidated musical forms and practices that to this day remain the basis for liturgical singing in many Slavic churches. While further developing the choral genres pioneered by Galuppi and Sarti, he also worked in two ways to domesticate improvised traditions of harmonizing Slavic chant: 1) through the creation of through-composed settings of (mainly Kievan) chant melodies; and 2) by publishing in 1815 a collection of Simple Chant for the hymns and responses of Divine Liturgy notated in alto and bass parts. As Joppi Harri has recently shown, this two-part texture conveys in outline the substance of the formulaic ‘Court Chant’ that would be systematically notated by Bortnyansky’s successors at the Imperial Chapel Alexei Fyodorovich Lvov (1798–1870) and Nikolai Ivanovich Bakhmetev (1807–91).
Major traditions of complex sacred music throughout Europe were shaped during the so-called “long nineteenth century” (the period of relative peace which lasted from the battle of Waterloo to the outbreak of World War I) by movements to recover elements of early traditions for modern use. These efforts, like contemporary “back-to-roots” endeavors in non-musical arts and the Romantic nationalisms to which they were all related ideologically, shared certain broad aims and methodologies even as they emphasized local particularities. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all employed the rapidly developing academic disciplines of liturgiology and musicology (both historical and comparative) to identify their historical, cultural, and spiritual roots. Scholarly findings were then harnessed to serve (re-) creative practice in ways that ranged from wholesale resurrections of neglected repertories to the composition of new music inspired by real or imagined pasts. e results in Western and Central Europe are well known: a musical spectrum from the Solesmes “restoration” of Gregorian chant to Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, in between which were revivals of Renaissance polyphony and Baroque liturgical music (especially that of J.S. Bach) that combined old and new in nearly equal measure.
This concert traces a quest that emerged out of the so-called “Russian Religious Renaissance” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to renew the music of Russian Orthodoxy through the study and creative re-appropriation of its traditions of chanting. Two approaches to research were pursued simultaneously, in some cases by the same people: 1) the study of notated chant manuscripts and other historical documents reaching as far back as the Byzantine origins of Orthodox worship in medieval Rus’; and 2) the investigation of contemporary chanting in the worship of monasteries, Old Believers, southern Slavs, and Greeks. is research enabled antiquarian revivals in the form of concerts and published editions of historical works, as well as pastoral initiatives to promote the use of unison chanting. Yet scholarship arguably achieved its greatest impact by fostering the emergence of a “New Direction” in the creation of harmonized choral music for the Russian Orthodox Church, the crowning achievement of which is generally acknowledged to be the (mostly) chant-based All-Night Vigil, op. 37 of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943).
The stylistic indistinguishability of completely original sections of Rachmaninov’s Vigil from movements based on melodies from the Znamenny, Kievan, and Greek repertories of Russian chant points toward contradictions inherent in the New Direction. In pursuing a broad creative agenda that may be summarized as “back to the future,” its adherents forged inescapably modern syntheses through their (inevitably) selective use of data regarding historical and living traditions of Slavic and Byzantine chanting. Contemporary ideologies and perceptions of musical, spiritual, and/or ethnic purity governed the use of historical or ethnographic evidence, blurring lines between real and imagined traditions.
From the seventeenth century to the emergence of the New Direction in the later nineteenth century, there were three major streams of musical practice within Russian Orthodoxy:
A group of chant repertories recorded in neumes or staff notation as a single melodic line. The oldest of these was Znamenny – from the word “znak” ([musical] “sign”) – chant, a repertory with Byzantine roots that was indigenized over the course of half a millennium. Out of the core Znamenny repertory emerged other bodies of chant, some of which were closely derivative regional variants (the most prominent being Kievan chant), while others such as Demestvenny chant were created as supplements to adorn worship selectively with new (and o en elaborate) music. Post-medieval waves of musical influence from the Balkans led to the formation of additional Slavonic chant repertories labeled “Greek” and “Bulgarian.”
Multipart singing derived from the Slavic chant traditions listed above, most of it realized extemporaneously according to orally transmitted conventions, a practice known in western Europe as “chanting on the book.” The multipart textures that emerged from these polyphonic practices featured harmonic progressions, seventh chords, octave doublings, and parallel movements of vocal parts that are inadmissible according to Western textbooks of harmony and counterpoint. As Jopi Harri has recently shown, these practices undergird manuals for ordinary church singing (Obikhod) edited and published in multiple voice parts by three directors of the Imperial Capella in Saint Petersburg: Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751– 1825), Alexei Lvov (1798–1870), and Nikolai Bakmetev (1807–91).
Singing music notated in multiple voice parts (partes) composed in the style of contemporary western European art music, albeit without the use of musical instruments. Renaissance and Baroque styles of partesny singing initially absorbed through Poland and Ukraine were replaced during the later eighteenth century by Galant and Classical works, a stylistic change stimulated by Catherine the Great’s appointment of Italian composers to head the Imperial Capella. Chants were occasionally harmonized using “textbook” western harmony and counterpoint, but most of the music composed in this style featured original melodic material.
The present concert surveys the progress of the New Direction in Russian church music through selections drawn mainly from three services: the All-Night Vigil, a composite of the offices of Vespers (evening prayer), Matins (morning prayer), and the First Hour celebrated on Saturday night and the eves of major feasts; the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the ordinary form of the Eucharist in the Byzantine rite; and the Memorial Service (Panikhida). We represent the received practices of polyphonic chanting in nineteenth-century Russia with excerpts of collections recording the traditions of two great monastic foundations: the Monastery of the Kievan Caves (Kiev-Pechersk Lavra) as transcribed and arranged after its oral traditions of harmonization by Leonid Malashkin (1888); and the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Possad near Moscow as edited by Hieromonk Nathaniel Bochkalo (1911). This style of chanting was ubiquitous and was found to be inspirational even by composers of the New Direction whose own church music rejected many of its harmonic devices. In some of his chant-based works, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) adopted the doubling of upper-voice melodies in bass voices, while Rachmaninov quoted the Kievan version of the morning hymn “Your Cross, O Savior” in his Second Piano Concerto.
One of the first composers to move toward the reorientation of Russian church music was Mikhail Glinka (1804–57), whose triumph with the nationalist opera A Life for the Tsar led to his appointment as Director of the Imperial Capella in 1837. During his brief tenure at court (1837–39), Glinka composed only a single sacred work (a Cherubic Hymn in a Romantic version of the imitative polyphonic style of the Renaissance) and apparently had little impact on the aesthetic trajectory of church singing. Late in life, however, Glinka returned to the composition of liturgical music a er a period of study in Berlin, where a setting of the Paschal hymn “Christ is Risen” is preserved among his papers. Having made the acquaintance of the abbot of the Coastal Monastery of St. Sergius near Saint Petersburg, (now Saint) Ignaty Brianchaninov, Glinka composed two works for the community: a set of responses to the Litany of Peace, and an arrangement for male voices of the Greek Chant melody of the responsory “Let My Prayer Be Set Forth” from the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. In both of these late works Glinka used a “strict style,” avoiding dissonance and chromatic alterations of the scale, that reflected his rejection of what he perceived to be the prevalence of Italian and German influence in contemporary Russian church singing.
The foundations for a broader quest to establish a distinctively Russian style of church music rooted in the past were strengthened in 1867 with the establishment of a department for the “History of Church Singing” at the Moscow Conservatory. Glinka’s late sacred works were nally published in 1878 by the Moscow rm of Jurgenson, which in that same year also released an original setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, op. 41 by Peter Tchaikovsky (1840–93). Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy immediately provoked litigation from Bakhmetev, who as Director of the Imperial Capella alleged that its unauthorized appearance contravened his powers of censorship over printed liturgical music. e dismissal of this lawsuit on a technicality in 1880 inaugurated a new era of productivity in Russian church music, out of which soon coalesced the creative re-imaginings of chant and folk music of the New Direction.
Tchaikovsky’s next publication of music for Orthodox worship was explicitly an attempt to reframe ancient traditions of Russian church singing: All-Night Vigil: An Essay in Harmonizing Liturgical Chants, op. 52 (1882). It was based almost entirely on melodies from major repertories of Russian chant, with harmonizations ranging stylistically from unmetered and modally pure settings in the “strict style” to relatively complex arrangements featuring counterpoint and other devices characteristic of Western art music. An example of the latter is the Polyeleos, a setting of a Greek Chant for festal matins that extends iterations of its refrain (“Alleluia”) with passages of imitative polyphony.
In 1883 Mily Balakirev (1836–1910) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov were appointed co- directors of the Imperial Capella. Working with the assistance of a team of younger composers, Rimsky-Korsakov immediately set out to rework its core repertory of customary chants (Obikhod) according to academic principles of modal harmony and voice-leading. The results of this group e ort were published in 1887 as the All- Night Vigil based on Ancient Chants, from which we have excerpted its arrangements of Kievan melodies in Mode 1 for the Lamplighting Psalms and interpolated hymns (stichera) of Saturday vespers.
Composers in Saint Petersburg continued to recast ancient chants through 1923, when the Communist authorities prohibited the Petrograd People’s Choral Academy (as the Imperial Capella had been renamed) from performing Maximilian Steinberg’s recently completed Passion Week. (Passion Week received its world premiere by Cappella Romana 91 years later in 2014.) By that time leadership in Russian sacred music had long ago passed to composers and scholars based in the old capital of Moscow, a shift brought about in part by Tchaikovsky as a member of a committee that in 1886 completely reorganized the curriculum of the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing. Newly hired conductor Vasily Orlov (1856–1907) quickly transformed its choir of men and boys into Russia’s leading vocal ensemble and a champion of new music, eventually including the most challenging sacred works of Rachmaninov and Alexander Grechaninov (1864–1956).
A sample of this repertoire by Chesnokov, sung by the Male Choir of Saint Petersburg:
During the tenure of chant scholar and composer Stepan Smolensky (1848–1909) as its director (1889–1901), the Synodal School became the central hub of the New Direction, training and appointing as faculty composers including Alexander Kastalsky (1856–1926), Pavel Chesnokov (1874–1944), and Nikolai Tolstiakov (1883–1958). From the time of its reorganization the professional networks of the Synodal School faculty overlapped with those of the Moscow Conservatory, where Smolensky taught as a professor of the history of church music alongside colleagues including the composer-theorist Sergey Taneyev (1856– 1915). They later came to encompass scholars, performers, and composers of church music in Saint Petersburg, especially after Smolensky served a term (1901–1903) as director of the Imperial Capella.
Composers working during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries within the orbits of the New Direction approached the problem of formulating a chant-based style from a number of angles. In a treatise entitled A Theory of Ancient-Russian Church and Folk Singing on the Basis of Authentic Treatises and Acoustic Analysis (Moscow: 1880) the St-Petersburg-based theorist and composer Yuri Arnold (1811–98) began to expound a systematic approach to the modal harmonization of chants rooted in ancient theory that resembled contemporary work on Greek folk song and Byzantine chant by Louis-Albert Bourgault Ducoudray (1840–1910). Arnold’s approach was subsequently taken up by the priest, historian, and composer Dmitry Allemanov (1867–1928), who began to correspond with Smolensky in 1894 and taught the history of church singing at the Moscow Synodal School during the years 1910–18. Labeled “Greek Chant” in some of its republications, Allemanov’s setting of the matins antiphon “From My Youth” is an original composition in chant style. Allemanov, however, did compose numerous settings of authentic chants, mainly Russian but also Byzantine. The latter appeared in a pair of publications co-authored with Alexei Zverev that feature harmonized Byzantine melodies in Greek and Slavonic.
Sergey Taneyev was a master of academic styles of counterpoint whose major sacred works are two large-scale sacred cantatas for chorus and orchestra: John of Damascus, op. 1 (1883–84); and At the Reading of a Psalm, op. 36 (1912–15). He became interested in church music in the mid 1870s, discussing the matter with Tchaikovsky and occasionally venturing to produce his own settings of liturgical texts for unaccompanied chorus. Of Taneyev’s seventeen extant liturgical choruses, een are based on traditional Russian chants. Those for the All-Night Vigil were evidently intended, according to Plotnikova, to be components of a cycle that, had it been completed, would have comparable to that of Tchaikovsky. Taneyev sets his chosen Znamenny, Kievan, and Greek chant melodies to various permutations of imitative polyphony or, as in the case of the Apolytikion of the Resurrection in Mode 1, homophonic writing in the “strict style”. Although never published during his lifetime, this Apolytikion is one of two chant-based works by Taneyev that the Synodal Choir performed in 1891 at Smolensky’s behest.
Ultimately, as Vladimir Morosan has noted, it was Smolensky and his assistant Kastalsky that succeeded in forging a distinctive and widely copied chant- and folk-related choral idiom that the former had christened “kontrapunktika.” Similar in texture to the nationalist style pioneered in secular music by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), kontrapunktika featured parallel vocal lines (including the fourths and hs forbidden by textbook harmony), constantly shi ing numbers of voices, drones, and irregular phrases based on chant melodies and their texts. Smolensky himself o ered only a small number of fully developed exemplars of this technique, the most extensive of which is the Panikhida on emes from Ancient Chants for Male-Voice Choir, a setting of the Russian Orthodox Memorial Service composed in 1904. Many of his other musical publications were editions of existing bodies of music, including a three-volume set of chant harmonizations arranged for male chorus that appeared in 1893, from which we perform the Prokeimenon for Saturday Vespers and a Cherubic Hymn for the Divine Liturgy.
After joining the Synodal School as a pianist on the recommendation of Tchaikovsky, Alexander Kastalsky rose through the ranks of its faculty to become director from 1910 to 1918. One of his most self-consciously antiquarian endeavors at the school was a performing edition of the medieval Russian version of the Service of the Furnace (1909). The Service had originated in the late Byzantine rite of Hagia Sophia as a quasi-dramatic retelling of the story of the Three Hebrew Youths in the fiery furnace from the Septuagint version of the biblical Book of Daniel. Previously recorded by Cappella Romana from manuscripts preserved today on Mount Sinai, the Greek prototype of the Service was celebrated during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries between matins and the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before Christmas in the cathedrals of Constantinople and Thessalonica. In Russia the Service expanded into a multi-day observance with spoken dialogue, additional chants, and pyrotechnics. Basing his work on recent scholarship, Kastalsky combined ancient chant sources with arrangement according to the techniques of kontrapunktika to create for the Moscow Synodal School a greatly abbreviated version lasting approximately thirty minutes. We sing its penultimate movement, a setting of verses from Psalm 136.
Nikolai Tolstiakov was a 1903 graduate of the Synodal School who served on its staff from 1907 through 1918 and then, like his mentor Kastalsky, for another five years during the institution’s twilight as a People’s Choral Academy. Tolstiakov originally published “Blessed is the Man,” an arrangement of Greek Chant melodies for selected verses of Psalms 1–3, as the second of five numbers for mixed chorus from the All-Night Vigil contained in his Opus 1. Like the paraliturgical choral concerto O Be Joyful in the Lord (Op. 19, No.2 of 1898) by Alexander Grechaninov, it was later arranged for male chorus by Pavel Chesnokov, another graduate turned staff member of the Synodal School. Grechaninov had acquired his association with the school when its choir premiered his Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, op. 13. According to Morosan and Rakhmanova, this led to conversations with faculty members who convinced him to adopt the techniques of kontrapunktika.
Svetlana Zvereva has documented how Kastalsky also exchanged ideas regarding stylistic directions in contemporary church music with Vladimir Glinkaov (1866–1920), a composer best known today for his piano works. In his All-Night Vigil, op. 44 (1911), a work premiered by the Synodal Choir and described by Kastalsky as “remarkable for the boldness of its exposition,” Rebikov went beyond the stylistic conventions of kontrapunktika to create his own soundworld of invented melodies and austere harmonizations. Rebikov’s music for vespers includes two solo chants in a quasi-Byzantine style: a setting of the Canticle of Symeon (the Nunc dimittis, Luke 2:29–32) for a tenor with a “mature timbre”; and a version of the Marian hymn “Hail, Virgin Mother of God” for a tenor with a “youthful timbre.”
The harmonically and sonically rich textures of Pavel Chesnokov’s mature choral style stand in polar opposition to the radical asceticism of Rebikov. Chesnokov began his career as a church composer by regularly employing traditional melodies, but over time turned toward original composition, preferring to suggest rather than to quote chant. This is the case with his second setting of the Russian Orthodox Memorial Service, the Panikhida No. 2, a work written for mixed voices as Opus 39 and then immediately adapted for male voices as Opus 39a (1913). In the Funeral Kontakion and Ode 9 of the Kanon, Chesnokov musically unifies a patchwork of textual fragments reflecting abbreviations commonly made to the service in late imperial Russia.
The dismantling of institutional infrastructure for the creation and performance of sacred music in the Soviet Union led the task of further development along the lines of the New Direction in the hands of Russian émigrés. Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936), who held the title of Director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory from 1905–1930, went abroad in 1928 on a concert tour from which he eventually decided not to return, settling in Paris in 1932. In the year before his death Glazunov composed his first known liturgical music for the choir of the St. Serge Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, a pair of chant arrangements from the matins of Easter Sunday. The Paschal Exaposteilarion sets a Greek Chant melody with harmonies and counterpoint in the “strict style” that Morosan likens to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev.
Born in Saint Petersburg, Nikolai Kedrov, Jr. (1906–1981) was the son of Nikolai Kedrov, Sr. (1871–1940), a singer, composer of church music, and professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. After his family settled in Paris in 1923, the younger Nikolai resumed his musical training, eventually succeeding his father as director of the Kedrov Vocal Quartet. He was one of the editors of the so-called London Sbornik (1962–72), a multivolume collection of liturgical music that featured prominently both the composers of the New Direction and their émigré successors. Kedrov, Jr. contributed to this project many of his own arrangements of Russian chant, among which is his setting of the Greek Chant for the verses and refrains of Psalm 103, the opening psalm of Byzantine vespers.
This Weekend: Opening Concerts of Cappella Romana’s 25th Anniversary Season!
Orthodox Music: Ancient & Modern
A reprise of Cappella Roman’s debut performance, which was given in 1991! The program includes selections from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, rarely heard Byzantine chants from Constantinople, and Greek American choral works.
Listen to Artslandia’s Susannah Mars interview with Alexander Lingas about our 25th Anniversary and this weekend’s New Mystics program on “Adventures in Artslandia”:
New Mystics From East & West
Our season closes with a program of music by two important modern voices: the Greek Orthodox composer Michael Adamis and Scottish Catholic James MacMillan. The choral works of both composers share a deeply personal quality and a rare devotion to ancient chant: Byzantine for Adamis and Gregorian for MacMillan. Colorful sonorities and intricate structures give the music of each an unmistakably mystical quality.
Cappella Romana presents Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week, a collection of choral hymns for Holy Week in the Russian Orthodox tradition. The last major sacred work to be composed following the imposition of Communism, Passion Week continues the movement in early 20th-century Russia that sought to give new birth to its spiritual and musical roots. Steinberg became the student and son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakov, a classmate of Stravinsky, and the teacher of Shostakovich.
Audiophile Audition‘s Steven Ritter gives Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin West a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating!
“Hearing this Orthodox and Roman Catholic music side-by-side is quite enlightening. Saturate yourself in either for about an hour and then switch for another hour, and you’ll swear they are the most disparate genres ever. Listen to both, sometimes alternating as here, and the similarities are striking. … Cappella Romana is at its sterling best, well-disciplined and highly focused readings of authority, clarity, and, most importantly, genuine empathy and feeling. Couple that with ingratiating sound and you have a highly desirable disc.” —Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
Manuscripts of Byzantine chant copied through the middle of the fifteenth century show that Cyprus remained closely tied to the musical mainstream of Byzantium. The two hymns (stichera) from the Greek office for St Hilarion included on the present recording are excerpts from a longer sequence of hymns interpolated on the eve of his feast between the verses (stichoi) of the Lamplighting Psalms of Byzantine Vespers. Their melodies have been taken from standard collections of medieval Orthodox hymnody and, like all the Greek chants on this disc, have been edited by Dr Ioannis Arvanitis in the light of his groundbreaking research on rhythm in Byzantine chant of the Middle Ages (2010). One of our sources is the Sticherarion Sinai Greek 1471, a volume that consists mainly of through-composed hymns (stichera idiomela) that Oliver Strunk (1977) identified as having been copied on Cyprus during the fourteenth century and, perhaps because of the island’s proximity to the Middle East, includes rarely notated hymns associated with the rite of Jerusalem.
Cypriot cantors from the period of Lusignan rule not only maintained existing traditions of Byzantine chanting, but also contributed works in the new kalophonic style to musical anthologies copied on the mainland. What little we know about these musicians comes mainly from brief headings to their compositions mentioning their names, the fact that they were from Cyprus, and perhaps also their musical or clerical posts. For the present recording we have selected three works partially or wholly attributed to Cypriot composers from the manuscript Athens, National Library of Greece 2406, an encyclopedic volume of Byzantine service music copied in the northern Greek town of Serres and dated to the fateful year of 1453.
Byzantine musical manuscripts record the musical activities of three members of the Asan family of Cyprus, two of whom appear in Athens 2406 (the third is the priest Manuel Asan, whose works are transmitted in other early fifteenth century sources). To Konstantinos (Constantine) Asan are ascribed several texts set to music in the kalophonic style by John Kladas, a Lampadarios of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia and the leading Constantinopolitan composer of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The present recording offers one of their two hymns that honour the Holy Trinity in fifteen-syllable verse, a metre employed widely in Byzantine sacred and secular poetry. The music of Kladas is generally meditative in character, but gradually builds in tension through a series of textual repetitions. This tension is released with teretismata that culminate in vocal imitations of brass fanfares that herald the final exclamation: ‘Save me, Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!’
In Athens 2406 the Communion Verse for Saints (and ordinary Tuesdays) by Nicholas Asan follows another setting of the same text attributed to the daughter of Kladas. Nicholas begins with a brief quotation of a formula for the syllabic rendering of psalms, after which he shifts into a melodically florid style for the remainder of the piece, about two thirds of which is devoted to repetitions of the refrain ‘Alleluia’ extended through the intercalation of consonants within the melismas and the insertion of the command ‘Λέγε!’ (‘Say!’). These extensions not only helped to fill the time required for the distribution of Communion, but also reflected sonically the Byzantine theological understanding of earthly worship as an icon of that celebrated perpetually by the angels.
Byzantine cantors who wished to further prolong a liturgical moment were able to do so by inserting a musically independent kratema (‘holder’), a composition consisting entirely of teretismata. Although their vocables were rendered exclusively with the human voice, kratemata could serve liturgical functions analogous to those of the organ preludes, interludes, and postludes found in later Western liturgical traditions. On the present recording we demonstrate this by appending to the Communion Verse a kratema by Paul Kasas, a priest-monk who was Protopsaltes (First-Cantor) of Cyprus during the early fifteenth century. Copied in Athens 2406 among festal psalms for evening prayer, this kratema is labelled a katavasia by its scribe. This technical term denoting some kind of descent was traditionally applied in Byzantine liturgy either to the concluding stanzas of poetic canons at the morning office or, in the old rite of Jerusalem, the short festal hymns known in modern use as apolytikia (‘dismissal [hymns]’). Composers of kalophonic chant, however, tended to use the term to refer to short kratemata that could be added as codas to other works (Anastasiou 2005). The katavasia of Kasas is divided musically into three large sections of melodically related material, each of which is formed of sequences of phrases that climax an octave above the base (final) of the mode. Athens 2406 includes two endings for this kratema, the second of which is recorded on this disc: a lightly ornamented version of Neagie, the intonation for the Fourth Plagal Mode; and an alternate version in which this intonation is dramatically stated in octaves, labelled ‘doubling’ (‘diplasma’) in the manuscript, after which the upper voice executes a gentle descent to the base of the mode.
During the final decades of the Lusignan dynasty and then subsequently under the administration of Venice, Greek Orthodox cantors in Cyprus began to shadow the musical developments of their colleagues in Venetian-ruled Crete. While continuing to transmit the central repertories of Byzantine chant, Cypriot musicians also wrote new chants and selectively arranged older compositions in ways that reflected shifting musical sensibilities. As in Crete, the changes included alterations of melodic style and the extension of modal variety to a broader range of liturgical genres. An example of these new directions in melody and modality is the Trisagion (‘Thrice Holy’) Hymn composed as a conclusion to the Great Doxology (Gloria in excelsis) of the Byzantine morning office of Orthros. This hymn appears amid the older musical layers of Sinai Greek 1313, a Cypriot manuscript of the sixteenth century featuring the hands of multiple scribes. Probably the latest of these scribes is Hieronymos Tragodistes, a composer and theorist who left Cyprus in the middle of the sixteenth century for Venice where he became a pupil of Gioseffo Zarlino (Strunk 1974).
Latin and Greek sacred music of the Middle Ages shared both roots in the Christian psalmody of Roman Late Antiquity and a common inheritance of Ancient Greek musical theory. Despite centuries of troubled relations between Byzantine Christianity and the Church of Rome that went from bad to worse with the Crusader sack and occupation of Constantinople in 1204, Western and Greek writers continued to describe favourably encounters with the music of their counterparts well into the fifteenth century (Lingas 2006). One reason for this is that musical expression in the two traditions of worship remained, at base, stylistically similar. Although differing in liturgical language and the particularities of their respective systems of worship, music in the Roman and Byzantine rites consisted mainly of the unaccompanied singing of psalms and other sacred texts, a practice that we call today ‘chant’, or ‘plainchant’. Furthermore, the ways in which Byzantine and Roman (Gregorian) chant were sung seem to have been aurally compatible, even to the point of allowing simple techniques practiced by Western singers of spontaneously adding unwritten vocal parts to a chant according to basic rules of consonance – that is, the performance practices of organum and cantus planus binatim (‘plainchant twice’) – to be adopted in some circumstances by Greek cantors, especially those serving regions with religiously mixed populations.
Even as these traditional styles of chanting continued to dominate Latin and Greek worship throughout the Middle Ages, during the fourteenth century the musical elites of West and East developed strikingly different approaches to the composition of technically advanced music. In the West, circles of theorists and composers fostered what some of them labelled a ‘New Art’ (Ars nova) of writing music in multiple parts that further distanced the practice of polyphony from its origins in improvisation. They accomplished this through the introduction of French and Italian systems of ‘mensural’ (‘measured’) musical notation that were capable of recording the relative durations of sounds with unprecedented precision, thereby allowing privileged groups of court musicians to create sacred and secular polyphonic works of great formal sophistication and rhythmic complexity.
Currents of artistic renewal in the Greek East took a markedly different route, being channelled into the elaboration of Byzantine chant. The most influential figure in the musical revolution that Edward Williams (1972) called ‘A Byzantine Ars nova’ was the composer, editor, music theorist, and Saint, John Koukouzeles (late 13th–early 14th c.). His Life identifies him as a native of Dyrrhachium (modern Dürres, Albania) who was educated in Constantinople, where he became a musician at the imperial court. Koukouzeles eventually left the capital to take up the life of a contemplative (‘hesychast’) monk of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos. He subsequently spent his weekdays in solitude practicing hesychia (literally ‘quietude’), but returned to his monastery for weekends and feasts to assist with the chanting of the All-Night Vigil. Byzantine musical manuscripts reveal that Koukouzeles contributed to the codification of older repertories while pioneering a new kalophonic (‘beautiful sounding’) idiom of chanting that spread rapidly throughout the Orthodox world. Kalophonic singing is characterised generally by vocal virtuosity, but individual chants may display different combinations of the following techniques: textual repetition, the addition of new texts (troping), melisma (the melodic extension of a single vowel), and the composition of teretismata, wordless passages on such strings of vocables as ananenes and terirem.
The present recording offers a sampling of the Byzantine and Latin sacred music that someone could have encountered during the fifteenth century by walking the short distance between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic cathedrals of Nicosia. Selections of Byzantine and Latin chant in traditional genres are situated among kalophonic and polyphonic works representing the most technically advanced forms of vocal music performed on the island. The singers of Cappella Romana render this music in the light of the literary and musical witnesses to the aural compatibility of medieval Greek and Latin chanting noted above. Their vocal aesthetic is further informed by the oral traditions of received forms of Byzantine chanting (including those practiced on the Ionian Islands, which remained under Venetian control after the Ottoman conquest of Crete in 1649; see Dragoumis 1978), as well as the documentary evidence for melodic ornamentation and other forms of embellishment in sacred music of the Western Middle Ages (McGee 1998).
Located at a strategic point in the Eastern Mediterranean close to the coasts of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Middle East, the island of Cyprus has been a site of commercial and cultural interchange since the dawn of civilization. Christianity came to the island with the apostles Paul and Barnabas, the latter of whom was himself a Cypriot and, according to local legend, the island’s first bishop. The Church of Cyprus was granted the right of self-governance (autocephaly) by the Emperor Zeno (474–91) and remained a powerful institution after the island came under joint Byzantine and Arab rule in the late seventh century.
Constantinople reasserted full control over Cyprus in the tenth century, but by the early twelfth century it had become a way station for Crusaders journeying to the Holy Land. During the Third Crusade (1189–92), King Richard I the Lionhearted of England diverted his fleet to Limassol in 1191, captured the island, and promptly sold it to the Knights Templar. The Templars soon proved incapable of administering Cyprus, so in 1192 Richard sold it to Guy de Lusignan, who had been displaced as Latin King of Jerusalem by the Muslim reconquest of the Holy City led by Saladin in 1187. The dynasty founded by Guy governed the island for nearly two centuries, with the later period marked by ever-closer relations with the city-states of Italy. In 1489 the Republic of Venice added Cyprus to its empire, of which it remained a part until the Ottoman conquest of 1571.
Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians remained in the majority under Lusignan rule, but the island also hosted significant minority communities of Armenians, Syriac Christians, Jews, and Western Europeans. The latter included traders and refugees from Crusader states recently captured by the Arabs, some of whom came to occupy positions of power in the island’s feudal system of governance. Whereas early members of this imported aristocracy attempted to suppress the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, toleration became the rule in succeeding generations marked by increasing rates of intermarriage between the Greek and Latin communities. In both the capital of Nicosia (Leukosia) and the coastal city of Famagusta (Ammochostos), Roman Catholic cathedrals in the Gothic style were constructed in close proximity to their Eastern Orthodox counterparts.