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.
H. Praetorius: Magnificat IV Gibbons: Magnificat (‘Short’) Pärt: Magnificat Sheppard: Our father Tavener: Our father (1999 version) Stravinsky: Otche nash Palestrina: Pater noster (a5) Gallus: Pater noster (a8)
Chant: Ave Maria Mouton: Ave Maria – virgo serena Stravinsky: Bogoroditse devo Pärt: Bogoroditse devo Gibbons: Nunc dimittis (‘Short’) Eccard: Maria wallt zum Heiligtum Pärt: Nunc dimittis Torrentes: Nunc dimittis Holst: Nunc dimittis
The Ave Maria, Pater Noster, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis between them explore the full emotional gamut of the Christian experience. These four core texts of Christianity take us from birth to death, celebrate God as both father and infant, Mary as virgin and mother. There is joyful anticipation here, but also calm acceptance; we find ourselves looking forward to a life yet to come and backwards over a life already lived.
From simplest plainchant monody to elaborate polychoral polyphony, composers have responded to these touchstone texts in their different ways. Tonight’s programme explores the scope and diversity of these responses in works from the renaissance and 20th century.
We open with three contrasting settings of the Magnificat – Mary’s song of joy at the Annunciation. Each finds echo at the close of the concert in the corresponding setting of the Nunc Dimittis, framing the evening with the two familiar canticles of the Anglican rite of Evensong, or the Catholic services of Evening Prayer and Compline.
One of the earliest German composers to employ Venetian polychoral techniques in his music, Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) showcased the style at its animated and expressive best in his nine alternatim Magnificat settings. The Magnificat Quarti Toni embraces the ambiguous tonality of this “fourth tone” (the Hypophrygian mode), colouring what we might now think of as a minor key with rhythmic energy more suited to the jubilant text. It also boasts perhaps the most striking opening of any Praetorius work – an arresting bit of chromatic writing that keeps the ear guessing – as though the joy of this text is so great that the composer cannot find adequate expression in conventional harmonic gestures.
Although perhaps best-known now for his expressive madrigals, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was an accomplished and prolific composer of sacred works. While his Second Service showcases some of the finest verse writing of late Tudor England, his earlier Short Service finds its interest in the textural manipulation of full choral forces. Gibbons the madrigalist is quietly evident here in the stylistic articulation of his texts. Contrast, for example, the athletic, dance-like emphasis of the opening of the Magnificat, with the sustained, legato phrase that begins the Nunc Dimittis. Mary has rarely seemed as youthful in her joy as she does in Gibbons’ hands, nor Simeon’s rapture (“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation”) more simple in its conviction. The gradual scalic flowering of the “Amen” of the Nunc Dimittis is surely one of the contrapuntal high-points of its age.
Few composers are more texturally aware or demonstrate a greater sense of aural drama than contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part. Derived from his studies of Gregorian chant, renaissance polyphony and Russian Orthodox music, Part’s signature technique – a reverberant choral homophony he terms ‘tintinnabuli’ – places his voices in a constantly shifting yet strangely static harmonic relationship. With any conventional sense of harmonic trajectory negated, it is through varied vocal textures that he achieves his meditative musical drama.
Here in his Magnificat he places a solo soprano voice chanting on a single pitch against a series of homophonic choral ensembles, creating a contemporary take on the renaissance fauxbourdon technique of harmonised chant. The Nunc Dimittis by contrast sees Pärt’s voices deployed in rather more flexible units, sustaining by turns a rocking dialogue between upper voices over chanted mens-voice pedal notes, and latterly a denser chorale-like homophony, collapsing ultimately back into the familiar waves of echoing sound for the Gloria.
We return to the renaissance for the Pater Noster or Lord’s Prayer, heard first in a setting of exquisite delicacy by English composer John Sheppard. With its vernacular text, we can assume that the work dates from the reign of Edward VI with its new demand for music for Protestant liturgy. Clarity of text was paramount – a reaction against the “popish excesses” of the Catholic rite – and led composers to favour the translucent, five-part texture heard here. Modal harmonies add interest and colour to a treatment whose rocking imitation and pulsing, dotted rhythms establish a single mood of affirmation and spiritual security.
Affirmation is a little harder-won in two contemporary treatments of the same text. While offering moments of glowing, consonant warmth in his four-part setting, John Tavener complicates his prayer with the smudged doubts of passing notes and suspensions, rooting his setting in the muddy complexity of human imperfection. This is a work that reaches for the divine while never losing touch with the earthly.
After experiencing a miraculous moment of healing in 1925, Igor Stravinsky returned to the Russian Orthodox Church (also, incidentally, the faith shared by Tavener) he had abandoned in his youth. The result was a sequence of liturgical choral works, including this miniature four-voice setting of the Pater Noster. The text here is heard in Slavonic, chanted in traditional recitative style, and references but never quoting chant melodies. With a limited harmonic palette Stravinsky creates a single-mood work of mournful beauty, throbbing with never-fully-resolved uncertainties.
Palestrina’s Pater Noster setting typifies the polychoral style of sixteenth-century Rome. A world away from the ascetic purity of Stravinsky or even Sheppard, Palestrina’s setting delights in the richness and echoing sonority of his double-choir forces. Athough reaching an impassioned climax at the contemplation of “debitoribus nostris” (our sinss), the scale and grandeur of the “Amen” suggests a certainty of redemption absent from the contemporary settings.
From Rome to Venice, in Jacobus Gallus’s (also known as Jacob Handl) Pater Noster. Marrying the older Franco-Flemish imitative style with the antiphonal writing of the Venetian tradition, Gallus creates a fluid and lovely musical prayer. Upper voices are pitted against lower, exchanging phrases that echo, embellish and complete one another. The work concludes with one of the loveliest Amens of the period – a florid seal on this elegant motet.
The Ave Maria – the second Antiphon hymn during the Festival of the Annunciation – was a popular chant among sixteenth-century composers, chiming particularly with the revival in Marian worship during the early years of the Counter-Reformation. Heard first in its plainsong original, the text is then repeated tonight in a sequence of polyphonic settings.
The Marian imagery of the Ave Maria draws the smoothest of polyphony from the French renaissance composer Jean Mouton. Two simple motives (one rising, the other falling) form the melodic basis of this five-part work, giving it a characteristically organic sense of wholeness. Use of upper and lower voices suffice to create textural contrast within the imitative flow until the text’s climax in a threefold address of the Virgin – “O Maria Dulcissima/O Maria Piissima/O Maria Sanctissima” – where sudden homophony interrupts the flow with an appeal to Mary, all the more touching for its sudden plainness.
Texture is also at the fore in Arvo Part’s Bogoroditse Djevo – an unusually rhythmic and jubilant work from the minimalist. Passages of declamatory homophony are set against chanted sections of highly rhythmic, recitative-like accompaniment in this exhilarating paean to the Virgin.
The moving underlying parts of Stravinsky’s Ave Maria turn this prayer almost into a cradle song. “I can endure unaccompanied singing in only the most harmonically primitive music,” the composer wrote – a pronouncement amply borne out here. Any narrative quality in the text is negated by a meditative setting that restricts its harmonic language and range to the absolute minimum, creating a deliberately naïve piece of musical sophistication.
Johannes Eccard (1533-1611) worked as Kappellmeister to Elector Joachim Friedrich of Brandenburg in Berlin, and is chiefly known for his role in developing the genre of Lutheran Chorale. So influential was his work that the chorales of Bach’s St Matthew Passion owe their form to Eccard, and Brahms was known to revere the composer. Balancing a simple clarity in his polyphony with a sensitivity to word-setting that took Lassus as its model, Eccard’s music is represented tonight by two chorale motets.
Maria wallt zum Heiligtum describes Mary’s visit to the temple to present the infant Jesus to Simeon. Despite its six-part texture, the motet’s delicate harmonisation ensures that the words remain the focus, shaded by the composer’s textural manipulations. The climactic moment, when Simeon recognises Jesus as “the light of the world”, is beautifully simple – an octave leap in the soprano line sees it flower expansively above the accompanying voices. Ubers Gebirg Maria geht encloses within its story a miniature setting of the Magnificat. Its polyphonic treatment is once again a model of simplicity, but achieves drama through the contrasting homophonic directness of Mary’s speech (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”) and the more contrapuntal sections of narrative.
A contemporary of Guerrero and Morales, Spanish polyphonist Andres de Torrentes is best known for his large number of Magnificats. There survive also, however, two Nunc Dimittis settings, and tonight we hear the Nunc Dimittis in the eighth tone. It’s a short work, compressing a some exciting and athletic counterpoint into the traditional alternatim structure – alternating verses of plainchant and polyphony. Five voice-parts expand to six by the end, giving a thrilling sense of climax to the closing phrase “et nunc et semper” (now and forever).
The role of the Nunc Dimittis within the Anglican rite of Evensong has prompted settings by all the major English composers, including an elegant double choir treatment from Holst. The gradual building-up of the opening pianissimo chord establishes a contemplative mood that gives way to rather more sprightly polychoral writing, including a rhythmic “lumen ad revelationem”, and the vibrant exchanges of the Gloria that grow into a pealing “Amen”.
A musical exploration of the Habsburg dynasty, featuring Spanish music written for monarchs Charles V and Philip II
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA – Requiem Mass
Introitus: Requiem aeternam
Sanctus & Benedictus
Agnus Dei I, II & III
Communion: Lux aeterna
Versa est in luctum
Responsory: Libera me
VICTORIA – Magnificat primi toni Cristóbal de MORALES – Circumdederunt me MORALES – “Requiem aeternam” from Missa pro Defunctis Alonso LOBO – Versa est in luctum Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA – Nunc dimittis
House of Habsburg coat of arms conforming with one of Habsburg County
The House of Habsburg was an incredible patron of the arts. During its six-century rule, it shaped the arts world like no other dynasty, employing singers and commissioning composers on an international scale. The program features music by the most prominent Spanish Renaissance composers employed by Charles V and Philip II: Victoria, Morales, and Lobo, and the great Counter-Reformation Italian composer Palestrina.
The House of Habsburg was one of the most influential royal houses of Europe. At the height of its power, the dynasty ruled Austria, a vast tract of Central Europe, Spain, the Low Countries, much of South America, and it occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for nearly three centuries. The Habsburgs held the arts in high regard. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during period of religious turbulence. The Habsburg who defined Europe in the Renaissance was Charles V (1500-1558), who ruled Spain and its overseas empire and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.
Music played an important role Charles’s court. Sacred music was sung for the daily services in the court chapel, for special memorial services, marriages and affairs of state that required a solemn ceremony in church. Professional singers and the clergy provided the chapel with music. Members of the court chapel performed many duties, as they were often singer, priest, composer, choirmaster, organist, music teacher, and scribe at the same time. Additionally, the nobility received extensive musical education themselves, often from the members of the court chapel, and learned how to sing and play instruments.
Charles surrounded himself with musicians. In Brussels he had a court chapel of mainly Flemish musicians called the “Capilla Flamenca” which he eventually brought with him to Spain. At his Spanish court Charles formed a larger ensemble, “La Grande Chapelle,” made up of the best musicians from the whole of Europe. The group performed sacred polyphony for voices and eventually secular music with instruments, once it came into style in the late sixteenth century. Charles loved both sacred and secular music.
Composer Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500–1553), a contemporary of Charles, is regarded as the most important Spanish composer before Victoria. The preference by Pope Paul III of employing Spanish singers in the papal chapel choir helped Morales, who moved to Rome in 1535 and joined up. During his time, Morales sang on three occasions for the emperor Charles V and received a commission to write music for Charles’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal in 1526. Morales remained employed by the Vatican until 1545, after which he returned to Spain following a period of unsuccessful job hunting in Italy. While regarded as one of the greatest composers in Europe, he was an unpopular employee and had difficulty keeping his jobs.
Morales was one of the first important contributors to a growing repertoire of musical settings of the liturgy for the dead. His antiphon for the the solemn office, Circumdederunt me, set for five voices, achieves a dark mood through slow-moving polyphony and low ranges. The sound fits the text perfectly:
The groanings of death have encircled me: the sorrows of hell have enclosed me.
His settings of funeral music were disseminated widely across Europe. The Missa pro Defunctis was likely sung in Mexico in 1559 at memorial ceremonies for Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain.
A map of the dominion of the Habsburgs in 1547
Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), “Philip the Prudent,” reigned during the so-called “Golden Age.” At the peak of his influence and power, Philip’s empire included territories on every continent then known to Europeans, including his namesake the Philippine Islands. People described his dominion as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” Unfortunately, his reign also saw the economic decline of Spain and the disastrous decade from 1588-1598 which included the devastating defeat of the Spanish Armada. Philip loved music and was a passionate art patron. He had a wonderful collection of masterpieces at the Escorial, his palace outside of Madrid, and was well educated in History and Politics but poor at languages.
16th-century Spanish music patronage differs from English, French, and Italian music in that the Spanish royal house maintained two royal chapels: the House of Burgundy and the House of Castile. The first was made up of Charles’s and Philip’s Low Countries subjects (Flemish) and the second of Spaniards. Philip’s maintenance of two chapels of singers and players showed an incredible commitment to music, unmatched by his contemporary sovereigns. Philip was also the only monarch of his time who patronized Italian, Spanish, and Flemish composers equally. He was the only patron to whom Palestrina dedicated two books of masses. Philip also helped Spanish composer Guerrero on his first publication, and Victoria dedicated one of his lavish single publications of Magnificats to him in 1563. Philip was the leading international music patron of his age.
Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), the most famous Spanish composer at the time, was one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer but also an accomplished organist and Catholic priest. Victoria was sent by Philip in 1565 to prepare for holy orders at the German College in Rome. During this time he likely studied under Palestrina, whom he eventually succeeded as director of music at the Roman Seminary.
The Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, was the next most important part of the liturgy after the Mass in the 16th-century Catholic Church. It was sung at the close of each day’s service of Vespers: Settings of the Magnificat were in demand. Composers served this liturgical need by publishing a complete set of eight or sixteen settings of the Magnificat, covering eight “tones” or keys. Victoria’s Magnificat primi toni, one of his two polychoral settings, employs eight voices and alternates between fugal sections for one choir and full double choir passages for both choirs. The way Victoria balances imitation and full homophonic statements in his Magnificat is strikingly similar to Palestrina’s techniques in Nunc dimittis for double choir—we can hear why Victoria is called the “Spanish Palestrina.”
In 1578 Philip II honored Victoria’s request to return to his native Spain, where he met the pious dowager empress Maria, sister of Philip, and later became her chaplain. His last work was the Requiem Mass (1605) in memory of the empress Maria, his most famous work. All of the music in the Requiem Mass is scored for six voices, except the initial Taedet animam meam funeral motet (not sung in the program) he also wrote for the occasion. The second soprano part often carries the cantus firmus (a pre-existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition), though it disappears into the other parts. Victoria concludes the Mass with the motet Versa est in luctum, which was probably sung as the clergy and dignitaries assembled around the catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the empress’s coffin.
Philip II died at San Lorenzo in 1598. Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) wrote his best motet, Versa est in luctum, for Philip’s funeral at Toledo Cathedral. While the six-part motet is set to text associated with a Requiem Mass, he did not write a complete Requiem Mass setting. Though not as famous as Victoria, this stunning motet filled with beautiful, cascading lines captures the despair of the text and showcases why Victoria considered him to be an equal.
My harp is turned to grieving and my flute to the voice of those who weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are as nothing.
ABOUT THE BYRD ENSEMBLE
Described as “pure and radiant” (Gramophone), “immensely impressive” (Early Music Review), and “rich, full-voiced, and perfectly blended” (Early Music America), the Byrd Ensemble is garnering international acclaim for its performances and recordings of chamber vocal music, particularly Renaissance polyphony. The Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza, is a Seattle-based professional ensemble made up of 10 to 12 singers from the Pacific Northwest. The group presents its annual concert series at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The Byrd Ensemble is a nonprofit organization.
Since 2004, the ensemble has performed in the greater Seattle area and has toured across the United States presenting concerts for the Gotham Early Music Scene in New York with Peter Phillips (director of the Tallis Scholars) and the Boston Early Music Fringe Series. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was one of sixteen groups—the only ensemble from the United States—chosen to sing at the London International A Capella Choir Competition and worked with Peter Phillips, Mark Williams, and John Rutter, who described the ensemble as “a fine group that has achieved an enviable standard of tuning, blend, and ensemble.”
The Byrd Ensemble became part of the Scribe Records label in 2011 and has since produced six records—four of which feature Renaissance polyphony and have been reviewed by major early music publications: Early Music America, Gramophone and Early Music Review. Our Lady: Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks (2011) featured reconstructions by musicologist Nick Sandon of music by lesser-known English Renaissance composers—Pasche, Merbecke, and Ludford—and included two world-premiere recordings. In the Company of William Byrd (2012), Music for the Tudors (2015), and Music of the Renaissance: Italy, England & France (2016) featured more mainstream Renaissance composers Palestrina, Tallis, Sheppard, Byrd, and White. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was included in the international edition of Gramophone Magazine for their recording of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MARKDAVIN OBENZA has dedicated his career to music. In addition to the Byrd Ensemble, Markdavin is also Director and founder of Seattle-based chamber choir Vox16 and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active freelance singer who performs with the Byrd Ensemble and has performed with the Tudor Choir, Early Music Vancouver, and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church in Seattle, WA.
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).
Literary witnesses to the cultivation of music by the French kings of Cyprus are found in a variety of sources, but nearly all of the surviving music associated with the Lusignan court is contained in a single manuscript: Torino Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria J.II.9. This remarkable document was, according to Karl Kügle (2012), evidently copied between 1434 and 1436 under the supervision of Jean Hanelle, one of two priest-musicians from Cambrai (the other was Gilet Velut) who arrived in Cyprus in 1411 with Charlotte of Bourbon, the second wife of King Janus I (1398–1432). Whereas Velut appears to have soon left the island, Hanelle remained in the service of the Lusignan family for decades, becoming scribendaria of the Roman Catholic cathedral of Nicosia in 1428 and also, at some point, master of the Cypriot king’s chapel. Probably travelling to Italy in 1433 as part of the Cypriot delegation for the marriage of Anne of Lusignan to Louis of Savoy, Hanelle then seems to have supervised the production of Torino J.II.9 for the Avogadro family of Brescia, whose coat of arms is on the first folio of the codex.
Since all of the music in J.II.9 is anonymous and there are no known melodic concordances with other sources, Kügle has suggested that its contents may be largely the work of Hanelle, and, perhaps, of some of his colleagues at the Lusignan court. The Torino manuscript opens with a section of Latin plainchant (a rhymed Office and Mass for St Hilarion, a rhymed Office for St Anne, and six sets of chants for the ordinary of the Mass), followed by a fascicle of polyphonic music for the Mass ordinary, and then another section containing 41 polytextual motets (33 in Latin and 4 in French). The remainder of the codex is devoted almost entirely to polyphonic French secular song (ballades, virelais, and rondeaux), the exception being a single polyphonic Mass cycle inserted by a later hand after the fascicle of ballades. The polyphony of J.II.9 ranges in idiom from technically advanced compositions displaying the rhythmic complexity characteristic of the so-called ars subtilior (‘subtler art’) cultivated in France and northern Italy during the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries to works in comparatively simple styles. An example of the latter is the largely homophonic Gloria in excelsis 10 for three voices, which features textures not entirely unlike those that could be produced by polyphonically elaborating chant in performance (as in the preceding Kyrie for St Hilarion).
Interspersed throughout the present recording is music for St Hilarion, an early Christian monk whose biography was written by St Jerome. Born in Gaza in 291, he learned asceticism in Egypt as a disciple of St Anthony the Great and completed his earthly life as a hermit near the city of Paphos in Cyprus. St Hilarion was thereafter regarded as a patron of the island; the castle in Kyrenia that served as the Lusignan summer residence was dedicated to him. In 1414 the court of King Janus marked the feast of St Hilarion (21 October) with newly composed services that the Avignon Pope John XXIII had recently approved for celebration with the issuance of a papal bull that is copied at the very beginning of codex J.II.9.
The Vespers responsory Letare Ciprus mixes praise for St Hilarion with supplication for the island, themes that the verse of the Mass Alleluia Ave Sancte Ylarion recalls amidst a stream of Greek terms. Detailed references to the life of the saint enrich the encomia and entreaties of the following Sequence Exultantes collaudemus in a manner similar to the texts of Motet 17 Magni patris/Ovent Cyprus, one voice of which, the motetus, directly asks Hilarion to intercede for King Janus.
The medieval motet is a form of polyphony in which upper voices, each of which may be provided with its own text, are supported by a foundational part (the ‘tenor’) that is either taken from a pre-existing melody (often a piece of plainchant) or, as is the case with all but two of the motets in the Torino manuscript, newly composed. Nearly all of the parts in the motets of J.II.9 feature what modern scholars call ‘isorhythm’, namely the repetition of a rhythmic pattern (talea) one or more times following its initial statement. This repetition may be literal or, as in the case of Motet 8 Gemma Florens/Hec est dies, involve patterns of diminution (in this case, a talea repeated twice in 3:1 diminution for a total of four statements).
Gemma Florens/Hec est dies is one of several motets commemorating milestones in the life of the Lusignan family, evidently having been written to mark the baptism in 1418 of John, the son of Janus and Charlotte of Bourbon. Its triplum voice emphasises kinship with the French royal family into which Charlotte was born, mentioning a ‘Macarius’ who is probably to be understood as being St Denys of Paris. Its motetus, on the other hand, speaks of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth before invoking Christ’s protection on King Janus. Although differing in their wording, both upper voices of Motet 33 Da magne Pater/Donis affatim are hymns of praise to God featuring the acrostic ‘Deo gratias’, the concluding response for the Mass of the Roman rite.
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.
The From Darkness to Light programme is a journey in more than one sense. Firstly, it takes us from spiritual darkness (the condition which is cured, according to Orthodox Christian tradition, by metanoia, a change of heart) to light, the radiance of the Resurrection of Christ, by which mankind is made new. Secondly, it takes us from Soviet Russia back to Tsarist Russia, forward to present-day Ukraine, and, so to speak, sideways to Western Europe.
We begin the journey, then, in the middle, with Alfred Schnittke’s Stikhi pokayanie. The suppression in the Soviet Union of any manifestation of religious belief, especially after the dismissal of the relatively tolerant, and highly cultured, commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky in 1929 from NARKOMPROS, the People’s Commissariat of Public Education, had also cut artists off from a significant part of the artistic heritage of their native country. A revelation such as that afforded painters by the great 1913 exhibition held in Moscow of “Ancient Russian Painting,” and, indeed, the lifelong enthusiasm for icons of Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), and its corresponding influence on Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), was therefore impossible. In his book La musique du XXe siècle en Russie, Frans C. Lemaire traces the trajectory of attempted spiritual extinguishing of Russia, beginning with the première of Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (“Vespers) and working through the survival of a religious sense, even in the disguised religiosity of cantatas and other works glorifying Lenin, a reinvention of that part of their heritage to which composers could not refer if it had the slightest religious overtone. As we now know, the trajectory of spiritual extinction ended in failure. There was a renaissance of music that could transmit the sacred, which Lemaire described as composers “rediscovering the right to the spiritual ‘unreality’ which had been taken from them in the name of socialist realism.” The fact that works overtly based on spiritual texts, such as Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Mixed Choir and Rodion Shchedrin’s Stikhira, could not only be written in the late 1980s, but performed and even recorded, was the clearest possible indication of the resurgence of this “spiritual unreality.” [N.B. Shchedrin’s 1988 Sealed Angel was performed in the Northwest last month by the Oregon Repertory Singers.]
Schnittke is an extraordinarily interesting figure. Firstly, in that he was, like his compatriots and colleagues Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, an explorer, interested in officially unacceptable innovations from the West, and quite capable of employing them while at the same time parodying the official line. The Symphony no. 1 (1972), whose enormously and scandalously successful première took place, two years after it was written, in the closed town of Gorky – now once again Nizhny-Novgorod – provides a blatant example of this; so blatant, in fact, that the work was performed only once more in the next ten years. Its Moscow première took place more than twelve years later.
Secondly, as imbued as a great deal of Schnittke’s music may in retrospect seem to be with Orthodox spirituality and culture, he was of Jewish descent and was in fact a Roman Catholic (a family circumstance deriving, apparently, from French ancestry before the 16th century); he was only baptized into the Catholic Church in 1980, in Vienna, and, though a Catholic, he was profoundly interested in the spiritual and artistic traditions of Orthodoxy. Schnittke himself was quite clear about the ambiguities inherent in his own personality:
“Although I don’t have any Russian blood, I am tied to Russia, having spent all my life there. On the other hand, much of what I’ve written is somehow related to German music and to the logic which comes out of being German, although I did not specifically want this… Like my German forefathers, I live in Russia, I can speak and write Russian far better than German. But I am not Russian… My Jewish half gives me no peace: I know none of the three Jewish languages – but I look like a typical Jew.”
His search for religious and philosophical meaning had led him to a deep, indeed obsessive, interest in the theme of Faust, which lasted from 1959 to 1994, when his opera on the subject was finally written, and he had also investigated cabbalism and the I Ching before deciding to be baptized. This confluence of cultures made Schnittke peculiarly aware of the power of vocabulary and its context, something very obviously apparent in his use of “polystylism,” in which the structural or surface quotation of particular musical vocabularies could serve as either an alienating or an integrating factor; his Symphony no. 1 is an outstanding example of the latter.
The importance of the theme of repentance to Schnittke is shown by his composition in 1987 of Stikhi pokayanie (“Penitential Psalms” is the usual, but inaccurate, English translation, thus the use by Cappella Romana of “Verses of Repentance”; the German “Bußverse” is closer) for unaccompanied mixed choir, again a large-scale composition, lasting some 45 minutes, even longer than the Concerto. The work, written, like Rodion Shchedrin’s Stikhira, for the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus’, was inspired by a collection of early Russian literature, which includes these spiritual lines or poems by anonymous monks, and through thematically these texts might seem to offer much less variety than those of St. Gregory Narekatsi, whose words Schnittke set in his Choir Concerto, the music employs essentially the same techniques and is characterized by the same degree of technical virtuosity as the Concerto.
In both works there are very strong echoes of the Russian sacred repertoire of the 19th and early 20th century; this imparts a sense of belonging to a tradition which in turn provides much of the music’s strength. The typically Russian treatment of long, chant-like melodic lines revolving around essentially homophonic textures is what creates this impression above all. Following Bartók’s idea of “imaginary folklore,” the Serbian musicologist and conductor Bogdan Djaković has described Schnittke’s technique in these works as the use of “imaginary church folklore,” after the practice of a number of composers the new Russian choral school of the late 19th century, composing original choral music stylistically consonant with liturgical tradition but with no direct quotation of chant. Schnittke goes much further than his forebears, however, in his use of modernist techniques – in particular polytonality and clusters – which would never have been considered suitable for ecclesiastical use but which are part of his personal response to these remarkable texts. This response was nevertheless deeply informed by the composer’s knowledge and love of Russian choral music of the past, as is abundantly clear when, as happens at several points during the sequence, the clouds part and the dense, questing character of Schnittke’s music gives way to a sunlit tonal apotheosis.
That music of the past included, of course, the work of Rachmaninov, whose Vigil (“Vespers,” 1915) has now become so well-loved in the West. With that work, the composer sealed his relationship with liturgical composition: he had said everything he was to say in that field. In addition, it was, to quote the musicologist Marina Frolova-Walker, “the terminus for the New Trend, or for any elaborate Orthodox liturgical music.” Indeed, the “New Trend” would only be taken up again after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Schnittke’s Stikhi pokayanie and Shchedrin’s Stikhira were special exceptions insofar as the millennium of the Christianization of Russia could not be ignored. But the Rachmaninov’s masterly use of the choir in his Vigil did not come from nowhere; he had composed a setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom five years earlier, a work that was not favourably received, and, much earlier, in 1893, the sacred concerto we hear tonight, “O Mother of God, vigilantly praying.”
The choral concerto is a genre peculiar to the Russian Empire; in Russian and Ukrainian churches, from the mid-17th century onwards, a multi-sectional work, the texts taken from psalms or liturgical sources, for unaccompanied voices, was frequently sung during the communion. Rachmaninov’s concerto, written for and first performed by the Moscow Synodal Choir, sets a slightly varied version of the kontakion for the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Though its style is far removed from the later, frequently virtuosic, “choral orchestration” of the Vigil, it is nevertheless a magnificent achievement, an intensely personal and expressive setting of the text that makes a unique contribution to this genre.
The music of the Ukrainian Galina Grigorjeva (b. 1962) has been described as “minimalist,” but as usual the label itself is minimal, serving as a mischaracterization rather than an accurate descriptor of her music. Originally a pupil of Yuri Falik at St. Petersburg Conservatory, she later moved to Tallinn and worked with Lepo Sumera – who has been characterized as the creator of Estonian minimalism – at the Estonian Academy of Music. She has been particularly concerned to situate her music in relation to her spiritual heritage, especially in the form of overt but distanced reference to Russo-Ukrainian liturgical music. This occurs in Kant, or Cantus, which makes specific reference to the paraliturgical genre of the kant cultivated in a number of Slavic lands during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, Svyatki is a six-movement choir concerto written between 1995 and 2004 setting popular devotional texts, Na iskhod (“On Leaving”), written originally in 1999, and setting of parts of the Office of the Parting of the Soul from the Body, and in Diptych, written for the Ensemble Credo, and first performed by them in the Kaarli Church in Tallinn in December 2011.
The composer sees the work as a reflection on death. The first movement is a setting in Slavonic of the Song of Symeon (Nunc dimittis), but it is shot through with sadness – it is a song of farewell. The second brings consolation, and sets words from the ninth ode of the Canon of Matins for Holy Saturday, a dialogue between Christ and His Mother in which the joy of the Resurrection is anticipated and which flowers into an increasingly elaborate, polyphonic texture that is deliberately reminiscent of the remarkable polyphony of the Russian Middle Ages.
Resurrection is also the theme of my work Anástasis, and the title is in fact the Greek word for “Resurrection.” In this piece I have been concerned with the very human sense of expectation of the Resurrection of Christ – illustrated particularly in the repeated calls of “Anásta” (“Rise!”) but also with that expectation’s clear fulfilment – the reply is “Anésti” (“He is risen”). It sets texts taken from the services of Holy Saturday from the Orthodox Byzantine rite, in English and Greek, portraying both the wavering of Christ’s own disciples and, later, their absolute conviction of the fact of His Resurrection. I have been concerned in many of my works with the moment of the Resurrection, a moment of blazing light which transcends both conventional religious belief and practice and scientific rigour; every time I confront it, I am struck by wonder – wonder at the way the physical and the metaphysical can become so intertwined. The human, scientific, and ecological implications of this moment are manifold… it seems to me that, if it were otherwise, there would be no point in writing a work concerned with this theme.
Anástasis was commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble and Singer Pur, and given its first performance by them in Regensburg Cathedral in 2007. I took advantage of this extraordinary mixture (the presence of four solo tenors, for example) to create some sounds and textures that would otherwise not have occurred to me. These performances by Cappella Romana are the first by a full choir.
Our concert features excerpts from the “Service of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” as it would have been celebrated in Jerusalem during the tenth century. The ancestor of the service celebrated in the modern Byzantine rite on Holy Thursday evening, this is a stational version of the office of early morning prayer (matins or orthros, literally “dawn”) in which eleven gospel readings narrate the events of the Passion of Jesus from his Last Discourse to his disciples to his burial. The texts and rubrics of the Typikon of the Anastasis form the basis of our reconstruction, supplemented by notated musical settings for its chants transmitted in later manuscripts. Extant sources with Byzantine melodic notation date from the tenth century, with readily decipherable versions available in chantbooks copied from the late twelfth century onwards. Dr. Ioannis Arvanitis, a leading authority on medieval Byzantine musical rhythm and performance practice, edited the scores used today by Cappella Romana.
The morning or dawn (orthros) office for Holy Friday began in the middle of the night on the Mount of Olives and featured a series of processions taking worshippers to shrines at Gethsemane and other sites associated with the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. The first half of the service was dominated musically by an anonymous series of fifteen antiphons that accompanied and commented on events recounted in the first six gospel readings. This evening we will be singing selections from antiphons sung on and below the Mount of Olives (Antiphons 1 and 4 respectively), as well as in the final one chanted at Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) built on the reputed site of the palace of Pontius Pilate (Antiphon 15). After this, the assembly processed to the atrium of the church of the Anastasis (known in medieval times as the “Center of the Earth”), where the Beatitudes and other hymns were sung before the reading of the Seventh Gospel.
The service approaches its climax with “The Paradise in Eden,” a chant sung on the way to the Place of the Skull. The Eighth Gospel (Luke 23:32–49; omitted) was read upon arrival at Golgotha, followed by the singing of the Three-Ode Kanon by Kosmas the Melodist. Each ode consists of a model stanza (heirmos), a series of metrically and melodically identical stanzas (troparia), and a reprise of the heirmos (the katavasia). The poetic odes of kanons were originally composed to provide thematically appropriate theological commentary for the invariable sequence of nine biblical canticles or “odes” sung at Palestinian morning prayer. Three biblical odes—Isaiah 26:9–20 (Ode 5), the Hymn of the Three Youths from Daniel 3 (Ode 8), and the Magnificat and Benedictus (Ode 9=Luke 1:46–56, 68–79)—were appointed for Lenten Fridays, leading Kosmas to echo their themes in his musical meditation on the betrayal and trial of Jesus. The conclusion of the Kanon in tenth-century Jerusalem was marked by two hymns called “Exaposteilaria,” of which we sing the first, and chanting of the Ninth Gospel.
It was (and remains) customary to insert other chants and readings at certain points within a kanon. Thus the Typikon of the Anastasis places between Odes 5 and 8 the prologue and first stanza of the Kontakion on the Mary at the Cross by Romanos the Melodist. Romanos was a deacon from Beirut who settled in Constantinople during the early sixth century. There he distinguished himself as the greatest composer of the multi-stanza hymns that came to be known, after the scrolls on which they were copied, as kontakia. By the tenth century two melodic traditions had been developed for kontakia: a simple one consigned mainly to oral tradition, and a florid one transmitted in the Psaltikon, a musical collection created for the soloists of Justinian’s Great Church of Hagia Sophia. On the present concert we both the simple and elaborate melodies of the prologue to this kontakion.
In both Palestine and Constantinople the arrival of dawn was marked in daily prayer by the singing of Psalms 148–150, known collectively as Lauds. Whereas the Late Antique custom of chanting these psalms throughout with simple refrains was retained in the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite, churches associated with Jerusalem began interpolating hymns known as stichera between their concluding verses (stichoi). From the ten hymns appointed by the Typikon of the Anastasis for Lauds on Holy Friday we select seven. The first two are anonymous hymns sung to a standard model melody and assigned in modern service books to Thursday evening prayer. The remaining five stichera are through-composed works known as idiomela. A hymn in Mode 1 evoking the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s crucifixion by Theophanes Protothronos, Archbishop of Caesarea (9th c.), is followed by another written by same composer in Mode 2 commenting on his abandonment to execution. The Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (reigned 886–912) contributes a moving portrayal of the Virgin Mary lamenting at the foot of the Cross set in Mode 2. Another hymn on the rejection of Jesus by an anonymous “Byzantine” author in Mode 3 leads to the final chant of Lauds, a meditation on the Passion by an unnamed monk from the Constantinopolitan monastery of Stoudios.
We then jump over a series of prayers, readings and hymns to the Eleventh (and final) Gospel, which offers John’s account of the burial of Christ. After a few more prayers and a litany, the patriarch and archdeacon processed to a reliquary chapter behind Golgotha, from which the patriarch retrieved the cross and then carried it on his shoulders to the Chapel of the Holy Custody that was located on the other side of the atrium. At this chapel a short service evidently derived from the liturgical practices of Constantinople preceded the dismissal of the Passion Office. It consisted of dismissal of a brief reading from Zechariah (11:10–13) and several chants, the last of which was the Prokeimenon “May you, Lord, guard us,” a responsorial chant from the Psaltikon.