Program Notes

Byzantine Music in Cyprus

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestManuscripts 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).

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three

Order the Recording

Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Latin Music in Cyprus

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestLiterary 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.

Cappella Romana CyprusThe 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.

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Four

Order the Recording

Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Cyprus — The Ars nova and its Byzantine Counterpart

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestLatin 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).

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part One
Read Part Three
Read Part Four

Order the Recording

Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Medieval Cyprus Between East and West

Cyprus: Between Greek East and Latin West

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin WestLocated 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.

—Alexander Lingas

Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four

Order the Recording

Concert Tickets

Seattle

Friday, 13 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Blessed Sacrament
TICKETS

Portland

Saturday, 14 Nov. 2015, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
TICKETS


Sunday, 15 Nov. 2015, 2:30pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral
TICKETS

Ivan Moody: From Darkness to Light

From Darkness To Light

Cappella Romana Rachmaninoff Concerto for Choir

Ivan MoodyThe 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.

—Ivan Moody ©2015

Get Tickets Today:

Seattle

TICKETS

Friday, 15 May 2015, 8:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Church

Portland

TICKETS

Saturday, 16 May 2015, 8:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral


TICKETS

Sunday, 17 May 2015, 2:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Good Friday In Jerusalem Concert Program

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy SepulchreOur 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.

Cappella Romana - Good Friday in JerusalemThe 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.

Pre-Order Good Friday in Jerusalem on Amazon Today!

Concert:

  • In Procession to the Mount of Olives
    Antiphon One in Mode Plagal 4
  • At the Holy Place of Veneration (Proskynesis) at the Foot of the Mount of Olives
    Antiphon 4 in Modes Plagal 1 and 1
  • At the Pavement (Lithostroton) in Hagia Sophia
    Antiphon 15
  • At the Center of the Earth (the Atrium of the Anastasis)
    Seventh Gospel – Matt. 27:33-54
  • In Procession to Golgotha (the Place of the Skull)
  • Processional Sticheron “The Paradise in Eden” in Mode Plagal 4
  • At Golgotha
    Three-Ode Kanon (Triodion) in Mode Plagal 2 — Kosmas the Melodist (8th c.)
  • Ode 5
  • Kontakion on Mary at the Cross — Romanos the Melodist (6th c.)
    (Syllabic and Psaltikon melodies)

    • Ode 8
    • Ode 9
  • Ninth Gospel – John 19:25–37
  • Exaposteilarion Automelon: “O Lord, who on that very day”
  • Lauds: Psalms 148–50 (selected verses) in Mode 4
    • Stichera Prosomoia in Mode 4
      • “When all creation saw you crucified”
      • “The eternal record of Adam”
    • Sticheron Idiomelon in Mode 1 “All creation was changed” — Theophanes Protothronos (9th c.)
    • Stichera Idiomelon in Mode 2
      • “Impious and lawless people” — Theophanes Protothronos
      • “When she saw you, O Christ” —  Leo VI the Wise (866–912)
    • Stichera Idiomela in Mode 3
      • “Israel my firstborn son” Byzantios
      • Doxastikon: “Each member of your holy flesh” Stoudites
  • Eleventh Gospel – John 19:38–42
  • At the Chapel of the Holy Custody (Hagia Phylake)
    Prokeimenon “May you, Lord, guard us” in Mode Plagal 1

Good Friday in Jerusalem — Portland & Seattle

Seattle

TICKETS

Friday, 6 February 2015, 8:00pm
St. Joseph’s Parish

Portland

TICKETS

Saturday, 7 February 2015, 8:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral


TICKETS

Sunday, 8 February 2015, 2:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

Good Friday In Jerusalem Liner Notes

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Good Friday In Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy SepulchreIn the year 637 AD the orthodox Christian Patriarch Sophronios (d. 638) surrendered Byzantine Jerusalem to the Arab Caliph Umar, inaugurating a period of Muslim rule in the Holy City that would last until its conquest by Latin Crusaders in 1099. Although subject to tribute, Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants retained the right to continue celebrating both for themselves and for visiting pilgrims their distinctive forms of worship. These services made extensive use of the shrines associated with life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that had been created with imperial patronage in the years that followed the official legitimation of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313.

Constantine and his mother Helen had sponsored the most important of these edifices: the cathedral complex of the Holy Sepulchre built on the accepted site of Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment. Its major components were a large basilica (the Martyrium), an inner atrium incorporating the hill of Golgotha, the Rotunda of the Anastasis (Resurrection) over Christ’s tomb, and a baptistry. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim of the late fourth century, describes in her diary how every week the clergy, monastics, and laity of late fourth-century Jerusalem would gather on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to remember the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus with readings, prayers, and psalmody performed at historically appropriate locations within the cathedral compound. These same events of sacred history were commemorated annually in a more elaborate fashion during Great and Holy Week, which climaxed with Easter Sunday (Pascha). Holy Week services in Jerusalem incorporated the buildings on Golgotha into a larger system of stational liturgy that made full use of the city’s sacred topography.

Cathedral complex of the Holy Selpulchre, 4th c.

Cathedral complex of the Holy Selpulchre, 4th c.

The musical repertories created for worship in the Holy City developed gradually over the centuries out of patterns of interaction between the secular (urban church) and monastic singers of Jerusalem and those of other ecclesiastical centres. Monks from the monastery founded by St Sabas (439–532) in the desert southeast of Jerusalem became active participants in worship at the Holy Sepulchre, which maintained a resident colony of ascetics later known as the spoudaioi. Responsorial and antiphonal settings of biblical psalms and canticles formed the base of cathedral and monastic liturgical repertories. Palestinian poet-singers subsequently increased the number, length, and musical complexity of the refrains sung between the biblical verses, leading by the sixth century (and possibly earlier) to the creation of hymnals organised according to a system of eight musical modes (the Octoechos). The contents of the earliest hymnbooks from Jerusalem are preserved today only in Armenian and Georgian translations.

Until the recent discovery of a few Greek sources for the urban rite of Jerusalem among the New Finds of the Holy Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, the most important surviving Greek witness to cathedral worship in the Holy City was the so-called Typikon of the Anastasis. Copied in 1122, this manuscript (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem MS Hagios Stauros 43) contains services for the seasons of Lent and Easter as celebrated prior to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre complex by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009 (and probably also, according to recent research (Galadza 2013), for many decades after its Byzantine reconstruction). Older and newer chants presented without musical notation coexist in the Typikon of the Anastasis. Thus works from the apogee of Christian Palestinian hymnody—a period initiated by the liturgical works of Sophronios and continued by the eighth-century poet-composers Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus and Kosmas the Melodist—are integrated with hymns by writers working within the traditions of the Constantinopolitan monastery of Stoudios. The latter had, at the behest of its abbot Theodore, adopted a variant of the monastic liturgy of St Sabas at the beginning of the ninth century. The resulting Stoudite synthesis of Palestinian and Constantinopolitan traditions was a crucial stage in the formation of the cycles of worship employed in the modern Byzantine rite.

Cappella Romana - Good Friday in JerusalemThe present recording features excerpts from the Service of the Holy Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as it would have been celebrated in Jerusalem during the transitional period of its ritual Byzantinisation. An archaic cousin 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 in a sequence beginning with his Last Discourse to his disciples (John 13:31–18:1) and ending with his burial (John 19:38–42). 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 manuscripts ranging in date from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. Manuscripts with archaic and intervallically imprecise forms of Byzantine musical signs (neumes) were consulted alongside the earliest available versions of Passion chants in the readily decipherable Middle Byzantine Notation, a system that was employed from the later twelfth century until the notational reform by the ‘Three Teachers’ (Chrysanthos of Madytos, Chourmouzios the Archivist, and Gregorios the Protopsaltes) first introduced in 1814. Dr Ioannis Arvanitis, a leading authority on medieval Byzantine musical rhythm and performance practice, then edited and transcribed the chants into the Chrysanthine ‘New Method’ of Byzantine notation for use by the singers of Cappella Romana.

Read More…

Buy on Amazon.com

Echoes of the Renaissance — Program Notes

Divine Liturgy Tikey Zes_Cappella Romana_Classical CDs Online

Ockeghem MiMi Kyrie MS Vat234_excerpt680-361In his magisterial The Rise of European Music, 1380–1500, Reinhard Strohm traces the development and dissemination of complex styles of music written with multiple voice parts using measured (‘mensural’) notation that enabled precise rhythmic coordination of the voices. By the middle of the fifteenth century the most notable centers for the production of this polyphonic (‘many voiced’) music were religious establishments in the cities and courts of northwestern Europe that trained singer-composers such as Guillaume Dufay (ca. 1397–1474), Johannes Ockeghem (ca. 1410–ca. 1497), Jacob Obrecht (ca. 1457–1505), Josquin Desprez (ca. 1450–1521), and Adrian Willaert (ca. 1490–1562) who took up influential musical posts elsewhere and thus assured that polyphony became a pan-European style of art music. Subsequent generations of composers of polyphonic music modified the style in various ways, on the one hand refining and systematizing its techniques of combining independent voices in counterpoint, and on the other responding to classicising trends in Renaissance humanist thought regarding the proper setting of text.

Codified for subsequent generations in the music theory of Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590) and the works of composers including Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525–1594), Orlande de Lassus (ca. 1530–1594), and Tomás Luis da Victoria (1548–1611), the resulting synthesis has continued to echo through the centuries. At the dawn of the seventeenth century Claudio Monteverdi enshrined the High Renaissance style of polyphony as the ‘First Practice’ of music, an appellation that within a few decades had been changed to the ‘Stile antico’. Composers working through the nineteenth century continued to draw selectively on the ‘Old Style’ in their vocal and instrumental works, even as a few pieces by actual Renaissance composers persisted in the repertories of church choirs.

Interest in the full inheritance of Renaissance polyphony awakened in the later nineteenth century thanks to nationalist and revivalist movements across Europe, the most prominent being the Caecilian Movement amongst Catholic Germans to revive chant and the music of Palestrina. Coinciding with the rise of academic musicology, these movements sought to recover the heritage of musical pasts that were seen as offering forms of expression that were somehow purer than the Italian styles of operatic and instrumental music that had become internationally dominant in Western Art Music during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As a result vast quantities of early polyphony were studied and published, thereby laying the foundations of the modern Early Music movement.

Dr. Tikey ZesAlthough this search for musical roots and the revival of early repertories that it engendered strongly influenced the course of sacred music in late Tsarist Russia through the work of the Moscow Synodal School, only sporadically has it affected the composition of Greek Orthodox liturgical music. After the Second World War in California, however, a group of young Greek American composers began to set Byzantine chants for mixed chorus using the techniques of polyphony they had encountered in their universities and in American concert life. Three of these composers received their doctorates from the University of Southern California: Frank Desby (1922–92), for much of his life Director of Music at St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral; Peter Michaelides (b. 1930), who later continued his academic career in the Midwest; and Tikey Zes (b. 1927), whose contributions both to Early Music and Greek Orthodox liturgical music are being honoured in these concerts.

Following a move to the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr Zes made a pair of LP recordings for the Lyrichord label in the 1960s representing his parallel work in these fields. With the choir of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Ascension in Oakland, where he was then director of music, he recorded an album of Greek Orthodox liturgical music dominated by his own choral settings for mixed voices and organ. For the other album he directed the Berkeley Chamber Singers in a landmark recording of two settings of the ordinary of the Roman mass by Johannes Ockeghem, a composer who for much of his life served the royal family of France: the Missa Fors seulement, which is based upon the tenor of the composer’s own setting of the secular song Fors seulement, and the Missa My my.

The designation ‘My my’ is attached to the mass in the Chigi Codex (Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Chigi C VIII 234) and, according to Ross Duffin, appears to refer to the piece being in one of the Phrygian modes (based on the note E=’mi’ in solfège). The mass shows a musical relationship to the composer’s setting of the virelai (a form of secular song) Presque transi. Gayle C. Kirkwood has furthermore suggested that a form of theological allegory may be encoded in the mass, whereby the citations of the song and the recurrence of the musical interval of a fifth could have been read by the clerics of St Martin of Tours, where Ockeghem for many years was attached as treasurer, as referring to the Passion of Christ. At all events, the Missa My my is a work of polyphonic mastery that shows in the sophisticated development of its musical lines the skill that Josquin later eulogized in his Déploration on the death of Ockeghem. On the present programme we offer four of the five movements of this mass alongside seasonal works by three composers of the late Renaissance that Dr Zes has cited as influential on his own development: Palestrina, Victoria and Lassus.

Divine Liturgy Tikey Zes_Cappella Romana_Classical CDs Online

The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (1991/96)

The Divine Liturgy bearing the name of St John Chrysostom (d. 407) is the form of the Eucharist celebrated most frequently in the modern Byzantine rite. Like the communion services of most other Christian traditions, it features two large sections: a service of the Word that climaxes with readings from the New Testament and concludes with the dismissal of those preparing for baptism (the catechumens); and a service of the already initiated Faithful during which the Gifts of Bread and Wine are brought to the altar and offered in a great prayer of thanksgiving (the Eucharistic Prayer or anaphora) before being distributed as the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. In common with the Roman mass, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy also contains both invariable (ordinary) and variable (proper) chants.

Dr Zes has written several choral settings in Greek and English of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the first of which was published in 1978. He completed the setting featured on the second half of our concert in 1991, leading to its concert premiere the following year by Cappella Romana, to which he later dedicated an expanded edition of the work in 1996. It is a collection of choral settings intended for Orthodox liturgical use and, like many other such publications (for example, Tchaikovsky’s All-Night Vigil, op. 52), includes more music than would ever be required for a single service. For the present concert performances we offer excerpts from a normal Sunday celebration of the Liturgy by a single priest, a service that without abbreviation would last between ninety minutes and two hours.

Although Dr Zes’s 1996 Liturgy often echoes Byzantine chant in Modes 1, Plagal 1 and, less often, Plagal 4, the vast majority of its melodies are original. Musical unity is provided instead through such formal devices as the recurrence of invertible counterpoint—that is, the switching of melodies among the voice parts—in the antiphons, Trisagion and Communion Verse. Despite the paucity of recognisable chants, the 1996 Liturgy bears the marks of a composer long engaged with the traditions of Orthodox worship. Choral responses uttered in musical dialogue with the celebrant are, in keeping with their liturgical function, generally short, homophonic and unaccompanied. Only at liturgically or textually significant points does the musical texture thicken as parts multiply in passages of homophonic declamation or dense counterpoint (examples of the latter may be heard in the musical evocations of angelic worship of the Trisagion, Cherubic Hymn, Sanctus (‘Holy, Holy, Holy’), Megalynarion and Communion Verse). Cumulatively opulent in its variety, level of difficulty and ecstatic polyphonic climaxes, this Liturgy achieves a balance of splendour with restraint that is, its echoes of the Renaissance notwithstanding, thoroughly Byzantine.

Seattle

TICKETS

Friday, 9 January 2015, 8:00pm
St. Joseph’s Parish

Portland

TICKETS

Saturday, 10 January 2015, 8:00pm
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral


TICKETS

Sunday, 11 January 2015, 2:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

Handel’s Messiah — Notes by John Butt

Portland Baroque - Cappella Romana - Messiah (2013)

Portland Baroque - Cappella Romana - Messiah (2013)

Messiah

The libretto that the irascible Charles Jennens sent to Handel at some point in the summer of 1741 was not in itself an extraordinary document within the Christian tradition. After all, the Gospels and Epistles already made ample reference to the way in which the New Testament was foretold in the Old, and this tradition was carried even further by the Church Fathers. It was also something that was enthusiastically embraced by Anglican clerics of the 17th and 18th centuries, and just as strongly by the Lutherans, who helped form and provide Handel’s own educational background. There was, after all, a parallel in the way the “new law” of the Gospel mollified the old, and in the way in which the first of the Reformation confessions set out to modify the Catholic faith.

A suitable subject for an oratorio?

Nor was it in any way extraordinary for an oratorio to be based on a religious subject. Indeed, the very genre of oratorio was originally conceived as a way of presenting biblical stories in a dramatic fashion, and Handel had already set many Old Testament stories in his highly successful oratorios of the 1730s. Nevertheless, the idea of going to the very heart of the dominant faith by basing a work on the incarnation, ministry, passion, resurrection and future promise of Christ, was radical within the British and Irish context of the 18th century. Oratorios were invariably performed in theatres, which still carried the resonances of secular drama, where one was expected to create and encounter the patently artificial and contrived, and at a time when many still suspected theatrical practice to lack the essential moral grounding of sincerity and truth. Theatres and opera houses were also the platforms for the celebrity actors and singers of the age, and these behaved in ways that did not always conform to the moral expectations of the churchmen. Nevertheless, with the success of Handel’s first performances, in Dublin (1742) and London (1743), Messiah soon became accepted as both eminently respectable and inspiring to those with even the most orthodox of religious faith. Before long, its reach was even greater, crossing religious and cultural boundaries in a way unparalleled in the history of oratorio.

Exploiting dramatic and musical potential

In fact, Jennens’s text compilation is extremely productive in terms of its dramatic and musical potential. First, so as to avoid the actual representation of the person of Christ in a theatrical context, Jesus is always referred to in third-person terms, with slight changes to the biblical text when necessary (e.g., “He gave his back to the smiters” rather than “I gave my back to the smiters”); indeed, he is not mentioned by name until the chorus, “But thanks be to God” near the end of Part III (and, with the exception of the Nativity scene, “Christ” makes its first appearance in the “Hallelujah” chorus, ending Part II). Thus, the listener and indeed the music have to make the necessary connections between Old and New Testament texts and somehow infer the identity and presence of Jesus, as Christ; there is also some degree of trajectory towards the third part. Most significantly, it is Handel’s music that joins everything together, both in terms of the way the texts sound in close succession, and in the sequence of ideas and emotions.

Virtually all Handel’s operatic career lay behind him by 1741, and he had also had considerable oratorio experience both in Italy and in England. His Lutheran background must also have been of some significance: not only would he have been brought up with musical settings joining diverse parts of the Bible together, but he was also fully aware of the Lutheran Passion tradition, in which the arrest, trial and suffering of Jesus are set in such graphic and moving musical terms. The mocking chorus, “He trusted in God that he would deliver him,” comes very close to the sort of music German composers were using for the vicious crowd scenes of Passion settings.

Part I: The coming of Christ

The published libretto for some of the London performance shows clearly that Handel (and presumably Jennens too) saw the work as flowing together in “scenes,” Thus, choruses such as “And the glory of the Lord” and “And he shall purify” follow on directly from the preceding arias, just as the conjunction “and” would imply in the biblical text concerned. Only an experienced opera composer would know how to unify the musical mood of each scene, or, if appropriate, present a sense of transformation. This is evident right at the start of the piece, where the “Sinfony” presents a dark, agitated effect that is suddenly dispelled by the tenor’s first entry, “Comfort ye.” (The first hearers might have expected this recitative, when it began, to be the slow section of the overture.) The sense of increasing joy and confidence at the coming of Christ is projected throughout the glorious progression towards the first chorus, “And the glory of the Lord.” Later scenes in Part I continue the pattern of darkness to light up to the angels’ chorus “Glory to God.” The final arias and chorus of Part I take us into softer, flatter keys, while still preserving an infectious sense of joy (particularly in the virtuoso soprano aria, “Rejoice greatly”), The overall move in Part I, from E minor to B flat major (the greatest distance that can be covered within the tonal system, still quite new in Handel’s day), suggests that Christ’s coming and ministry are not the end of the story.

Part II: Christ’s passion, death and resurrection

Part II thus begins in somber, flat often minor – keys, only to move sharpwards again at the center point (“Thy rebuke hath broken his heart” to “But thou didst not leave his soul in hell”). All the “passion” music is one continuous scene, extended and relentless, and quite agonizing in its concentration of emotion (especially with the famous alto aria, “He was despised and rejected”), Particularly impressive here is the way the chorus fulfills so many roles, from presenting the “Lamb of God,” lamenting the suffering of Christ, acknowledging the weakness of humankind (“All we like sheep” being one of Handel’s most delightful depictions of human failure), and playing the part of Christ’s tormentors. In the latter half of Part II, the chorus presents the resurrection of Christ and defeat of his enemies in patently triumphalist, often warlike, terms. (Hopefully, Handel’s music renders it suitably metaphorical in a public performance context.) From the strikingly dramatic bass aria “Why do the nations so furiously rage together” to the “Hallelujah” closing Part II, there is an almost unstoppable dramatic sequence of music, using the means of opera to represent the rapid spread and triumph of the new religion.

Part III: The aftermath

Part III takes us into the present with “I know that my redeemer liveth” (its E major perhaps being the ultimate resolution of the opening E minor overture), and from there to hopes about the “end times” and the overcoming of human mortality. As ever, the dramatic pacing is acute and the antithetical blocks of the chorus “Since by man came death” are representative of the contrasts in the work as a whole. Handel is also quite outstanding – at least for a composer of his time – in presenting the change from one state to another, as in the progression in the recitative “Behold, I tell you a mystery” towards the startling call of the last trumpet. Handel’s music for the overcoming of death and the confidence of “God’s elect” makes a last survey of gentler moods and keys before the final return of the D major glory of the final chorus, recalling the mood of the “Hallelujah” ending Part II. (Baroque trumpets all but demand that the work, if it is to be triumphal, must end in this key.)

A transcendental work

What is remarkable about Messiah is the way that the textual combinations and allusions are quite obscure – even contentious in the case of the possible multiple authorship of Isaiah – yet the work seems to make sense to a diverse range of audiences. In other words, its musical setting and the moods it conjures up seem to be perfectly comprehensible, indeed they take one through extraordinarily deep emotional states, even if one is ignorant of, or even antipathetic towards, the text. The work has a plot line (resolution of an initial conflict, coming of joy, total dejection followed by resolution, hope for the future) that is not unlike that of the operas of Handel’s time or even of the emergent modern novel. This may well suggest that music can both entertain and develop our moral consciousness in ways paralleling purely verbal art. It is, moreover, hard to exclude the intuition that music also takes us to states and feelings that are unattainable in any other way.

—© John Butt

2014 Concert Information:

Friday, 12 December 2014, 7:30pm (Full – 3 hours)
Saturday, 13 December 2014, 7:30pm (Full – 3 hours)
Sunday, 14 December 2014, 7:30pm (Full – 3 hours)
Monday, 15 December 2014, 7:30pm (Selections – 2 hours)
All Performances are at First Baptist Church.

Buy Tickets!

Sacred Songs of Serbia — Program Notes: Part Two

Bogdan Djakovic | Sacred Songs of Serbia

Bogdan Djakovic | Sacred Songs of Serbia

Sacred Songs of Serbia

Serbian Chant and Church Choral Music

Part One
Polyphonic singing appeared for the first time in Serbian churches in the 1830s as a result of European and Russian influence. The expansion of newly organized Serbian church choirs was enormous and very soon the main problem was the lack of indigenous sacred choral repertoire. With a restricted choice, these choirs used for the liturgy compositions by Russian and lesser known local, foreign authors – Gottfried Preyer and Benedict Randhartinger in Vienna, Francesco and Guieseppe Sinico in Trieste and Wilhelm Weiss von Berenfels in Petrinja. All these works were written without recourse to the traditional chant. In the early 1850s, a Serbian musician born in Budapest, Kornelije Stanković (1831-1865) who studied composition in Vienna, for the first time wrote down the chant in Western notation and harmonized it. His composition It is meet and right represents one of the most popular 4-part arrangements of a Serbian liturgical melody, believed to have been composed by a Serbian bishop and a well known Latin classical poet, Lukijan Mušicki (1777-1837).

Very much dedicated to romantic music genres (Lieder, music for the theatre, piano music, romantic and patriotic secular choral works) Josif Marinković (1851-1931), a Prague music student and the enthusiastic listener to Eduard Hanslik’s lectures in Vienna, in general wrote original Orthodox choral music. While the Our Father from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (1883-1889) is rather close to the 19th century Western motet, the beautiful arrangement of the traditional chant melody O Heavenly King Tone VI, shows his roots in Serbian Orthodox tradition.

The idea of Mokranjac’s (1856-1914) “classical” style in church choral music is based on the romantic style, but with classical proportions, artistic discipline and calm and subtle beauty. Besides the very good education he obtained during his studies – in Munich under Rheinberger, especially in Rome with Parisotti studying works of Palestrina and in Leipzig with Jadason and Reinecke – Mokranjac was a talented practical church musician. He always understood the chant repertoire as a tool for liturgical function, at the same time using it as his most important compositional material. In the terms of the choral structure, his typical “choral polyphony” brings delicate individualization of every choral line despite the rather complex polyphonic treatment, with its resulting stylistic purity. The most famous part from his Liturgy (1894/95) is the Cherubic Hymn based on a melody of Tone I, with its delicate use of polyphony and modal harmony. Another important part of Mokranjac’s sacred choral music are the original compositions, the “imaginative church music” that is to be found in his Opelo (Requiem, 1888). The interrupted harmonies that accompany the quasi-chant theme at the beginning of the heirmos No-one is as holy, make an unusually expressive effect, almost as though the remaining voices were “breathing”. The artistic approach in the Kontakion With the Saints is that of a very direct reaction to the text; after a short fugato, the music accompanies the spiritual content of the words in chromatic-enharmonic chord progressions, otherwise rarely used by him. The brighter sound of G major introduces the theme of eternal life. We praise Thee/Te Deum (1904) composed on the basis of the melody „Slavoslovije“ (Doxology) of the Tone VI, ranks among the best Mokranjac’s pieces. He wrote it in the year 1904 as an integral part of a repertoire prepared for the coronation ritual of the King Peter I Karađorđević. Through extraordinary sonorous and effective choral harmony it keeps the wonderful balance between the Western choral concept and the Orthodox style of chant arrangement.

Between 1918 and 1941, Serbian sacred choral music underwent a very interesting development. Through a general process of modernisation, composers’ approaches to church music were mainly artistic, though still strictly retaining liturgical function, at the same time becoming examples of contemporary musical expression, and presented mostly from the concert stage. The complex array of elements employed came from Western romantic and earlier choral music, as well as from traditional and modern aspects of Eastern Orthodox, especially Serbian, idioms. Composers moved freely through these stylistic fields, usually producing neo-romantic and eclectic pieces, mature concert-artistic works and even experimental music. In highly original pieces in particular, the lack of “chant material” was successfully replaced by the balanced treatment of all the other elements employed. In the communion hymn from his Liturgy (1931) O Lord, receive my prayer, the specific simplicity of Marko Tajčević’s (1900-1984) use of “diatonic sound with a modal flavour” often contrasts with traditional tonality. Imaginative church music also is also characteristic of Kosta Manojlović (1890-1948), who in the sphere of modality continued the style of his teacher Mokranjac, but making the polyphony more complex. His pieces With the Saints from his Opelo (Requiem, 1934) and the short Holy Serbian Saints represent the subtle modernization of this genre. Again, modality as a common harmonic idea unites the arrangements of the Troparia from Holy Friday (Noble Joseph and The Angel stood by the tomb) by Petar Konjović (1883-1971) and two heirmoi from the Easter matins, The angel cried, Tone I, and from the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, All Creation Rejoices, Tone VIII, by Milenko Živković (1901-1964).

The outbreak of the Second World War, and the post-war socialist period of the second Yugoslavia, frustrated everything that had to do with the Church and church art. The turning point began in late 1980s, when all the Yugoslav nations (Croats, Slovenians, Albanians, Macedonians…) actually before the formal breakup of the federal country, strongly emphasized their own particular national values. The revival of Orthodox choral music among Serbian composers shows few mutual characteristics: strong neo-Mokranjac and neo-Russian Orthodox Choral orientation, original music without use of Serbian Chant, modal tonality, homophonic style with non-imitative polyphonic elements, or strong “concert” style. Vlastimir Peričić’s (1927-2000) harmonization of the Christmas prokeimenon Who is so great a God as our God (ps. 76:14, 15) (1998) represents a beautiful traditional approach with neoromantic harmonic language.

—Bogdan Djokavić

Sacred Songs of Serbia:

Seattle

TICKETS

Friday, 24 October 2014, 8:00pm
St. Joseph’s Parish

Portland

TICKETS

Saturday, 25 October 2014, 8:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral