and the Return to the Old Russian Chant
Earthly worship is an
imitation of heavenly praise. The earthly church at prayer unites the
faithful with the prayer of the angelic praise. This thought is not
simply a Byzantine theoretical supposition combined with platonic imagery,
but is the vision of the Prophet Isaiah and the account of heavenly
worship expressed in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation. That
the song of the church on earth is united with the praise in heaven
is a theme found in the writings of many of the church fathers. St.
John Chrysostom writes: "Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; below
men form choirs in the churches and imitate them by singing the same
doxology. Above, the seraphim cry out in the thrice-holy hymn; below,
the human throng sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and
earth are brought together in a common assembly; there is one thanksgiving,
one shout of delight, one joyful chorus."  Byzantine
mystical thought developed the idea of the angelic transmission of the
chant itself. In the sixth century Pseudo-Dionysios articulated the
concept of the divinely inspired "prototype"; the idea of an "intuitive
divine inspiration... in which the hymns and chants are echoes of the
heavenly song of angels, which the prophets gave to the people through
a sense of spiritual hearing."  These divinely inspired
hymns and chants, which were viewed as models of the heavenly songs,
serve as the foundation for all creativity. God and beauty are interrelated,
and in the words of Pseudo-Dionysios:
"Divine beauty is
transmitted to all that exists, and it is the cause of harmony and
splendor in all that exists; like light, it emits its penetrating
rays onto all objects, and it is as if it called to it everything
that exists and assembles everything within it."
The task, then, of the church artist or musician is not self-expression,
not creation that reflects individual, personal feelings, attitudes,
and principles, but "the comprehension and reproduction of heavenly
songs, the re-creation of divine images that were transmitted by means
of ancient religious archetypes."  These songs
are not his, they do not belong to him. They have been revealed to
him and he transmits this revelation to the collective body of the
church. This explains why the names of the composers during the early
Byzantine and Slavic periods remain anonymous; their works are not
their self-creations which they personally own, but are the inspired
revelations which they transmit to all of humanity. The artist submits
his will to the will of God in order to be able to receive and to
transmit the divine revelation.
Is not this the essence
of the story of the writing of the Nativity Kontakion by Romanos?
In his recorded "Life" we read that the great poet-hymnographer received
the gift of composition of kontakia when there appeared to him in
a dream the likeness of the Holy Virgin who gave him a piece of paper
and commanded him to eat it. He thought it best to eat the paper.
This was the feast of the eve of the Nativity and, straightway from
arousing from sleep he mounted the ambo and began to sing "Today the
This is the concept
that has served as the root for the development of both music and
icon painting in the church and has much to offer us today in understanding
the function of the artist in the life and work of the church. It
strongly emphasizes that the artist, the iconographer or the composer
does not work in a vacuum. There are patterns, models, prototypes
that serve as the foundation for the creative process. These models
are the collected treasury of the church and the prototypes which
serve as the artistic canon or rule. "The more lasting and firm the
canon," writes Pavel Florensky, "the more deeply and purely it expressed
general human spiritual need; the canonical is that which belongs
to the church; that which belongs to the church is collective, and
the collective belongs to all humanity." 
For the early church
musicians, then, the compositional process consisted in fitting together,
with slight modifications dependent on the text, such transmitted
short melodic patterns (called by musicologists music formulae or
kernels) which constitute the melodic substance of the hymn. These
formulae came into existence as a result of constant oral repetition
so that in the course of time, they became crystallized into fixed
melodic patterns that were organized and then associated or assigned
to a certain church mode, or echoes. In church iconography, the icon's
beauty is understood to be a reflection of the holiness of its prototype.
When the artist lost this understanding and replaced it with the goal
of representing people and objects in their visible, daily condition,
that is, what is disclosed to the eye alone, to the emotions, and
to human reason, not only was the spiritual value lost but the aesthetic
quality itself deteriorated. 
The music of the Greek
Orthodox Church developed in Byzantium from the founding of Constantinople
in 330 until its fall in 1453. Although Byzantine musical manuscripts
exist from the tenth century, the earliest notation, which is readable
and can be transferred into the modern Western system, dates from only
the last quarter of the twelfth century.
Evidenced by these
manuscripts, Byzantine psalmody and hymnody were organized and transmitted
in a system of eight church modes (echoes, echoi, pl) referred to
as the Octoechos (lit. eight echoi or modes). While in the West the
modality of the tonal system is predominantly associated with a certain
scale, in the Byzantine tradition, the echoes or mode is defined on
the basis of the types of melodic patterns that are grouped together,
and make up the material for a complete mode.
On the basis of these
manuscripts, the early Byzantine chant can be defined as a unison
chant whose melodies are diatonic. The music is closely related to
the words and, with the exception of the final cadence, very seldom,
if ever, do any of the words appear improperly accented.
process for the Byzantine church musician consisted in fitting together,
with slight modifications dependent on the text, short melodic patterns
of formulae which constitute the substance of the hymn. These formulae
came into existence as a result of constant repetition so that, in
the course of time, they became crystallized into fixed melodic patterns.
Basically a pattern is assigned to only one particular mode. However,
there are instances where several modes are employed in the chanting
of a particular hymn. Musicologists frequently refer to the chant
tradition of the Greek Church after the fifteenth century as neo-Byzantine.
In this tradition
many of the old Byzantine melodies have survived, though often with
considerable modifications, including the use of chromatics in the
basic melodic patterns and the employment of the ison, one pitch or
sound sustained throughout a musical phrase to support the modal identity
of the melodic line.
The development of the
early unison Slavic chant (called znamenny, from the Slavic word znamia,
or "sign", referring to the neumes or musical signs used in notating
the chant) reached its apex in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries. Trained singers associated with singing schools of city cathedrals
embellished the simple chants with the creation of new and more elaborate
musical patterns a single tone might have as many as ninety or
more short melodic patters (called popevki) which could be selected
by one singer as he was "creating" the music for a given liturgical
The developed melodies
of the later znamenny form reveal a deep emotional expressiveness.
Musical "picture painting," the highlighting of strong or important
words in a text, is accomplished with the fita (from the Greek, theta),
an extensive melismatic passage sung on a single syllable, which not
only emphasizes a particular word but draws attention to the exceptional
vocal talents of the singer-virtuoso.
Although Bulgaria accepted
Christianity almost one hundred years prior to the baptism of Rus, no
Bulgarian musical manuscripts contemporary with the Christianization
of Rus have as yet been discovered. Present-day Bulgarian liturgical
singing is late-Byzantine, adopted to the Church Slavonic language with
Bulgarian pronunciation. In the seventeenth century hymns with the inscription
"Bulgarian Chant" appear in western-Ukrainian singing books. Some musicologists
see in this chant melodic kernels with Bulgarian folk song characteristics;
others find it to be closer in spirit and character to Russian singing,
although the melodies are quite different from the znamenny symmetrical
movements. The Bulgarian chants are more melismatic in character than
recitative. It is not unusual that a melodic line is repeated precisely
in succession throughout several textual lines of the work, as evidenced
in the setting of "The Noble Joseph" sung in so many of our churches
on Holy Friday.
Similar to the Byzantine
and the Znamenny, the Carpathian chants, whose origins date at least
to the second half of the seventeenth century, are subordinated to a
full eight-tone system, called osmoglasnik (lit., eight tones) and the
principle of composition is formulaic, that is, existing musical patterns
are used which are identified with the particular tone or mode.
The eminent Slavic musicologist,
Johann von Gardner, after 1917, spent four years living in Subcarpathian
Rus and was particularly amazed at the religious knowledge of the simple
peasants, acquired simply by singing in church. He describes the singing
which he heard in the churches of the Carpathian regions; "In Subcarpathian
Rus in all the villages both among the Uniates and also among the Orthodox,
there was always practiced only congregational singing of the complete
services, not excluding the changeable (proper) hymns in all the varied
chants. They sang according to the Great Zbornik (collection of prayers
and liturgical texts) which contained every necessary text. The numerous
chants (including all the padobny, not even found in the Synodal
notated liturgical books) were known by everyone, even the children
of school age. The leader of song the most experienced singer
from the parish—was standing at the kliros and sang the chant. As soon
as the worshippers heard the beginning, they would join in the chant
and the entire church sang; they sang all the stikhery, all the troparia,
all the irmosy in a word, everyone sang properly." Usually when
the worshippers join in the singing, a second part, sung in parallel
thirds to the melody, occurs.
A new style of polyphonic
church music, developed in the Ukraine and Byelorussia under the influence
of Polish religious vocal music, was adopted in the Orthodox churches
of southwestern Russia in the seventeenth century. This new style of
singing was called partesny singing (from the Latin partes, meaning
parts) and was taught in the schools established by the Orthodox Brotherhoods.
Its development in northern Russia was greatly promoted by Patriarch
Nikon who encouraged its use in churches, cathedrals, and monasteries
in Novgorod and Moscow. Its spread throughout Russia was greatly facilitated
through the publication of Nikolai Diletsky's Musical Grammar.
Diletsky, a Kievan musician who studied in Poland, first at Warsaw and
then at the Jesuit academy at Vilnius, was recruited from the southwest
and taught the art of composing Western-style polyphonic music in Smolensk
two musical styles in his grammar, the kontsert and the kant. The
chief stylistic features of the kontsert were continuous alternation
of musical motives, canonic imitation, contrasting passage of solo
voices (concertino) with full choir (tutti) and a clear tonic-dominant
harmonic relationship. In time the kontserty grew larger and more
complex, employing dynamic and polychoral effects that many musicologists
are fond of comparing to the Gabrielli's Venetian works (without instruments,
The powerful injection
of Western influences, culture, and traditions begun with Peter the
Great, and the move of the Russian capitol from Moscow to St. Petersburg
resulted in a vast cultural transformation of the Russian mode of
life and had immense consequences for the development of Russian church
music. A stream of foreign craftsmen came into Russia during the first
half of the eighteenth century French, Italian and German architects,
German actors and musicians, Italian painters and composers
in order to teach the Russians the elements and techniques of their
Of the Italian composers
who were brought to serve at the Imperial Court, Baldassare Galuppi
and Guiseppe Sarti were the two most prominent and both had a lasting
influence on Russian church singing. Both trained a number of Russian
church composers and both wrote a number of compositions based on
Russian liturgical texts. Galuppi was the first to introduce to the
Russian Orthodox Liturgy the singing of a special musical composition,
in the form of the sacred concerto, during the priest's communion.
Although some of these concerti were composed on the texts of the
prescribed Communion Hymns, many were simply selected freely by the
composer and had no relationship whatsoever with the liturgical celebration.
The works of these
Italian composers were adorned with arioso solos, bold or daring passages
of extraordinary leaps or runs, trills, and grace notes, in general,
all of those vocal devices which gave the greatest possibilities for
a vocal soloist to display his or her beautiful, voluminous, and cultivated
voice. The religious idea was certainly animated, but the required
correspondence of text to music was clearly lacking. "All of the sacred
works of the foreign kapellmeisters," wrote the Archpriest Dmitry
Razumovsky, "were acknowledged in their time and even now are recognized
as truly artistic and classical in a musical sense. Yet not one of
these works proved to be perfect and edifying in a church sense, because
in each work the music predominates over the text, most often not
at all expressing its meaning." 
The first Russian
composers influenced by this "Italianate" style of scared music
Artemy Vedel, Maxim Berezovsky, Stepan Degtiariev, Stepan Davydov,
Dmitry Bortniansky, and the Archpriest Pyotr Turchaninov were
students of Italian maestri and produced hundreds of compositions
for use in the church services. For the most part, they are all in
the same Italianate style and are distinguished primarily by the relative
artistic talents of the individual composer. Many of these works have
not only survived but still can be heard on any given Sunday in the
cathedrals and city churches throughout Russia today.
Particular note must
be made of Bortniansky, the most renowned personage in eighteenth
century Russian music, for his prolific compositional activity
72 liturgical hymns (26 of them for double chorus), 45 sacred concertos
(10 for double chorus), 10 Te Deums, the Liturgy for three voices,
and eight sacred trios. He also was the first director of the Imperial
Chapel who was given the right of censorship in the field of church
music, a "circumstance that greatly affected the direction of church
music in the nineteenth century." 
Although the works
of Bortniansky have been acclaimed by many musicologists, both Russian
and non-Russian, secular as well as sacred, the words spoken by Metropolitan
Eugene of Kiev, delivered in a speech presented while still a professor
at the seminary in Voronezh in 1799, might serve as a summary of this
period in the history of Russian church music. The Metropolitan said:
"Besides this famous
Russian choral director (Bortniansky), the works of many foreign kapellmeisters
have in our time been adopted as compositions of the Greek-Russian
Church, for example, (Galuppi, teacher of Bortniansky), Kerzellis,
Dimmler and the eminent Sarti. But even so, the truth must be stated
that either because of their unawareness of the power and the expressiveness
of the texts of our church poetry, or because of a prejudice only
for the laws of their music, they have often disregarded the sanctity
of the place and subject of their compositions, so that, generally
speaking, it is not the music which is adapted to the sacred words,
but instead the words are merely added to the music and often in a
contrived manner. Apparently, they wanted more to impress their audience
with concert-like euphony than to touch the hearts with pious melody,
and often during such compositions the church resembles more an Italian
opera than the house of worthy prayer to the Almighty." 
In the latter part of
the nineteenth century, a search for new ways of liberating Russian
liturgical singing from foreign influences emerged. The Moscow Synodal
School was the center for this new movement, at the head of which stood
such church music historians, composers, and directors as Stepan Smolensky,
Alexander Kastalsky, and Vasily Orlov. The leaders of the Moscow school
attempted to establish a new direction in church music by returning
to the indigenous Russian church unison melodies and using those melodies
as the basis for the composing of church music, as Palestrina and others
would use Gregorian chant melodies as cantus firmi for their polyphonic
At the same time
scholarly studies and investigations on many and varied aspects of
the old Russian Chant appeared. Such studies were concentrated on
three areas: 1) the history of church singing, 2) semiogaphy, that
is, the study of the various notations used in chant, and 3) the forms
and style of canonical church singing. A chair in church music was
created at the Moscow Conservatory. Archpriest Dmitry Razumovsky,
author of a three-volume work on "Russian Church Singing," published
in 1877-79, was appointed to this new position.
the development of research in the area of the old Russian chant,
Russian studies in historical liturgiology laid the groundwork for
later theological evaluation of Orthodox worship. Prior to the Bolshevik
Revolution, the Russian theological schools produced a number of first-rate
scholars and studies of Byzantine liturgy, the archeological investigations
of Alexander Dmitrievsky standing at the forefront. As Fr. Alexander
Schmemann has acknowledged, "as a result of their work not only did
Russian liturgical study win a recognized and glorious position in
the realm of scholarship, but also a solid foundation was laid without
which it would be impossible to speak of liturgical theology in any
real sense of the term." 
In a very short period,
from the 1880's to 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution, a vast repertoire
of Russian church compositions was created, numbering into the thousands.
Well-known composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Grechaninov,
Chesnokov, Ippolitov-Ivanov, and Rachmaninov, as well as a host of
other lesser-known musicians wrote church music using the old Russian
chants as thematic material. Still others wrote free compositions.
But it was Alexander Kastalsky who was generally recognized as the
source of inspiration for this movement.
In his later years,
however, Kastalsky became disenchanted with much that was being written
for the church, even if such compositions were based on the old Znamenny
chant melodies. In 1925, in an interview entitled, "My Musical Career
and My Thoughts on Church Music" (published in The Musical Quarterly),
"Of late (church
music) has tended to become complex. To disregard the difficulty of
performance for the sake of effective sonority, to choose harmonic
and melodic means without discrimination, provided only that they
be new and beautiful, and if this tendency continues to develop, church
music will end in becoming like any other, except that it will have
a religious text. This would be extremely unfortunate..."
He continued: "And
what about style? Our indigenous church melodies when set chorally
lose all their individuality: how distinctive they are when sung in
unison by the Old Believers, and how insipid they are in the conventional
four-part arrangements of our classic (composers), on which we have
prided ourselves for nearly a hundred years; it is touching, but spurious.
... In my opinion it is first of all necessary to get away from continual
four-part writing... The future of our creative work for the church
can ... be merely surmised, but I feel what its real task should be.
I am convinced that it lies in the idealization of authentic church
melodies, the transformation of them into something musically elevated,
mighty in its expressiveness and near to the Russian heart in its
typically national quality... I should like to have music that could
be heard nowhere except in a church, and which would be as distinct
from secular music as church vestments are from the dress of the laity.
as a lecture by Professor David Drillock, Provost, St. Valdimir's
Theological Seminary. Reprinted from by permission from: Jacob's
Well, Fall-Winter 1998-99.
I in Oziam seu de Seraphinis I; PG 1vi, 97.
Vladyshevskaia, Tatiana, "On the Links Between Music and Icon Painting
in Medieval Rus" in Christianity and the Arts in Russia, edited
by William C. Brumfield, and Milos M. Velimirovic (Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1991), 18.
Pseudo-Dionysious, The Divine Names (Mahwah NY, Paulist Press,
1987) 76. This translation in Vladyshevskaia, op. cit., 18.
Vlaldyshevskaia op. Cit., 18.
Germanos, Life of Romanos.
Florensky, Pavel, Iconostatis (Crestwood NY, St. Vladimir's
Seminary Press, 1996), 87. This translation in Vladyshevskaia,
op. cit., 19.
Ouspensky, Leonid, Theology of the Icon, Volume II (Crestwood
NY, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1991), 345.
Razumovsky, Dmitry, Tserkovnoe Penie v Rosii [Church Singing
Morosan, Vladimir, One Thousand Years of Russian Church Music
(Washington DC, Musica Russica, 1991), 756.
Preobrazhensky, Anton, Po Tserkovnomy Peniiu [Church Singing].
Schmemann, Alexander, Introduction to Liturgical Theology (Crestwood
NY, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986, 11.
- Conomos, Dimitri,
Bysantine Hymnography and Byzantine Chant, (Hellenic College
Press, Brookline MA, 1984).
- Gardner, Ivan (Johann
von), Russian Church Singing, Volume 1 (St.Vladimir's Seminary
Press, Crestwood, NY, 1980).
- Roccasalvo, Joan
L., The Plainchant Tradition of Southwestern Rus' (Eastern
European Monographs, Boulder, 1986).
- Uspensky, Nikolai,
The Early Russian Art of Singing (in Russian) (Vsesoiuznoe
Izdatel'stvo, Moscow, 1971).