to Znamenny Chant
of Russian Chant
Analysis of Znamenny Chant
of Znamenny Chant
As a general rule, Christian
chant has eluded people for many years because of a lack of understanding.
Like any music, chant can be found superficially beautiful, but a true
appreciation for it only arises through a thorough understanding of
its history and its process of composition. In this way, chant can amazingly
be compared to twentieth-century twelve-tone music; people rarely fully
appreciate it without understanding how it was composed.
Western chant has
been experiencing a bit of a renaissance recently with the successful
marketing of new recordings. Eastern chant, including Russian, is
still relatively unknown to Western audiences. This aversion is probably
reinforced by the inaccessibility of Eastern chant as far as its notation
and its system of composition. Indeed, a great deal of research is
still needed to decipher the earliest body of Russian chant. Nonetheless,
chant scholarship has unravelled many interesting secrets of Eastern
chant and some of the most rewarding finds have been in Russian znamenny
chant. By understanding the nature of znamenny chant, one discovers
a type of music that is intrinsically beautiful.
The illustration above
is znamenny notation with Shaidurov's red (cinnabar) letters designating
the height and inflection of tone. The excerpt is an Irmos, the theme-song
of each of nine canticles introducing the tropar and the hymn of the
Feast. It is taken from the book Irmosy tserkovanago znamenny penia,
and published by the Knigoizdatelstvo Znamenny Peniye, Kiev,
1913. (Nicholas Brill, History of Russian Church Music, Bloomington,
IL: Nicholas Brill, 1980).
Znamenny chant was
the principal chant of the Russian Orthodox Church for the time Christianity
was imported from Byzantine to roughly the late seventeenth century.
Like many things in Russian culture, chant was originally imported
from another country, but it soon took on characteristics that made
it distinctly Russian.
The story of Christianity
coming to Russia is well-known. Vladimir I took it upon himself to chose
a single religion to unite his people. Scouts were sent out to examine
the religions of other countries, and the ones that came back from the
Byzantine Empire had the most magnificent tales to tell. Christianity
and all of its glories appealed to Vladimir, who thus proceeded to declare
his country Christian in the year 988.
was directly imported into Russia with all of its cultural appendages;
the architecture for churches, the painting style for icons, and the
music of the church were all included. Orthodox music was and still
is strictly vocal chant. Just like the architecture and painting,
this chant was quickly transformed by the Russians. In New Monuments
of the Znamenny Chant Maxim Brajnikov writes:
music the Znamenny Chant was in the long past
derived from Byzantium, but was no sooner on Russian soil that it
encountered an entirely new medium the musical perception of
the Russian people, its whole culture and custom, and thus began its
second Russian life.
The largest influence
Byzantine chant encountered in Russia was the huge body of Russian
peasant folk-songs. Since a very important part of znamenny chant
is its strict rhythm (as will be seen below), this influence was limited
to mostly intervalic relationships and fragments of melody.
Znamenny chant scholarship
is generally divided into three periods: the pre-Mongol period (from
988 to the mid-thirteenth century), the Mongol period (from the mid-thirteenth
to the mid-fifteenth centuries), and the period of late chant (from
the mid-fifteenth to the late seventeenth centuries). The pre-Mongol
period chant is characterized by its departure from Byzantine chant
as far as its musical content. There is a surprisingly large amount
of manuscripts from this period, around twenty-five, that contain
znamenny chant. However, the notation of this period was Kondakarion
notation, which was what the Byzantines used and is to this day undecipherable:
D. Razumovsky, plate from the
Library of Nizhni-Novgorod Monastery. (Q. I No. 32, p.113)
The Mongol period is
no less frustrating, but this time it is because of the lack of sources
for chant. The devastation of the Mongol yoke can indeed be seen as
there are basically no manuscripts of chant from this period. The notation
had been evolving since its inception into Russian culture, however,
so that by the later period the numerous sources of znamenny chant are
actually readable to knowledgeable twentieth-century enthusiasts.
This last period
of chant saw a large flourishing of znamenny chant and thanks to a
readable znamenny notation (not to be confused with the name of how
the music sounds), there has been much study of this chant. The demise
of znamenny chant came about in the late seventeenth century, when
the Southern and Western Slavs developed their own style of chant.
This would initially seem tragic for znamenny fans, but by being tossed
aside in favor of the new chant, znamenny was able to escape the huge
influence of Western musical thought, especially Italian, which was
flowing into Russia unchecked. Ironically the victim of this contamination
was the the new chant of the Southern and Western Slavs. Thus znamenny
chant was tucked under the wings of the Old Believers who saw it as
"their" chant, and was remarkably well-preserved throughout the years.
Russian chant was composed
using parameters alien to Western music systems. Although znamenny chant
was diatonic (recognition of whole-steps and half-steps), the similarities
to Western music end there. The scale used in znamenny chant is a little
over an octave consisting of twelve pitches from a low B to a high D.
Every three pitches are divided into a different "accordance" (Russian,
soglassya): low, somber, bright, and very bright. When writing
a chant, the composer would indicate in which accordance the chant was
to be sung. A single chant could also move between different accordances,
which was indicated in the notation.
The melody was usually
in strict conjunct motion (no skips in the pitches) and leaps of a fourth
or a fifth were used for added drama in a cadence at the end of a chant.
The rhythm was mainly quarter notes and half notes, with the beat determined
by half notes. There were occasional whole notes that when used were
only to end a phrase or line. Eighth notes can be found in the manuscripts,
but overall were very rare. Singers could take expressive liberties
by sustaining half notes and whole notes longer, but sometimes the notation
dictated this lengthening.
The text was all-important
to the construction of the znamenny chant. Since the whole purpose of
having the chant in church was to convey the holy liturgy in a beautiful
and worshipful manner, it would not behoove a composer to treat the
text lightly and conform it to a pleasing melody (as was the practice
at this time in folk-songs). Rather, the text dictated the shape of
the melody. No words were repeated, and care was taken to preserve the
integrity of every word of the text. A feeling of great dignity and
reverence was preserved by limiting the notes per syllable to two, and
at a maximum, four.
Perhaps the most peculiar
thing about Russian chant that would baffle a Western chant composer
of this time would be the system of tonality that the Russian composer
employed. The best Western equivalent of this system is probably the
system of key signatures (which was not used in Western chant).
Russian chant composers used a system of eight glassy that were
roughly derived from the eight Byzantine echoi. This system was
probably of Arabic origin, and it grouped melodies not by an underlying
scale, but according to typical melodic patterns that certain groups
of melodies were found to have in common. These patterns were called
popefki or kokizi.
For example, the
first glas was characterized by ninety-three of these popefki,
and all of these popefki could be considered to have a festive tone,
but at the same time, a general feel of solemnity was preserved. Each
of the eight glassy had such defining popefki, and each had a certain
mood or feeling that it conveyed. For example, the second glas was
sweet and tender, the sixth was mournful, etc. A master znamenny composer
would have all of these glassy memorized, all of the popefki memorized,
and even the names of the 400 or so popefki memorized as well. Obviously,
there is a lot more to znamenny chant than what initially meets the
Notation of znamenny
chant had undergone a lot of improvements since the time it was imported
from Byzantium. The Byantine notation consisted of the written text
with symbols above the syllables that indicated, as far as can be gathered,
pitch, duration and other essentials for the performance of the chant.
However, these symbols were never documented by the Byzantines, and
their meanings were so obscure that they have never been deciphered.
However, the Russians that used znamenny notation as opposed to Kondakarion
notation were a bit more helpful than the Byzantines in that they actually
took the time to compile somewhat of a glossary of their symbols. The
znamenny notation symbols indicated a range of musical ideas, including
the initial accordance and subsequent movement between accordances,
rhythm, duration of notes, volume, and manner of voice. Thus the singer
could get a basic idea of what he was supposed to sing.
The main problem
of this notation was that the average singer could gather in what
accordance to sing, but he had no idea which of the three notes in
the particular accordance he was supposed to sing. For the singer
to know, he would have to memorize every individual popefki to be
able to recognize it immediately and know on what pitch to begin.
This was obviously a significant problem that had to be addressed,
as only years of training and rote memorization of hundreds of popefki
would assure an accurate performance of a particular chant. Only the
most masterful of chant singers were this advanced and they were far
and few between.
The answer to this
vexation came in the mid-seventeenth century when the Novgorod master
Ivan Shaidur, or Shaidurov, invented a system of auxiliary red letters
to be placed alongside the znamenny notation above the text of the
chant. Each of these letters corresponded to a particular note in
the church scale, thus any singer could more easily sing a chant with
much more accuracy than before. (Cf. picture at top of page.) The
body of chant with Shaidurov's red letters is quite obviously the
most accessible to the general public and it is a shame that znamenny
chant was so soon put aside in favor of the new Westernized South
and West Slav's chant, since a whole new expertise was again needed.
Thus znamenny chant
retreated into relative obscurity, the only keepers of it being the
Old Believers. In fact, the Old Believers have done such an admirable
job in preserving the znamenny chant that many scholars armed with
tape recorders seek them out in order to gather chant sustained primarily
through an oral tradition.
Many secrets of Russian
znamenny chant have been unearthed through the efforts of many persevering
musicologists. Even though the earliest body of chant is still indecipherable,
much has been done and is being done to solve these notational problems.
This notation may be in part why Eastern chant in general is still
very unknown to Western audiences, even though it is certainly very
worthy of every kind of attention.
Composers of znamenny
chant lived in a different world in relation to Western compositional
techniques. To them, mastery was achieved when one had managed to
imitate their teacher as closely as possible. Theirs was an art so
confined by parameters, such as accordances, glassy, etc., that when
they managed to successfully convey the meaning of the liturgical
text the effect was absolutely beautiful. Centuries of time are reduced
to nothing when a twentieth-century listener can learn the basics
of znamenny chant and hence appreciate this unique music as well.
Dawn Gauthier. This
page is reproduced by permission of the author.
- Brother Ambrose
(ca.1849-1909), A Short Introduction to Znamenny Chant and its
Notation, S.l.: Old Ritualist Society, c.1980.
- Maxim Brajnikov,
New Monuments of the Znamenny Chant, Leningrad:1967.
- Nicholas Brill,
History of Russian Church Music, 988-1917, Bloomington, Ill.:
- Dimitri Conomos,
The Late Byzantine and Slavonic Communion Cycle: Liturgy and
Music, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1985.
- Zivar Gusejnova,
"Russian Znamenny Chant in the First Half of the Seventeenth
Century" in International Musical Society Study Group Cantus
Planus: Papers Read at the Fourth Meeting in Pecs, Hungary, September
3-8, 1990, by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Institute
for Musicology. Budapest: 1992, 311-318.
- Inok Khristofor
(17th century), Kleiiuch Znamennoaei: 1604 (Key to Znamenny
Chant), Moskva: Izd-vo "Muzyka," 1983.
- Gregory Myers,
The Lavrsky Troitsky Kondakar, Bulgaria: 1994.
- Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo,
"The Role of Religion in the Development of Znamenny-Russian Chant"
in Diakonia, vol. 26 (1993) 41-66.
- ________, "The
Znamenny Chant" in The Musical Quarterly, vol. 74, no.2 (1990)
- ________, The
Plainchant Tradition of Southwestern Rus'. New York: East European
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"The Znamenny Chant of the Russian Church" in The Musical Quarterly,
vol. 26 (Apr., July, Oct., 1940) 232-243, 365-379, 529-545.
- ________, Notes
on the Old Liturgical Chant of the Russian Church and the Russian
Folk Song, Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1967.
- ________, Russian
Music and its Sources in Chant and Russian Folk-Song, New York:
W.W. Norton, 1973.
- Milos Velimirovic,
ed. Studies in Russian Chant, New York: Oxford University