Children And Male Choir Of The Moscow Choral Academy
Viktor Popov, Chormaster
Recorded At The Moscow Conservatory In July 1992
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This recording gives a historical review of three centuries oi Russian religious polyphony. It begins in the second half of the 17th century, a period in which Russia was entering an era of great political and social reform, then goes through the 18di and 19th centuries and the masters from the Imperial Chapel influenced by lay composers and the nationalist school, and ends with the stylistic renewal of the 20th century. The music is a reflection of the successive cultural influences felt in Russia : the contributions of the Renaissance and the Italian Baroque period, pre- and post-romantic sensitivities, experiments in individual styles during the period when the national culture was developing, and finally the reaffirmnation of a forceful identity with the renewal of ties to secular traditions.
Nikolay Diletsky (1630-cca. 1690) was the first Russian polyphonist and theoretician. Born in Kiev, he studied in Poland and then worked in Moscow. He was the author of a treatise, Ideas in Musical Grammer (1675), the first of its kind in Russia. It was Diletsky who made "partessian" chant popular in Russia. This style, with great choirs of up to 8 and even 12 voices, was the first major contribution from western musical culture. Introduced in Russia through Poland, it comes from Italian motets and uses alternating sections of large harmonic panels and episodes of horizontal writing. The Resurrection Canon, of 8 voices, is one of the most typical examples, with the powerful joy of its tuttis, interlaced with imitation and contrapuntal lines.
Vassily Titov (1650-1715), who was perhaps Diletsky's student, was Peter the Great's appointed musician and divided his time between religious works and the composition of panegyric chants glorifying the Tsar's victories. The chorus Praise the Name of the Lord uses twelve voices and, even more than Diletsky'x chant, opposes the massive choir and the concert am sections sung by a trio.
In the middle of the 18th century, during the reigns of Elizaveta Petrovna and Catherine II, a musical organization took on primary importance : the Imperial Chapel in Saint Petersburg, first placed under the direction of the Italians who were the reigning masters of music in Russia. Among their disciples were several great names in Russian music who had perfected their talents in Italy. These included Maxim Berezovsky (1745-1777), whose name can be seen in the hall of the Conservatory of Bologna, and Dimitry Bortniansky (1751-1825) who lived for ten years in Venice. Berezovsky, after returning to Russia, could not find a job as a musician, and committed suicide at the age of thirty-two. Bortniansky, on the contrary, rapidly rose: in die hierarchy of musical positions : he was at first composer for the crown prince, Paul I, then in 1796 became director of the imperial Chapel.
Of Berezovsky's religious music only a few works have survived, but the grand vocal chorus based on the psalm Do not abandon me in my old age is an admirable and poignant example of it, with rich writing and dense* emotions. This is Italian art, with its sense of musical drama, with an accent on expressions of affliction, much like the religious paintings Irom the Renaissance.
In the vast catalogue of Bormiansky's religious works (many of which unfortunately cannot be dated with precision), the choral concerts, most of which are based on texts taken from the Psalms, occupy a major portion. Their re-issue was undertaken in the 1880s by Jurgenson, who asked Tchaikovsky to oversee the musical editing. The 24th Concert, / raise my Eyes towards the Mountains, is formed by several sections, moving from the grave meditation in the-beginning toward the lively but solemn joy of the Allegro moderato, with its fugue opening.
During the 19th century and in die beginning of the 2()th century, various great composers from the Russian national school made their contributions to the Church's chant repertory. Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was choirmaster in the Imperial Chapel from 1837 to 1840, named to the post by the Tsar Nicolas I in recognition for his opera, A Life for the Tsar. "I entrust you with my singers, but I ask you not to make them into Italians", the Tsar supposedly said to the composer. Clinka did not compose a large quantity of religious music, but what does exist is of great quality. 1 lis Song of the Cherubim (a liturgical text quite often used by many composers) was written for 6 voices, and makes particularly good use of the basses who several times go down to a low C.
Piotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the first to write complete cycle's with Liturgy (1878) and Vespers Service (1881). Jurgenson's publication of the LirurjQ 'was the object of a lawsuit by the Imperial Chapel which, since Bortniansky*s day, had held a monopoly on the publication oi religious music. Tchaikovsky and his editor won the case, the Chapel's monopoly was abolished, and this allowed the composers of the following generations to devote themselves to religious music as well as to any other sort.
In his Liturgy, Tchaikovsky forced himself to fight against the italianisms which had impregnated the Russian church chants for over a century, and to attempt to create an authentic national style. He did not completely succeed, and the value of this religious music is due essentially to the personal style he imposed, as easily recognizable here as in his other works. The Creed, often sung during sen-ices, shows the search for both a simplicity in language and a spontaneous communication of feelings... although we may be surprised to hear the words "resuscitated on the third day according to the Scriptures" sung in a minor key.
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) often put religious chants into his operas, but did not compose for the church. The chorus The Angel said to Mary is of doubtful origin; the original manuscript does not exist. The Russian musicologist Yevgeny Levashov has shown certain obvious ressemblances between this and other pages of Mussorgsky's works, and dates the chorus near die end of the 1870's. The writing, with its frequent changes in the number of voices used, with long notes and archaic characteristics, does indeed bear the marks of the author of Boris.
In die second half of his life. Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), founder of the Group of Five and of the Free School of Music, was also the director of the Imperial Chapel (1883-1894). He brought this prestigious establishment, which for decades had regressed considerably, back up to a true professional level. Of the small number of Balakirev's religious works, one of the best known choruses is The Prophets inspired by Heaven, a remarkable work with subtle harmonic touches inside apparently simple homophonic writing.
With Alexander Arkhangelsky (1846-1924) we find a specifically religious composer, one who simultaneously studied music and theology. He was the first choral conductor to replace children's voices with women's voices in church chants. Alter the Revolution he emigrated and finished his life in Prague, lie belongs to the Saint Petersburg school which remained strongly influenced by German styles and aesthetics. This explaias the "romantic" emotional density of his religious compositions and his penchant for fugue and contrapuntal writing, the qualities that illustrate the concert chorus I think of the Day of Judgement.
In the renewal of Russian liturgical chant at the beginning of the 20th century, searching for national roots in reaction against the Italo-German influences, Rachmaninov's two cycles, The Liturgy of Saint-John Cbrysostom (1910) and Vespers (1915), occupy a major place and are without a doubt the two most important monuments in this genre. The choir We sing unto Thee from the Liturgy is a splendid page of mystical poetry, with the notes of the soprano solo standing out above the layers of choral writing. Two parrs of Vespers are given here, the Ave Maria with its tenderness that inspires trust, and the Ilexapsalm whose majesty rapidly takes on a grandiose and epic dimension. With jubilant vocal runs in a total of 11 voices, Rachmaninov produces the inimitable carillon effect vhich is his sound signaairc.
Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), composer, choir conductor, theoretician, author of the book K}jor i upnwlenye im ("The choir and choir conducting"), belongs to the same Moscow school that brought the science of choral writing to its apogee and gave religious music a concert dimension. Although he is sometimes reproached for his excessive search for effects with sounds, his enormous output ol religious music contains numerous magnificently inspired works. Some are intensely human and profound (On a bed of suffering, Mother of God), others are more remarkable for the particularities in writing. Hasten to intercept Your enemies uses unisons and voice doublings to achieve a martial effect, The Vesperal Sacrifice makes use of a soloist.
To find the name of Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953) on a recording of religious music seems, and rightly so strange. Despite a period of interest for Christian Science and for anthroposo-phy, the composer of A Classical Symphony always remained indifferent to orthodoxy. However, the music for the film Ivan the Terrible includes some religious passages. Multos annos is taken from the coronation scene in the Cathedral of the Assomption and shows that whatever attitude Prokofiev may have had officially towards this musical heritage, his ear captured it perfecdy in all its authenticity.