In late 2016, as the tragic centenary of the Russian revolutions was approaching, conversations began among musicians in Russia and the U. S. regarding an appropriately solemn and musically significant way to pay homage to the memory of those who had been affected by these events—in particular, composers, choirmasters, and church singers—both those who suffered repression at the hands of the Communist government and those who continued the legacy abroad. As the first-fruits of these discussions, on Monday, January 29, 2018, the Moscow Conservatory, one of Russia’s premier musical institutions, presented a unique and unprecedented concert of Orthodox sacred choral works by composers who wrote outside the borders of their homeland, as well as works by non-Russian composers inspired by the Russian Orthodox heritage. The majority of the pieces on the program were performed in Russia for the first time, reviving a repertoire that was not only neglected during the Soviet era, but even disparaged and publicly vilified. Bringing these works back to their homeland carried with it a deep symbolic as well as artistic significance.
The spiritual dimension of this event emerged already on Sunday, January 28, the day prior to the concert, as worshipers from all over Moscow gathered at the stately cathedral-like Church of Holy Hieromartyr Clement for a Memorial Service (Panikhida) in memory of “all those laborers in the field of liturgical singing, known and unknown, who suffered at the hands of the godless atheist communist regime.” Some, like composer Archpriest Georgiy Izvekov, were murdered by firing squad; some, like Pavel Chesnokov, Alexander Nikolsky, Nikolai Danilin, and many others, lost their chosen profession, forced to choose between their secular careers and their service to the Church. A great many more lost their livelihood and their homeland, being forced to emigrate—the more famous names include Alexander Chesnokov, Johann von Gardner, Alexander Gretchaninoff, Serge Jaroff, Mikhail Konstantinov, Boris Ledkovsky, Constantine Shvedov, and Nicolai Tcherepnin,… not to mention Sergei Rachmaninoff. Countless others—composers, choir directors, and singers—remain anonymous, known only to God.
The following day, January 29, a standing-room only audience filled the conservatory’s Rachmaninoff Hall, which had once been the chief performance venue for the Moscow Synodal Choir before 1918, when the Bolsheviks disbanded the choir and closed the affiliated Synodal Choir School. Within its cathedral-like acoustics, created especially for choral singing, had occurred first performances of most of the great Russian choral works associated with the renaissance of Orthodox choral composition in the early twentieth century. On the present occasion, the
composers whose works comprised the program fell into three broad categories: those who began their musical careers before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and were forced to leave their homeland—Alexander Chesnokov, Gretchaninoff, Ilyashenko, Shvedov, and Nicolai Tcherepnin; emigres whose compositional talents blossomed while already in exile—Konstantinov, Ledkovsky, and Swan; and three living composers born outside of Russia—Archpriest Sergei Glagolev, Archpriest Ivan Moody, and Kurt Sander (the latter two being converts to Orthodoxy), whose works were inspired and informed by the “New Direction” of the Russian Orthodox choral school.
Sharing the podium that evening were Maestro Peter Jermihov, a prominent Russian-American conductor from Chicago, Artistic Director and Conductor of PaTRAM Institute Singers, and Maestro Alexei Rudnevsky, chair of the choral conducting faculty at the Moscow Conservatory, who conducted the Kastalsky Chamber Choir, a forty-voice professional ensemble in its mixed and all-male contingents, respectively.
The concert was a rousing success. In the words of one Moscow connoisseur of Russian sacred choral music, “Among our sacred choral concerts, this is the best thing we’ve heard in recent years.” One elderly lover of choral music, having missed the opportunity to purchase a ticket in advance, arrived nearly an hour before the concert and stood patiently at the turnstile, yearningly addressing passers-by: “I absolutely must attend this concert! I simply must hear what treasures they have created… over there, abroad.” A ticket was found for him.
Throughout the concert, the audience was rapt with attention, with their ears eagerly grasping the sounds of works being heard for the first time—stylistically familiar, insofar as they lay squarely within the Russian Orthodox liturgical aesthetic, yet brand new and fresh. At times, the atmosphere in the hall exhibited the reverent silence of a church service, reaching a culmination as the choir began singing the encore—a work composed in France in the 1920 and now familiar throughout the Orthodox world both in Russia and abroad—Nicolai Kedrov’s “Otche nash.” First one person stood up, then two, then another and another, until the entire audience stood, praying with the choir. “For me, performing sacred music is a form of prayer,” said Maestro Peter Jermihov, reflecting on the evening’s experience. “As I’m conducting, I am actually praying, and that attitude is communicated to the singers.” The program ended with Protodeacon Nikolai Platonov, who had performed several solo exclamations earlier that evening, intoning “Memory eternal” to all the departed composers, and “Many years” to the living composers and to the organizers and performers.
The success of the project was the result of an intensely collaborative effort, which brought together the artistry of prominent church musicians and conductors with the latest in scholarly knowledge and research, both in the U. S. and Russia. The leadership of the Moscow Conservatory invited three consultants from the U.S.—descendants of Russian exiles who had devoted their careers as musicians and scholars to Russian Orthodox church music. In addition to Dr. Peter Jermihov (D.M.A., University of Illinois), they included Dr. Nicolas Schidlovsky (Ph.D., Princeton University), a noted scholar of medieval Orthodox chant, who provided the concept and coordinated the planning and fundraising for the project; and Dr. Vladimir Morosan (D.M.A., University of Illinois), founder of Musica Russica music publishers and editor of the multi-volume series Monuments of Russian Sacred Music, who assembled the works on the program and provided the musical scores. Completing the Russian side of the team was Dr. Marina Rakhmanova, a musicologist specializing in Russian sacred music and editor of the monumental series Russian Sacred Music in Documents and Materials.
The audience experience was enhanced by a thoughtful introductory reflection about the legacy of the Russian emigre composers, delivered by Nicolas Schidlovsky, setting the stage for the music that was about to follow, and a beautifully designed 24-page program booklet, containing portraits of many of the composers as well as expertly written program notes, prepared by Vladimir Morosan and Marina Rakhmanova.
No amount of verbiage can adequately express the beauty and power of the sacred music heard that evening. A professional recording and video were made and at some point may become available to the public. The most that can be done in writing is to make readers aware of these composers’ names and their historical and musical legacy, so that their creative output becomes better known and their works become a part of the canon of Orthodox sacred choral music. To this end, we will devote the remainder of this article to a condensed version of the program notes prepared for this occasion.
(Click here for a link to the original program in Russian)
The twenty-four spiritual hymns by eleven composers that comprise the program of today’s concert are but a tiny portion of the enormous musical treasure that was created in the Russian emigration after 1917, oftentimes in very difficult and unfavorable circumstances. Suffice it to say, a series of CDs called “Chants of the Russian Emigres,” produced under the direction of Archpriest Peter Perekrestov by the “Russkiy Pastyr” label already numbers ten albums, with more titles still in production.
Before proceeding to the characterization of authors and their works, we must speak at least very briefly about the significance of the Orthodox Church and the heritage of liturgical singing among the Russian Diaspora as a whole. As Pierre Kovalevsky points out in his two-volume history of the Russian emigration, Russia Abroad: “Russian choral singing, no less than other branches of art, and perhaps even more, has had an influence all over the world and continues to project itself in the most unexpected circles in the West.” This work came out in the early 1970s, and from the context it is obvious that the author is speaking primarily about sacred music.
Why was church singing so vital to the culture of Russian emigration? The fact of the matter is that the life of the Russian Diaspora finally witnessed the joining of two streams, which previously existed in parallel but rarely intersected, or, to be more precise, came together relatively late, at the beginning of the twentieth century: 1) Orthodox tradition (in a broad sense), and 2) the present-day quest for the spiritual.
The first thread—the gravitation towards tradition—derived from the need felt by people of various classes, ranks and ages, who had lost their native land and had experienced severe personal trials, to find a small piece of “homeland” somewhere. For many this “land of their own” became the Church. Whereas before the Russian Revolution there was only one Orthodox church in Paris—the so-called “embassy church” of St. Alexander Nevsky, and throughout France there were only five other parishes—in resort towns (with a similar number in Germany, and even fewer in Italy, Switzerland and England), by 1937 there were about six dozen Russian churches in France alone. Naturally, all of them had choirs, and the local French (or Germans, Swiss, Italians, English, etc.) would often visit these churches, which were for the most part quite humble and situated in random spaces, attracted by the beauty of the services and the singing.
The second thread was the Russian Orthodox religious revival, which continued in the emigration. As the religious historian Nicholas Zernov writes: “The Russian religious revival began too late to affect the [Russian] intelligentsia in a timely fashion, but it enriched world culture. This was achieved thanks to the Russian emigration, which included prominent representatives of religious and philosophical thought. These individuals were able to present convincingly the traditions of the Orthodox faith in the language and concepts of modern culture and thus preserved a sense of historical continuity for Russia at a time when it was being systematically destroyed in its homeland.”
With regard to Russian church singing, the emigration brought about the first mass exodus of this liturgical art from Russia. Before the revolution the Russian Orthodox Church rarely entered into contact with non-Orthodox churches. Hence, its liturgical music was very little known in the West, although some prominent Western musicians who had visited Russia (e.g. Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz) expressed admiration for the singing of the Eastern Church and for Russian choirs. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a renewal movement in the realm of Russian liturgical singing attracted a number of talented composers and performers, bringing about a rapid growth in the number and quality of choirs, and gave rise to concerts of sacred music, both in churches and in concert halls. At the same time, two schools of sacred composers and performance style emerged—one in St. Petersburg, which was more Europeanized, and the other in Moscow, which was essentially a continuation of the nationalist movement in music. The so-called “New Direction” in Russian sacred composition, represented by both Moscow and St. Petersburg composers, sought to enrich liturgical music both by returning to its ancient roots, and by integrating it with contemporary musical thinking.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the preeminent choir in Russia—the Moscow Synodal Choir—had already begun to tour abroad: in Austria, Germany, and Italy they performed extensive historical programs of Russian sacred music and enjoyed enormous success. But the First World War and the Revolution put an end to all progressive developments in this realm. In the early 1920s, concerts of sacred music continued to occur in major Russian cities, and their number even increased due to the demise of spiritual censorship and the need on the part of singers and conductors to supplement their livelihood. By the end of the 1920s, however, prominent choral musicians were compelled to choose between church work or work in secular musical professions; churches were being closed in large numbers and were being deprived of the economic means to support choirs. In the second half of the 1920s, many of the leading figures of the New Direction (Alexander Kastalsky, Victor Kalinnikov, Archpriest Dimitry Allemanov, Archpriest Vasily Metallov, and others) departed this life—undoubtedly affected by the turmoil of the revolution, while other prominent composers emigrated abroad (Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Gretchaninoff, Nicolai Tcherepnin, Alexander Chesnokov, Constantine Shvedov, and others).
As the church-singing reform movement was being quashed in Russia, it began to revive in the Russian Orthodox Diaspora thus becoming a world-wide phenomenon. To be sure, it was not a direct continuation of the New Direction, if only because this style required a broad playing field, adequate supporting institutions, and large, well-trained choirs, which, for the most part, did not exist in the emigration. Nonetheless, the movement was sufficiently widespread to bring forth talented people, resulting in the creation of numerous new works.
The musical legacy of the Russian emigration in the realm of church music was multi-faceted, in many respects as multi-faceted as the emigration itself. For this reason, the program of today’s concert is not homogeneous, either. And of course, much material that was worthy of being included in such a program had to be omitted due to purely practical considerations.
Foremost among such omissions are the choral works of Ivan Gardner (1898-1984), a world-class musicologist who was also a chronicler of liturgical singing in the emigration. More than one generation of church choir directors in Russia have now studied his magnum opus, The Liturgical Singing of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has already been reprinted several times in Russia. Gardner wrote wonderful arrangements of ancient chants, and in that respect was the closest follower of Alexander Kastalsky. The program likewise does not include the innovative arrangements of Maxime Kovalevsky (1903–1988), who, together with his brothers, translated the entire Orthodox liturgical cycle into French and sought to connect Orthodox tradition with the early layers of Western European church culture predating the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. The program includes the work of an Orthodox Englishman, Fr. Ivan Moody, but could have also embraced the remarkable works of other Orthodox English composers, such as the esteemed Sir John Tavener. And so forth.
But the boundless cannot be embraced: Orthodox liturgical singing, we repeat, has become the inheritance of the entire world, and can provide material for a great many more concerts.
After leaving post-revolutionary Russia in 1925 at the age of 60, Alexander Gretchaninoff (1864-1956) first lived and worked in Paris, but with the outbreak of war, in 1939, moved to the United States. He actively continued to compose both in France and in America: of his more than 200 opuses, more than 120 date from after 1917. While in France, Gretchaninoff composed numerous pieces of choral music both for the Orthodox church as well as for other Christian denominations. At the same time, he began collaborating with several American arrangers and publishers, who adapted the texts of his works into English and published them for use by non-Orthodox American church choirs.
“Lord, have mercy” op. 107, belongs to an opus comprising four sacred choruses, composed in the late 1920s and published in 1930-1931 by G. Schirmer in New York. The manifold singing of “Lord, have mercy” is part of the special rite of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is served on the feast of the Holy Cross: after an exclamation, the priest or bishop, standing in the center of the church, gradually lowers the Cross to the ground in a deep bow, blessing the people (at which time the choir diminishes in volume), then raises up—“exalts”—the Cross (accompanied by a crescendo in the choir); the blessing is repeated four times, towards the “four corners of the earth.” Gretchaninoff undoutedly borrowed the drama of this liturgical rite from Grigory Lvovsky (1830-1894), the choirmaster of the St. Petersburg Metropolitan’s Choir, whose manifold “Lord, have mercy” has long been a staple of the Russian sacred repertoire and remains so to this day.
In the context of today’s concert, this hymn from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross symbolizes repentance—a plea for mercy and forgiveness for the sins of the past century.
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Alfred Swan (1890-1970) received his secondary and higher education in St. Petersburg and Oxford. In 1918, he participated in the evacuation of 800 orphans from St. Petersburg through Siberia and Vladivostok and thus found himself abroad. A friend of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nicholas Medtner, Swan lived first in London and then in the United States, where he taught music at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Swan became one of the first scholars who sought to reveal the essence and artistic richness of the ancient Russian church chant to the Western musical world. He wrote and published extensively on this topic.
In his choral works Swan frequently employed original chant melodies, composing primarily with artistic goals in mind rather than for practical use in liturgical worship. A striking example is the znamenny chant irmos “Razzhite peshch sedmeritseyu” (Kindle the furnace sevenfold), written in 1940 and dedicated to the memory of Archpriest Mikhail Ossorgin (1861-1939), father and grandfather of Mikhail and Nikolai Ossorgin, a dynasty of famous church musicians associated with the St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris. The rarely used text of this irmos, which speaks of the staunchness of the faithful Hebrew youths in the face of a godless king, was in all likelihood not chosen by Swan serendipitously; it is also not a coincidence that in more recent times this same irmos and the kanon of which it is a part was used in the newly composed service to the saints of Yekaterinburg:
Kindle the furnace sevenfold, until it is fully kindled, said the tyrant to the Chaldeans, and throw Ananias, Azarias, and Misael into it, for they did not bow down to the golden image but said: “We have a God in Heaven, and Him do we serve and worship for ever.”
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Boris Ledkovsky (1894-1975), a native of the Don River region, studied at the Moscow Conservatory in his youth. Joining the ranks of the Volunteer Army of General Wrangel in 1918, he evacuated in 1920 to Gallipoli, Turkey, and then to Bulgaria. He conducted several choral ensembles, both in churches and on the concert stage—in Sofia, Paris, and Berlin, then moved to the United States in 1951. Ledkovsky’s name is closely connected with the church singing practices of the two largest Slavic Orthodox jurisdictions in North America—the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). From 1952 to 1975, Ledkovsky served as choirmaster at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York, and at the same time taught church singing at St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary, making several fine recordings with these choirs. As a result, Ledkovsky’s works are widely performed in American Orthodox churches, and in recent years they are often sung in Russia as well.
The aforementioned historian of Russian church singing, Ivan Gardner, has described Ledkovsky’s works as having “a close fusion of music and text, connected with the liturgical moment.” Ledkovsky’s extensive compositional legacy includes both transcriptions of chants in a strict harmonic style and free compositions intended for worship and concert performance. Both of these directions are represented in today’s program.
The exuberant bell-ringing motifs heard in his “Christ is Risen,” which concludes the first segment of the program, proclaim the victory of life over death, light over darkness, and stand as a symbol of faith and hope, which supported both the composers of the Russian Diaspora and the vast numbers of Russian people who found themselves displaced from their homeland by historical circumstances. (An expression of gratitude goes to Elizabeth Ledkovsky, granddaughter of Boris Ledkovsky, for providing the manuscript of this previously unpublished piece.)
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Constantine Shvedov (1886-1954) graduated from the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing and the Moscow Conservatory. Among the composers of the New Direction he was regarded as one of the brightest representatives of the younger generation, already garnering critical acclaim prior to 1917. A characteristic feature of Shvedov’s style is the organic combination of authentic church chants (or chant-like themes of his own invention) with melodic elements of folk songs and polyphonic techniques drawn from uniquely Russian counter-voice heterophony. Shvedov left Russia in 1922 together with a traveling troupe of the Art Theater, where he was music director. From 1925 he lived in the United States, where he worked as a choirmaster, music teacher, and choral arranger for the famous Don Cossack Choir under the direction of Serge Jaroff. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, op. 40 was composed in 1935 for this choir, but for a number of reasons the premiere did not take place. In 1995 the work was recorded by the “Slavyanka” Men’s Chorus in San Francisco, under the direction of Alexei Shipovalnikov.
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Nicolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945), one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s favorite students, was an outstanding composer, teacher, and conductor, holding prestigious posts in the Mariinsky Theater and Diaghilev’s Ballets russes. In the realm of sacred music he represents the St. Petersburg branch of the New Direction, composing two complete Liturgies and a number of individual sacred choruses prior to 1917. In 1918, Tcherepnin became director of the Tiflis (Tbilisi) Conservatory, but in 1921, when the Bolsheviks took over Georgia, he was forced to leave for France along with his family. In Paris Tcherepnin was head of the local Russian Conservatoire and served on the Board of Trustees of the famous Belaieff Publishers. While living abroad, Tcherepnin composed a large quantity of beautiful music in different genres—operas, ballets, symphonic works, and the sacred-themed oratorio Khozhdenie Bogoroditsy po mukam (The Virgin Mary‘s Walk through the Torments of Hell)(which has been performed a number of times in modern-day Russia).
Tcherepnin’s Vespers, op. 51, which will be premiered in today’s concert, stands at the crossroads of two periods in the composer’s life: some of the movements were composed back in Russia (autographs of four of the choruses were found in the archival fund of P. Jurgenson Publishers, who did not manage to publish these works before they were nationalized in 1918), while other segments were completed in France, where Tcherepnin collaborated with the male choir of the St. Sergius Theological Institute and edited an anthology of sacred choruses. Music from two movements of the Vespers was used by the composer in the aforementioned oratorio.
Tcherepnin’s Vespers differs in many respects from the first complete Liturgy, op. 32, which he composed a decade earlier. But just as in that work, Tcherepnin easily transitions between “chant arrangement” and “composition,” between actual quotations of chant melodies to free variations of them. His organic grasp of the nature and essence of Russian Orthodox chant makes Tcherepnin’s music compare favorably with both Gretchaninoff and especially with Rachmaninoff in his All-Night Vigil. At the same time, the sonority of Vespers contains numerous passages where the texture is quite transparent, employing long vocal lines that soar upwards or into the depths. Tonight will be the first complete performance of this work in Russia.
Andrei Ilyashenko (1884-1954) graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a student of Maximilian Steinberg; Steinberg’s cycle Passion Week, composed in 1923 and based upon early Russian chant melodies, was first performed in Russia in 2016. As early as 1912, P. Jurgenson published several of Ilyashenko’s sacred choral works, which were distinguished by the transparency of their texture and the skillful use of counterpoint . During the Civil War, the composer found himself first in Taganrog (1919), and then in Kishinev (Chisinau) (1922). After 1923, Ilyashenko lived in Brussels, Belgium, devoting himself to composition and teaching. The number of his known published works is not large, but there is reason to believe that other unpublished works may exist.
The Christmas concerto “Liubiti ubo nam” (We should choose to love silence) was composed in 1922, using a paraphrase of the text of the Ninth Ode of the Second Kanon for the Nativity of Christ. The melodic content of the voices in many respects resembles znamenny chant, but no actual quotations of the chant are used. Like many composers of the New Direction, Ilyashenko composes “quasi chants,” employing melodic patterns and rhythms that are organically interrelated with the liturgical text.
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Alexander Chesnokov (1880-1941), the younger brother of the well-known choral composer, choirmaster and conductor Pavel Chesnokov, graduated from the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing with distinction. When the director of the school, Stepan Smolensky, relocated to St. Petersburg to head the Imperial Court Chapel, he invited Alexander Chesnokov to accompany him as his assistant. While working in the Imperial Chapel, Chesnokov continued his education at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, completing it in 1906 as a composition student of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. While still a student, Chesnokov became an assistant conductor of the Imperial Chapel Choir. From 1912 to 1925, he taught at the Conservatory (promoted to professor in 1919). In 1921 he was dismissed from his positions at the Imperial Chapel (which had been turned into a secular choir), and the Conservatory; deprived of the means to earn a living, in 1925 Chesnokov went abroad, leaving his wife and two daughters in Petrograd. The stay abroad was supposed to be temporary, but Chesnokov never saw his family again.
Following a brief sojourn in Prague, where he worked with the Student Choir of Alexander Arkhangelsky (after the death of the latter), Chesnokov settled in the environs of Paris. He taught at the Russian Conservatoire and at the St. Sergius Theological Institute, but was forced to supplement his meager earnings by working on various kinds of custom orchestrations and arrangements.
Alexander Chesnokov became known as a composer of sacred music for his Liturgy op. 8, published in 1899, and a number of hymns published before the revolution. Several sacred choruses were published abroad in mimeograph format by the Solodovnikov’s publishing enterprise; numbered among them are the Resurrectional Troparia “Blessed art Thou, O Lord” from today’s program. In Paris, a manuscript of an unfinished All-Night Vigil (numbering seven movements), dated 1927, was also found. From the composer’s autobiographical notes one can surmise that there were many more unpublished works, but nothing is known yet about their whereabouts.
Alexeander Chesnokov’s teachers considered him to be a very talented and promising composer, perhaps even surpassing his brother Pavel in terms of creative potential. Their lives, however, turned out very differently: while Pavel’s works have become fixtures in the sacred church repertoire, Alexander’s works remain virtually unknown.
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The paths of Boris Ledkovsky and Mikhail Konstantinov (1904-1982) crossed in Germany shortly after the end of World War II: Ledkovsky at that time was directing the choir of the Black Sea Cossacks, and Konstantinov, a brilliant opera singer who had graduated from the Kiev Conservatory, was a leading soloist in this choir; at one time he was also a soloist in the famous Don Cossack Choir directed by Serge Jaroff. Both arrived in the U. S. at approximately the same time—Ledkovsky in 1951, and Konstantinov a year earlier. They represented, respectively, the two primary “poles” of church music in the centers of the Russian Orthodox emigration—Ledkovsky on the East Coast, in New York, and Konstantinov on the West Coast, in San Francisco.
For many years Konstantinov served as director of the hierarchal choir at the ROCOR Cathedral in San Francisco. This choir, which in the period of its greatest flowering numbered forty permanent members, comprised experienced choristers who had sung under such conductors as Alexander Sveshnikov and Alexander Arkhangelsky, and in the emigre choral societies in Harbin and Yugoslavia. With the hierachal choir Konstantinov not only sang the divine services, but also gave many charitable concerts to raise funds for the construction of the new cathedral in honor of the “Joy of All Who Sorrow” icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. The construction of the cathedral was completed in 1964 under the leadership and spiritual patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose incorrupt relics now repose there. The Great Consecration of the cathedral, for which Konstantinov wrote “Kto yest’ Sey Tsar’ slavy (Who is this King of Glory), featured on tonight’s program, was held in 1977. (The manuscript was graciously provided by Vladimir Krassovsky, Mikhail Konstantinov’s student and successor as choirmaster at the “Joy of All Who Sorrow” Cathedral.)
Konstantinov has composed a Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and several dozen individual hymns and chant arrangements for the daily, weekly and festal liturgical cycles. Most of his sacred choral compositions have not yet been published and are awaiting further study.
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Archpriest Sergei Glagolev (b. 1928), the son of an immigrant from Russia who later became a priest, was born in Gary, Indiana. He began to direct a church choir at his father’s parish at the age of 13. While singing in high school and university choirs, he first encountered the works of Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninoff, Chesnokov and other prominent Russian composers: in the 1920s and 1930s, hundreds of Russian Orthodox choral works had been adapted to English text for use in non-Orthodox churches in Great Britain and North America. In 1948, Sergei Glagolev enrolled in St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, which at that time was located in New York City. As a seminarian he often visited the same church that Gretchaninoff attended; the venerable composer, who at that time was already over 85, would often drop in to the choir rehearsals. Fr. Glagolev recalls: “Gretchaninoff disagreed with the idea of imposing stereotypical German voice leading upon Orthodox chant, and preferred a return to the principle of the ison, with which our church polyphony had originated and which he himself used in some of his sacred works.” Evidently Gretchaninoff had in mind Russian “counter-voice” polyphony. This was approximately the time that his Liturgy No. 4 was composed, bearing the subtitle “A New Obikhod” [Common hymns for general use] (published in 1950 in San Francisco); while this Liturgy is limited to a four-voice texture, suitable for small parish choirs, stylistically it clearly belongs to the New Direction.
In the 1950s, as more Orthodox churches in America began to introduce English into divine services, the fact that there were no readily available musical scores in English was a motivating factor for Fr. Sergei: “It was easier to sit down and compose the necessary musical settings directly in English than to look for someone’s translations,” he recalls. During his twenty years of service in the English-speaking parish of St. Innocent of Irkutsk in Tarzana (a suburb of Los Angeles), Fr. Sergei directed all the choir rehearsals himself, while during services the choir was conducted by his assistant.
Fr. Sergei Glagolev composed hundreds of liturgical hymns in English. Having both a musical and theological education, he strived to achieve a close fusion between the text and the musical texture in his compositions. For models he turned to his favorite —Chesnokov, Victor Kalinnikov, Kastalsky and his “old friend” Gretchaninoff. Fr. Glagolev’s “Let all mortal flesh keep silent” on tonight’s program is dedicated to his friend and colleague David Drillock, a student of Boris Ledkovsky, who was professor of church singing at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary for more than forty years.
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Kurt Sander (b. 1969), an American by birth, first encountered Orthodox church singing at a wedding in a local Russian church, where he was invited by Larissa—a friend of Russian background, who later became his wife. At that time, Sander was studying composition at the conservatory. “I was certainly open to new sounds,” he recalls. “Yet, the way this music functioned was like nothing I had heard or seen before. In many ways it was a transformative experience in my life and my career. In the years that followed, my love for the faith and traditions of the Church led me to convert to Orthodoxy in 1999. From that point forward, the focus of my writing has been largely directed toward the sacred texts of Orthodox divine services.”
The setting of “A Mercy of Peace” performed at this concert is a Church-Slavonic adaptation of a work originally composed in English for a CD entitled “As Far as the East Is from the West,” recorded in 2011 by a choir under the direction of Peter Jermihov. This unique disc presents the sacred works of two contemporary composers from different countries and continents—Gennady Lapaev from Russia and Kurt Sander from America.
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Archpriest Ivan Moody (b. 1964), an Englishman by birth, first became acquainted with Russian Orthodox music while still in his teens, singing in a choir that performed the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by Tchaikovsky. Later, as a chorister in the choir of the Russian Cathedral in London, where the ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) served, he studied under the well known director of the Metropolitan’s Choir Archpriest Michael Fortounatto. During that same period, Moody founded the Kastalsky Chamber Choir in the U.K.—the name of the ensemble is indicative of his musical interests at the time. He recalls, “Father Michael placed his great knowledge of znamenny and other kinds of Russian chant at my disposal…. He would lend me piles of scores from which I would choose repertoire for the Kastalsky Chamber Choir. Inevitably, these chants, together with chants of other traditions, in particular the Byzantine and the Serbian, made their way into my own music, whether choral or instrumental, and became a fundamental building-block for my musical vocabulary.”
For his piece on tonight’s program the composer provided the following note: “‘Angel vopiyashe’ was commissioned in 2011 by the Kamerkoor Oktoich, and was first performed by them in May of that year, under the direction of Aliona Ovsiannikova-Voogd, at the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ in Amsterdam. It is built on a Russian chant melody, but very freely treated, with the intention of heightening the celebratory qualities of this joyful text. Because the context of the first performance was a concert illustrating the history of Russian church music, I also made conscious reference at certain points in the work to the style of Rachmaninoff’s famous All-Night Vigil (‘Vespers’).”
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As we mark the centenary of the events that led to the exodus of a vast multitude of Russian people from their homeland—those events that gave rise to the very concept of the “Russian Diaspora”—by welcoming back the sacred musical works composed abroad, we express the hope that both the “roots” that are sprouting once again on native soil, and the “offshoots” that have been planted in many parts of the world, will bear abundant fruits in the future.
Program notes by Vladimir Morosan (USA) and Marina Rakhmanova (Russia). Translated to English by Vladimir Morosan.
Click here for an extensive interview (in Russian) with Vladimir Morosan, Alexei Rudnevsky, and Nicolas Schidlovsky, including some audio from the concert, on Radio “Radonezh.” The program host is Nikolai Bulchuk.
 Gardner, Ivan. Bogosluzhebnoe penie Russkoi Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi: Sushchnost’, Sistema, i Istoriia. [The Liturgical Singing of the Russian Orthodox Church: Its Essense, Structure, and History]. 2 volumes, Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery, 1978, 1982.