Chants of an ancient Church

Chants of an ancient Church


1. Asperges me. Gregorian chant, 10th century. Soloists – Alexander Gorbatenko & Eugeny Mikheev “Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow. Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen”.

All the Gregorian chants of this CD are performed by the choral book “Gradual”, which contain edited texts and melodies of Gregorian chants that were made in the second half of the 19th century by the efforts of the Benedictine monks of Solesmes Abbey in France. The antiphon “Asperges me” is performed every Sunday when the priest sprinkles the congregation with Holy water.

2. In Paradisum. Gregorian hymn from the Requiem of 13th century. This chant completes the funeral ceremony. Upon conclusion of the prayers, the body is transferred into the tomb, during which the clergy sing the antiphon:

“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once a poor, may you have eternal rest”.

3. O Thou Who Coverest Thyself with Light. The Bulgarian chant. Sticheron for the Great and the Holy Friday. Eason by Alexander Semenov.

“Down from the Tree, Josef and Nicodemus took You, as you were being vested in Light. And seeing You dead, naked and unburied, they cried and sobbed their heart out, and said: Alas to me, Sweetest Jesus! And as the Sun saw him nailed to the Cross, it covered with gloom, while the earth was shaken with terror, and the Temple’s curtains were torn apart. But now I am seeing You, who took death willingly for mine sake. How will I bury You, Oh, my God, and which shroud will I choose to wrap you? How will I touch Your immortal Body with these hands? And Which chants will I dedicate to Your departure, the Generous One? I magnify Your Passions, and I extol Your burial and Your resurrection, crying: Glory to Thee, Oh, Lord”.

In the period of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria, many Christians fled, bringing chants of the Bulgarian Church to other countries; indications of the Bulgarian chant are found in Orthodox, as well as Latin, manuscripts. In the fifties of the 17th century, simultaneously with the Kiev and Greek chants, the Bulgarian chant settled quickly in Russian church singing. The chant is performed at the singing of the Synodal Lenten Triodion.

4. Cherubim hymn. The old Bulgarian chant. This melody is borrowed from the collection of ancient Bulgarian chants by the General editorship P. Dinev arranged in the "Neo-Byzantine" style higumen Siluan Tumanov (b. 1971).

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity, let us set aside the cares of life. Amen. That we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”.

5. It is truly meet. Greek chant of 15th century. Liturgy himn Mother of God. Refers to the last decades of the Palaeologus Renaissance. Soloist – Eugeny Mikheev “It is truly meet to call You blessed, Oh, Mother of God, more honorable then the Cherubim, and more glorious then the Seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, we glorify Thee.”

6. Miserere. Two charakans from the service of Great Lent represent the earliest variety of hymns of the Armenian Apostolic Church. They are present in the choral book «Sharkanotz» written by St. Maschtoz Mesrop (C. 360-440), who created the Armenian alphabet and translated the texts of Scripture and worship into Armenian and Georgian languages. In the translation made by Professor Mger Navoyan of the Erivan Conservatory, the text of these hymns are as follow:

"I live in misery because of a set of the sins, My God, the Bearer of the world, help me.
Obscured by the winds of my iniquities, I pray, King, Peace-giver, help me.
I hesitate anxiously in the abyss of the sea of sins, Good Pilot, save me.
Have mercy on me, O God, for to the One I have sinned.
Healing source, repeatedly wash me from the sins of crime and have mercy.
Deliver me from the blood, God, having power over every soul and flesh and have mercy”.

These two chants are of particular value, since in the Greek and Roman churches there are quite a few texts and melodies of the hymns of the pre-iconoclastic period. In the 5th-7th century, when oral tradition was very accurate, many monks and priests knew the sacred Scriptures and hymns by heart. In such an environment, the multilevel design (the text + a melody) was least subject to distortion in oral transmission. The earliest neumatic (khazy) notation of Armenian chants was introduced by Stepanos Syunetsi (junior), who lived in the first half of the 8th century - at the same time Armenian early-period hymns were recorded. A.Limondjyan (1768 - 1839) continued to record melodies preserved in the memory of the masters of the church art of singing, and N.Tashchyan (1841 - 1885) ordered the liturgical chants of the 5th - 15th centuries, creating the three main music books: Sharkanots (The Himnbook), Book of Hours and Liturgy. Finally, already at the beginning of the 20th century, Komitas (1869-1935) revealed the stylistic features of works of different epochs, restoring their pristine purity.

7. Before Thy cross worship, o Lord. Kartli-Kakhetia chant.

“Thy Cross do we adore, o Master, and thy holy Resurrection do we glorify”

8. Trisagion. Kartli-Kakhetia chant.

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us”.

There is not much known about Georgian church singing. Approximately in the 8th century, Greek church hymns of the later period were being translated, and since the Georgian Church, following Armenian, was Monophysite and until the 8th century it did not recognize the canopies of the Oros Council of Chalcedon. Khandzt, Shatberdi, Gelati, Ikalto, Martvili, Shemokmedi, and Anchiskati's monasteries became the most known educational centers of Georgia. Collections of church chants of the 10th and 11th centuries contain references of authors, such as Ioann Minchkhi, Mikael Modrekili, Ioann Mtbevari, Evtim and Georgy Mtatsmindeli, and Yefrem Mtsire. The early monophonic Georgian chants in the first half of the 10th century were written in neuma, and have survived to our time, but were not used in the Georgian Church.

Dating Georgian polyphonic chanting is not possible, as all of them were recorded only in the 70’s of the 19th century. When only a few carriers of the Georgian song tradition remained living, operatic bass, Pilin Koridze, sacrificing his solo career, began to travel the regions of Georgia. He recorded around three thousand old Georgian chants, ushering in the Renaissance of Georgian polyphonic choral singing. Already in our time, the imprecisions of his records have been corrected, in which the peculiar features of Georgian singing were brought to the standards of European sound. The modern reconstructions which we hear today is only a little of what was saved, and it indicates the height of the prayer feat and artistic level of the original creators of this singing tradition.

9. In Thee rejoiceth, full of Grace. Chant of Suprasal monastery. Liturgy hymn Mother of God by John’s of Damaskus (c. 675 or 676 – 4 December 749). In accordance with the manuscript of 1601. Decipherment by A.Konotop. This is a chant of the Western Russian singing tradition from the Suprasal Irmology, which dates back to 1601.

“In Thee rejoiceth, full of Grace, all creation, the angelic Council and the human race, consecrated the Temple and the garden Verbal, And Baby there, before the age of Almighty God. The womb Bo Thy Throne show. And Thy belly to expansive heaven to build up. In Thee rejoiceth, full of Grace, all creation, thank You”.

10. The Great Doxology. Serbian chant. The Hymn to the Vigil. This chant is from the five-volume edition of Stevan Mokranjac. How long ago it was written is unknown. The original is monophonic, but, according to the contemporary Serbian liturgical tradition, this chant sounds with an ison.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory. O Lord, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty; O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and O Holy Spirit. O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world; have mercy on us; Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord, O Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy Name forever, yea, forever and forever. Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin! Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages. Amen. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee. Blessed are Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. (thrice).

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge in generation and generation. I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. O Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge, teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. For in Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light. O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us. (thrice). Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. Holy Immortal have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us”.

11. Crux fidelis. Gregorian chant. This hymn is sung on Good Friday. During the reading of the Gospel of John, the "reproaches" of Christ are pronounced: "My people why have you done this?" Afterwards, the priest delivers the Cross for veneration during which the clergy sings the hymn "Pange lingua". Its authorship is attributed to the church tradition by St.Venantius Fortunata, Bishop of Poitiers, who wrote it on the occasion of the gift of the Particle of the Cross to Emperor Justin II (565-578) for the newly founded monastery in Poitiers. This chant refers to a few monuments of the singing culture of the pre-iconoclastic period. The text sounds like this:

“Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thine equal be;
Symbol of the world's redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee!
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle;
Sing the ending of the fray.
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay:
Tell how Christ, the world's redeemer,
As a victim won the day.
Tell how, when at length the fullness Of the appointed time was come,
He, the Word, was born of woman,
Left for us His Father's home,
Blazed the path of true obedience,
Shone as light amidst the gloom.
Thus, with thirty years accomplished,
He went forth from Nazareth,
Destined, dedicated, willing,
Did His work, and met His death;
Like a lamb He humbly yielded On the cross His dying breath.
Unto God be praise and glory: To the Father and the Son,
To the eternal Spirit honor
Now and evermore be done;
Praise and glory in the highest,
While the timeless ages run”.

12. Archangel Gabriel was sent down from heaven. Znamenny chant. The Sticheron on the Annunciation Mother of God.

“Archangel Gabriel was sent down from heaven to announce to the Virgin the glad tidings of conception, and when he had come into Nazareth, he thus meditated within himself, being struck by the wonder: O how can be born of the Virgin He Who is incomprehensible even on high? He for Whom the heaven is a throne and the earth a footstool doth find His abode in the virginal womb! He Whom the six – winged and many – eyed ones are unable to look at, by His single word was pleased to become incarnate of her, and the present is the Word of God! Why then do I linger and address not the Maiden? Hail thou, O pure Virgin! Hail thou, O Bride unwedded! Hail thou, O Mother of the Live! Blessed is the Fruit of thy womb”.

13. The Virgin today gives birth to the Transcendent One. Znamenny chant. The Hymn of the Christ’s Nativity by St. Roman’s.

“The Virgin today gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a Cave to the Unapproachable One, Angels and Shepherds glorify Him, and wise men journey with a star. For a young Child is born for us, Who is the eternal God”.

14. A strange and wonderful mystery I see. Znamenny chant. The Irmos of the Christ’s Nativity by St.Cosma’s of Maiuma (d. 773 or 794).

“A strange and wonderful mystery I see, the Cave is heaven, the Virgin the Cherubim throne, the Manger the Place in which Christ, the God whom nothing can contain, is laid. Him we praise and magnify”.

15. From my youth. Znamenny chant. The Anavatmi Resurrection Antiphon from the Vigil.

“Since my youth many passions have warred against me: but, my Lord, with your power help me and save me, O my Saviour. Ye that hate Zion, ye shall be put to shame by the Lord, as grass in the fire shall ye wither. Glory, both now: By the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened, and in its purity is exalted and made mysteriously and sacredly radiant by the Trinity in One”.

16. Thou wast transfigured on the mountain. Znamenny chant. Kontakion of Savior Transfiguration.

“Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, and Thy desciples beheld Thy glory as far as they should see Thee crucified, they might know that Thy suffering was voluntary and might proclaim to the world that Thou art indeed the reflection of the Father”.

17. I rise for you at dawn. Znamenny chant. The Irmos of the Holy Friday by St.Cosma’s of Maiuma (d. 773 or 794).

“I rise for you at dawn, who through compassion without change emptied yourself for the one who had fallen, and impassibly bowed yourself to the Passion, O Word of God. Grant me peace, O Lover of humankind”.

18. Today is salvation has come to the world. Znamenny chant. The Hymn of the Christ’s Resurrection.

“Today salvation has come to the world. Let us sing to Him who rose from the dead, the Author of our life. Having destroyed death by death, He has given us the victory and great mercy”.

The Znamenny chants which are recorded on this CD [Track 12-18], performed by singing books issued by the Holy Synod. These song books are translations of old Russian chants on the Kiev note prepared and adapted to the newly edited church texts by the commission of Alexander Mezenets in the seventies of the 17th century. One can say that these books originated on the same wavelength as the book Solesmes Abbey in France: the Synod tried to preserve and adapt to the modern notation of ancient Russian song heritage. It must be said that the authority of these books were very significant; it is enough to say that the majority of Russian composers of the late 19th to early 20th century used the chants of these books to create their own choral compositions, for example "The Vigil" by S. Rachmaninov. Most of the chants presented on this record can be traced through hook manuscripts of the 15th to 16th centuries.

19. Christ is born. Strochnoy chant. The Irmos of the Christ’s Nativity, by St.Cosma’s of Maiuma (d. 773 or 794). In accordance with the manuscript of 17th cent. Decipherment by Ekaterina Smirnova. Irmos of the Canon of Nativity is located in the manuscript of Odoevsky’s collection [РГБ Ф.210 №24 л.30-31]. Strochnoy chant arose in Novgorod: first came the polyphonic with two-voice versions of well known chants. A little later, they added a third and a fourth voice. Subsequently, with the efforts of singing masters of Ivan the IV Vasilyevich, string singing evolved to the level of musical theology – this chant symbolised the singing-theological ideas of the elite of Moscowian Rus. Like the architecture of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, where structurally complex medium and small domes are being built around the main dome, string singing is the main one and is written in travelling chant (one of the most festive chants of Moscow kingdom in the 16th to 17th centuries). Around this exists a musical fabric consisting of other chants and freely composed voices. This unusually prayerful and solemn style was common in Church practice until the end of the reign of Peter I.

“Christ is born — glorify! Christ from heaven — meet! Christ on earth is up! Sing to the Lord, all the earth, sing with gladness, people: for He is glorified!”

20. Psalm 103. Znamenny polyphony. The сhant to the Vigil. In accordance with the manuscript of 1680 [РНБ, Вяз. Q 243, л 1об.-6] scripture from the Novgorod. Decipherment by Tatiana Shvets. According to the liturgical tradition, it is performed by the reader. Soloists – Boris Petrov & Andrey Ivanushkin “Bless the Lord, O my soul, blessed art Thou, O Lord. O Lord my God, Thou art very great. Blessed art Thou, O Lord. Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Blessed art Thou, O Lord. The waters stand upon the mountains. Marvellous are Thy works, O Lord. The waters flow between the hills. Marvellous are Thy works, O Lord. In wisdom hast Thou made all things. Glory to Thee, O Lord, who hast created all!”


‘THE OPTINA PUSTYN’ MALE CHOIR. Alexander Semyonov musical direction

Alexander Gorbatenko – counter-tenor (1-11,19-20)

Dmitry Popov – counter-tenor (12-18)

Eugeny Mikheev – tenor I (1-11)

Igor Vozny – tenor II (1-11,19-20)

Andrey Ivanushkin – tenor II

Boris Petrov – baritone (19-20)

Victor Haprov – bass

Kyrill Zhukov – bass (1-11)

Mikhail Kruglov – bass profundo (1,3-6,9-11)

Recorded at St.Petersburg Records Studio in the Uzgorod Philarmony (1-11), between 2012 and Myrozhsky Monastery of Pskov (12-20), between 2010, 2014.

Sound producer – Alexey Barashkin.


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