Lesser Known Varieties of Russian Chant

Kondakarian Chant

“Kondakarian Chant” is the name given to a chant system that flourished in Rus’ in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It had its own type of neumatic notation which is now only partly understood, different from that of the “Stolp” or “Znammeny” chant. A half-dozen books, the Kondakaria, containing this chant noted in its characteristic neumes, survive in various libraries.

Liturgically, this chant was used with the sung service of the Great Church, the “cathedral” service, and its disappearance seems to be connected with the disuse into which that form of worship fell in the fourteenth century. The melodies are elaborate, suggesting that this chant was the preserve of highly trained singers in cathedrals; there may have been a simpler, orally-transmitted counterpart for smaller parish churches, but about this we can only speculate.

The demise of Kondakarian singing left a gap in the chant of Rus’; the genre of troparia in the broad sense (including apolytikia, kontakia, and sessionals) was left mostly unprovided for. The Znammeny repertory does include melodies for some festal troparia and for those of the Resurrectional series, but these melodies are difficult, are seldom sung by Old Ritualists today, and may never have been widely employed. The text thus left without melody could be read in the liturgical recitative, or the resources of the Znammeny chant could drawn on in either of two ways: the troparia could be sung to the samoglasen melodies for stichera (but this was universally recognized as a makeshift solution), or they could be read until the last phrase of the text was reached, and that phrase sung to the melody for prokimena of the appropriate tone.

Full melodies specific to troparia, on the whole, had to await the arrival in Rus’ of systems of chant from other lands. The Kondakarian chant can be transcribed, at least in part; C. Floros has claimed a total transcription, but other scholars, while recognizing that he has succeeded in resolving a substantial part of the problem of transcription, are doubtful that even with Floros’s method it is possible to reduce the entire repertory to legibility. We do now have facsimile editions that enable the source manuscripts to be studied without difficulty.

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Put’ Chant

“Put”” Chant, with its own system of neumes, is attested in manuscripts from about 1450 to about 1600. Whereas the Kondakarian notation is an independent system of neumes, the Put’ notation is derived in part from the established Stolp notation or “kriuki” used for Znammeny Chant. In his pioneering studies, Azumovsky interpreted put’ (meaning ‘way’ or ‘path’ or ‘road’) to mean that this chant was sung by pilgrims as they walked the roads of Rus’, but this explanation is not accepted nowadays. The character of the chant is that of liturgical church singing, not that of wayfarers’ songs; in fact, this chant consists largely of elaborate and melismatic melodies for festal stichera, for the velichanii and zadostoiniki, for exapostilaria, and for other chants of the important festive services of the Church.

It is now thought put’ refers, to the “way” of singing these texts according to well-regulated melodies, not to a physical road. This variety of chant serves to add solemnity to the services of great feasts; lengthy melodies also often serve a practical purpose, namely, to “cover” long prayers said quietly by the priest, or actions of the clergy within the altar. Early varieties of polyphonic singing in Muscovite Rus’, before the great wave of Ukrainian influence in the middle of the seventeenth century, made use of the word put’ to designate the cantus firmus; to this a higher voice, the verkh, and a lower voice, the niz, were added. The varieties of pre-Nikonian polyphony have received a deal of attention since the fall of the Soviet Union, but some essential points remain controversial

The Put’ Chant was originally written in its own variety of neumatic notation, which contained signs shared with either the well-known stolp neumes, or with the neumes of the Demestvenny chant, or with both. Later it was transcribed into both stolp neumation and “Kievan” staff notation, the former for the use of Old Ritualists and the latter for use in the state Church. It suffered some decline in the Old Rite, doubtless because of the difficult conditions under which adherents of the rite existed, and more or less disappeared from the New Rite; earlier editions of the chant books published by the Holy Synod contained some pieces of put’ chant in staff notation, but in the 19th century these books underwent a sort of purging, still little understood, and many melodies, including those of the put’ chant, disappeared. However, the chant remains in use among those Old Believer communities that have been able to maintain training in the chant; it continues to serve what seems to have been its original function, to enhance the solemnity of major feasts.

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Demestvenny Chant

Just as put’ was understood by nineteenth-century scholars as referring to pilgrimage roads, demestvenny was understood by them to mean ‘domestic’ singing, used for the private devotions of households and not for church services. This idea has now been abandoned. This chant is not at all suited for domestic use; on the contrary, it requires trained singers and is applied to strictly liturgical texts that would not normally be sung outside of church services.

The word comes from Byzantine government terminology: a ‘domestic’ was an official of the household, doubtless first of the imperial household, but later used more widely. The ‘domestic’ of a bishop’s household came to be responsible for the more elaborate singing that characterized services at which the bishop presided; hence Demestvenny Chant is an elaborate system belonging essentially to such hierarchical services.

As the designation of a system of chant, ‘demestvenny’ is first mentioned in 1441, but only in passing; no explanation is given, so it must have been generally understood what kind of singing the word indicated. When did it originate? Was the Demestvenny Chant of the fifteenth century the same as that known from manuscripts beginning only in the late sixteenth? There is no way to answer these questions definitively.

The Demestvenny neumes, like those of the Put’ Chant, are based on the stolp notation; like the Put’ Chant, Demestvenny was also transcribed into both stolp and Kievan systems; moreover, books explaining the Demestvenny neumes were written, so it is quite possible to get an idea of the melodies from transcriptions. Only a few examples found their way into the Synodal chant books; the Demestvenny Chant is almost entirely unknown in the New Rite. Among the Old Believers, it had a mixed history. Since it is essentially intended for the bishop’s services, communities that lost the priesthood had no occasion to sing it. Among those that maintained the priesthood, some also maintained the Demestvenny Chant and others did not, but it does remain a living tradition to the present in a part of the Old Rite.

Thus we are not limited to written sources; the chant can be studied as a living tradition. Characteristic of the Demestvenny Chant is that it is not organized according to the eight modes. Here a distinction must be made: in the liturgical books, some texts are assigned to a specific mode and others are not. To the latter category belong most of the texts of the ordinary of services. In Byzantine Chant, even these latter texts must have a modal designation in the chant books, because otherwise the singer would not know which scale to use; the older melodies for the ordinary are mostly in Mode II, whereas later ones may be composed in any mode. In East-Slavic chant, almost everything employs a single scale, so the chants of the ordinary are mostly not assigned to any mode even in chant books—this has been referred to as ‘Mode Zero’ by some. The Demestvenny Chant belongs to this ‘Mode Zero’ category, and includes many texts of the ordinary of the Vigil and especially of the Liturgy.

In the seventeenth century, there also appeared a ‘demestvenny’ polyphony. In part, it consists of polyphonic settings of traditional Demestvenny melodies, but in other pieces the cantus firmus is derived from other sources. Here a fourth voice may be added to the three mentioned above; this fourth voice is called demestvo. Apparently there has been a further enlargement of the semantic field of the term.

A further complication: the Ukrainian and Bielarusian Irmologia in Kievan notation do not, on the whole, contain anything labeled ‘demestvenny’ chant, but one of the earliest and most important of these manuscripts, the Suprasl’ Irmologion of 1598-1601, does speak of chants in demestvenny style. While this manuscript has been studied by A. Konotop and by H. Pichura, it remains unpublished. It would now be desirable to have critical editions of both the Put’ and Demestvenny Chants, with the various sorts of notation in which they have appeared as well as transcriptions into modern staff notation, including the polyphonic chants going under these names. For the Demestvenny Chant, we do in fact now have a collection transcribed by Galina Andreevna Pozhidaeva (Demestvennyi Raspev XVI-XVII vv., Moscow: Kompozitor, 1999). And it would be desirable to have a good edition of the Suprasl’ Irmologion. Without works of this sort, our knowledge of the history of these systems of chant will remain somewhat murky.

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Other Varieties

In addition to the Put’ and Demestvenny Chants with their notations, there were various other systems of neumes that are still little known — Kazan notation, a “New Greek” notation, and so on. These are still obscure; their use was limited, sources are not numerous, and to the best of my knowledge they remain mostly unstudied.

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Strochny Polyphony

Strochny polyphony was a variety of singing in three voices. It was apparently distinct from demestvenny polyphony, and was divided into a Novgorod style and a Moscow style. It is particularly associated with one of the leading church singers of the sixteenth century, Vasilii Rogov, and was sung in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The polyphony itself is controversial; the manuscripts supplied with pomity (red auxiliary marks specifying the pitch of the neumes) if followed literally, produce a highly dissonant style of singing. Some prefer to accept these results as they stand; others believe that the pomity should not be understood as regulated the intervals between the three voices, and prefer to mitigate the dissonances.

The demestvenny and strochny polyphonies are regarded as indigenous ‘early Russian’ polyphony (Gardner’s term). It has been reasonably suggested that they are based mostly on Russia folk polyphony; but since we have almost no information about the latter before the nineteenth century, it would be a bit foolhardy to claim this derivation as an established fact. It is also possible that we have here an early influence of Western music, in which it became known in Russian that multi-voiced singing was used in Latin churches, although the techniques of such composition were as yet unknown; such knowledge may have inspired experimentation in Muscovite Rus’. Quite possibly the appearance of early Russian polyphony was ‘overdetermined’—the result of a confluence of several forces.

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Partesny Singing

This variety represents a new departure; I mention it here to indicate the end of an era. The demise of the kondakarian notation, as we have seen, accompanied a great liturgical transition originating in Byzantium and spreading to Rus’: the demise of the old rite of the Great Church, and the transition from the Studite to the Sabbaite Typikon, which became the norm for both monastic and ‘secular’ churches.

The seventeenth century saw another great transition, involving the imposition of the Nikonian text in the liturgical books, the introduction of some Western

influence into the liturgical books by way of the editions of Peter Mohyla, and the appearance of Western-style choral polyphony. All of these innovations were rejected by the Old Ritualists, who did not accept even the early Russian polyphony that had enjoyed some acceptance in the pre-Nikonian church. The partesny singing, unlike early Russian polyphony, was based on Western techniques of choral composition. Western choral polyphony had entered the churches of western Ukraine and Bielarus’ in the later sixteenth century, at a time when the Orthodox Church had come under severe pressure and was losing its natural leadership among the Orthodox nobility as family after family went over to Polish culture and Roman Catholic religion. It spread, not without resistance, throughout the Orthodox churches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and of course was cultivated by the Greek Catholic church after the Union of Brest (1596).

When eastern Ukraine fell under Muscovite rule in the middle of the seventeenth century, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and, before his deposition, Patriarch Nikon, eagerly embraced and promoted this innovation in Muscovy. The result was a radical transformation of church singing, a sharp decline in the kliros (chanter’s stand or psalterion) as a locus of singing and its replacement by the choir loft, and a dichotomy between the state Church (Patriarchal or Synodal, depending on the vicissitudes of history) and the Old Rite. Early Russian polyphony was forgotten until the twentieth century, during most of which the Soviet regime made research and publication difficult. Most of the published research on the old Kondakarian chant was done in the West. The Put’ and Demestvenny Chants, preserved among the Old Believers, were studied in the Soviet Union by Brazhnikov and Uspensky, and in the post-Soviet period by a new generation of scholars — in particular, the Demestvenny Chant by Pozhidaeva, the Put’ chant by Maria Bogomolova, in several works that have yet to be properly assimilated by us in the West.

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Stephen Reynolds

(I would like to acknowledge the substantial assistance generously provided by my colleague Nikita Simmons, whose knowledge of the Old Rite and of older editions of the Synodal chant books he has generously shared in the preparation of this survey. Any errors are, of course, entirely mine.)

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