In 1976, the Orthodox Church in America published a setting of the hymns of Sunday evening Great Vespers in Kievan chant, harmonized and arranged by Boris Ledkovsky. This publication was allowed to go out of print, but there is some demand for it these days, as parish choirs seek to move to an older and more interesting chant tradition than late-19th-century Common Chant.
It is traditional that the Dogmatikon at Great Vespers be chanted in Great Chant (that is, slower and more melismatic). In modern choral scores, this is rarely accomplished; but the Synodal chant-books preserve the medieval Znamenny melodies for us. This is an English adaptation of these hymn settings.
Count Aleksandr Sheremetev was a musical amateur and lover of the arts from a wealthy musical family. He brought Wagner’s “Parsifal” to Russia and personally conducted its St. Petersburg premiere. He also composed a number of choral liturgical works.
Nowadays his setting of “Now the Powers of Heaven” is best known as a male-chorus piece, but the original seems to have been scored for mixed chorus. I have adapted it into English.
Aleksandr Nikolsky’s “Chants from the All-Night Vigil” is one of those treasures that almost nobody outside of the Russian liturgical music world has heard of. If you search on YouTube you can find a full recording of the piece, and a bit of Googling digs up a scan of the original 19th-century St. Petersburg publication in Slavonic.
According to some Byzantine local traditions, “Let my prayer arise” is to be sung in the fifth tone at all Wednesday and Friday Presanctified liturgies, but in the sixth tone in the first week, during Great Week, and anytime the Presanctified is served for a ranking commemoration. This harmonization is loosely based on the tone 6 version in the Greek chantbooks. The verses would be intoned either by the priest or by a chanter, with the full choir responding with the refrain.
Orthodox funerals are distinctive for a number of reasons, not least of which is the liturgical opportunity they give for the faithful to all come forward and give the body a final kiss before burial. There are a non-trivial number of verses appointed to be sung during this Last Kiss, all encouraging the deceased’s loved ones to weep and lament over the tragedy of human death. The piece presented here is one of the last of those verses, narrated from the point of view of the departed.
The choral composer Gheorghe Cucu is little-known outside Romania. He was very active in arranging folk music for a capella choir, and also produced a significant corpus of church music arrangements. He freely mixed Byzantine chant melodies, snippets of folk songs, and Romantic lyricism in his settings. Because he closely married the rhythms of the Romanian language with the rhythms of his music, it is difficult to set many of his pieces in another language. The short refrain of “One Is Holy,” on the other hand, was quite easy to set in English.
Nicolae Lungu was a 20th-century Romanian professor, choral director, composer and arranger. He was co-author of what is quite possibly the most accessible book on learning to read Byzantine psaltic neumes, and for this I am eternally in his debt.
This setting of the Beatitudes has existed in monophonic form in the Romanian repertoire for a long time; Professor Lungu harmonized it for posterity. The melody is traded between men’s and women’s voices, sometimes coming together for a unison phrase.