Bortniansky is famous for two Cherubic Hymns. No. 7 is rightly famous for its ethereal qualities; there exist many professional recordings. The No. 5, on the other hand, is rarely recorded, but is widely used by small church choirs due to its ease of performance. Unfortunately, unless very sensitively handled, the Bortniansky No. 5 can come across as a choral waltz.
Dmitri Bortniansky’s setting of “It Is Truly Meet” has been a perennial favorite, but setting it in any language other than the original Slavonic has been troublesome, because the music is so closely married to the textual structure. I’ve sung English-language versions of this that made, shall we say, creative translations to work with the music, and I've sung versions that hacked the music to death to wedge an ill-fitting existing translation in. Here, I’ve tried to strike a balance, using the standard OCA translation and trying to keep phraseological repetitions to a minimum.
Pavel Chesnokov is one of the big names in late 19th and early 20th century Russian liturgical music. Depending upon his mood, he might set something from an austere chant tradition or free-compose a deeply-layered choral masterpiece. In this instance he took a simple chant melody from the square-note service books and gave it a very simple setting for male chorus.
Nikolai Golovanov was reaching his prime as a liturgical composer right about the time of the Bolshevik revolution, so his output unfortunately switched from liturgical to folk-music arrangements. Fortunately, he left behind enough of a body of work that we can appreciate his genius. One such work is presented here, as arranged for male chorus: his setting of the Cherubic Hymn. It’s full of suspensions and odd deviations into the Dorian mode.
Toward the end of the service of the Lesser Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God (the Paraklesis service), “It is truly meet” is appointed to be sung. As it directly precedes the Megalynaria, it is sung to a very similar melody, in the plagal of the fourth tone (called the eighth tone in Slavic circles). I’ve harmonized this melody and set it in English. There’s no particular reason why this melody couldn’t be used in the context of the Divine Liturgy as well.
This is one of my own compositions dating from sometime around 2004 or so. Certain Ukrainians have told me it sounds Ukrainian.
Many thanks to Kevin Lawrence for editorial advice.
Viktor Kalinnikov’s Cherubic Hymn is widely available scored for mixed chorus. In the canonical version, the sopranos and altos join in unison with the first tenors for the first half, and then full parts break out in the second half. However, handwritten versions have been floating about which turn this hymn into a pure male chorus score. I’ve digitized and edited one such version here.
I found this setting of the Cherubic Hymn on Boris Tarakanov’s Russian Sacred Music page. Unfortunately, it was a low-quality scan of a very hastily-scribbled manuscript. It had only two dynamic markings which seemed rather arbitrarily chosen, and no tempo markings. Additionally, it had several errors which led to horrible-sounding passages.
The Nilov monastery was founded in the 16th century on an island in Lake Seliger, northwest of Moscow. Over time the brethren there developed their own chant variants. This setting for male chorus probably dates from the mid to late nineteenth century.
In addition to his symphonic, operatic and piano work, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov also composed and arranged a fair bit of church music. His primary contribution to this genre is his collection of hymns appointed to be sung during clergy communion for all the days of the year. Most of these were based directly on chant motifs from the synodal chant-books. He also free-composed several cherubic hymns, one of which is presented here in its original language.