Male Chorus

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.

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.

Many composers have made arrangements of various chant melodies for “Bless the Lord, O My Soul”, which is made up of selected verses of the introductory psalm from Vespers. The most common chant melody in the Russian tradition is the “Greek Chant” melody. Aleksandr Kastalsky made several different arrangements of this melody. The version presented here (in the original Slavonic) is for male chorus; it was recorded in 2008 by the St. John of San Francisco Men’s Chorale.

In 1893, Stepan Smolensky published an edition of the Divine Liturgy for male choir, including this setting of a traditional chant melody for the hymn “All of creation rejoiceth in thee,” which is sung in honor of the Mother of God at the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great (a service most commonly served on Sundays during Great Lent). It is presented here in an English translation.

Though Igor Stravinsky was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church as an infant, he abandoned religion as a teen, but rediscovered it in his forties in Paris, and remained a committed Orthodox Christian until his death in 1971. After the rediscovery of his childhood faith, he began composing spiritually-themed music to both Latin and Slavonic texts.