The Sounds of Russian Church Music

Most religions appreciate the importance of song in worship and such is the case with the Russian Orthodox Church. Filled with powerful harmonies of the church choir, resonant tones and subtle lines, Russian church music offers a truly remarkable listening experience. Many church songs in Russia feature the dense Old Slavonic language still alive through the Russian Orthodox Church. Since the fall of Russia's communist rule, religion has come bursting out of the darkness accompanied by its mystic sounds of music.

In the beginning of the development of church music in Russia the music was transmitted orally. The congregation would sing in unison also including certain elements of Jewish liturgical chanting, prevalent at the time. In the 3rd century AD the church created a system of melodies. Early leaders of the church believed that the use of instruments in worship would detract from thoughts of God and thus discouraged their use. Psalms, essentially a book of songs, was a major part of early worship. By the time the 4th century AD came to its end churches of the East were chanting the Psalms.

The early Russian Church later adopted the Byzantine chant, changing it somewhat with some influence from the music of pre-Christian Russia. The musical system of eight tones of the Byzantine Church is said to come from St. Johan Damascus around the 8th century AD. Whilst the Russian church adopted the eight tone system the tones are very different from that of the Byzantine ones.

A popular Russian chant is the Znamenny chant which is noted as being slow moving and incorporating long melodic lines. Hundreds of signs were developed to represent the music in written form. However in later years this system was replaced by kvadratniya noti or square notation. Still used in the Russian church is the Kievan chant. Also using eight tones, their melodies are still popular. At the start of the 16th century part-singing came to Russia. The following 300 years were marked by the westernization of Russia's liturgical chant. The 1800s saw a large numbers of composers producing liturgical music. Amongst these were Tchaikovsky, Bakhmetev, Balakirev, Arensky and so on. These however were not considered chant but rather fell under the genre of choral performance. The sounds of Russian church music can still be heard in churches, cathedrals and monasteries throughout the country.


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