Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (CD)

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Chamber Choir USSR Ministry of Culture

‘I attend Mass frequently. The liturgy of St John Chrysostom is one of the most exalted works of art. Anyone following the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox service attentively trying to comprehend the meaning of each ceremony will be stirred to the very depth of his being. I am also very fond of evening prayers. There is nothing like entering an ancient church on a Saturday, standing in the semi-darkness with the scent of incense wafting through the air, lost in deep contemplation to find an answer to those perennial questions: wherefore, when, whither and why?’ These are the words of Tchaikovsky writing to his patron Nadezhda von Meck (who he never met), and he continued, ‘As you can see, I am still bound to the Church by strong ties, but on the other hand I have long ceased to believe in the dogma … this constant inner struggle would be enough to drive me out of my mind were it not for music, that great comforter, the most exquisite gift Heaven has bestowed on a mankind living in darkness.’

Like Rachmaninoff a few years later, Tchaikovsky had ceased to be a true believer, but he was still drawn to the Church, and was deeply moved by the music of the Orthodox Church. In his case, the conflict between the Church and his homosexuality must have added to his spiritual turmoil. However, he produced some of his most personal and moving music in this setting of the liturgy of the fourth century Patriarch of Constantinople, St John Chrysostom. Although the work met with a mixed response upon its premiere in 1880, this usually ultrasensitive and self-critical composer was not unduly concerned by the criticism. He knew he had produced a masterpiece, and commented that the performance was one of the happiest moments of his life.

Ukrainian-born Dmitry Bortniansky studied composition in Italy and later became the first native Kapellmeister to the Russian Czars. His choir was renowned throughout Europe. As a composer for the Orthodox Church, which forbids the use of musical instruments, Bortniansky developed a symphonic approach to choral writing that influenced all later Slavic composers and gives his Choral Concertos their absolute distinctiveness. Concerto No. 32 was beloved of many of his Slavic successors, including Tchaikovsky. The composer’s training in Italy equipped him to write these strong works, which remain admired examples of this unusual genre.

“Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the earliest sacred composition by Tchaikovsky and was written in 1878, at the time of his work on Eugene Onegin. This was recorded in the Cathedral of the Dormition, Smolensk. The performance, the acoustics of the Cathedral and the quality of this recording are all outstanding.” (Evgeni Kostitsyn, composer) “Even though Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John bears little resemblance to znamenny chant, a simple block-chord style predominates, although occasionally Tchaikovsky makes use of antiphonal vocal effects and there are passages that might have dated from the previous century in parts” (J.Murray)

  • Liturgy Op.41 (In Church Slavonic)
  • 1. Lord, Have Mercy 2:59
  • 2. Glory to the Father and to the Son 3:35
  • 3. Come, Let Us Worship 4:38
  • 4. Alleluia 0:38
  • 5. Glory to Thee, O Lord 3:20
  • 6. Cherubic Hymn 8:56
  • 7. Lord, Have Mercy 1:17
  • 8. I Believe in One God, The Father, The Almighty 3:44
  • 9. Merciful Peace 3:38
  • 10. We Hymn Thee 4:09
  • 11. It is Truly Fitting 4:42
  • 12. Amen. And With Your Spirit, Lord Have Mercy 1:18
  • 13. Our Father 3:32
  • 14. Praise the Lord from the Heavens 2:24
  • 15. Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord 5:00
  • Dmitri Bortnyansky (1751-1825)
  • 16. Concerto for choir XXXII “Lord, Make Me to Know Mine End” 12:58
    (Soloists: Irina Arkhipova, mezzo-soprano; Sergei Babeshko, baritone)