St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Mariinsky Theatre Chorus Concert

Commemorating the birthday of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Liturgy of St John Chrystosom

A Golden Cloud once Lingered. Words by M. Lermontov
Legend. Words by A. Pleshcheyev
The Nightingale. Words by P. Tchaikovsky



The Liturgy of St John Chrystostom (in its first edition, The Liturgy of St John of Chrystostom) is a sequence of songs for mixed choir, Opus 41 in C Major. There are fifteen constituent parts: 1. After the Proclamation Blessed Kingdom..., 2. After the First Antiphon, 3. After the Lesser Coming, 4. After the Reading of the Apostle, 5. After the Reading of the Gospels, 6. Cherubic Song, 7. After the Cherubic Song, 8. Symbol of Faith, 9. After the Symbol of Faith, 10. After the Proclamation "Thine of Thine own...", 11. After the words "Especially for our most holy...", 12. After the Proclamation "And grant unto us that with one mouth...", 13. The Lord´s Prayer, 14. Communion Verse, 15. After the Proclamation "With the Fear of God..." All performed in Church Slavonic.

"I am very frequently at mass; the liturgy of St John Chrystostom is, in my mind, one of the most glorious works of art. If we take a close look at destiny, getting to the core of every ritual, then we cannot but be moved in spirit, attending our Orthodox divine service," wrote Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck. In April 1878 the composer wrote to the same addressee: "I would like to do something in the field of Church music. Here, before the composer, lie expansive and barely trodden roads. I respect certain of the achievements of Bortnyansky, Berezovsky and others; but their music reflects so little Byzantine architecture, icons and the entire spirit of the Orthodox liturgy! It is entirely possible that I will resolve on writing a Liturgy of St John Chrystostom in its entirety!" Two months earlier Tchaikovsky had asked his publisher Pyotr Ivanovich Jurgenson to send him the full text of the liturgy of St John of Chrystostom. And in May 1878 in Kamenka, he completed his grandiose choral work. The first performance of the music of the Liturgy of St John Chrystostom took place at the Kiev University Church in June 1879. Tchaikovsky was pleased that the premiere actually took place in a church, though this was the only performance of the Liturgy during divine service in the composer´s lifetime. In Moscow, the Liturgy of St John Chrystostom to music by Tchaikovsky was performed at a closed spiritual concert of the Conservatoire in November 1880, and subsequently at an emergency meeting of the Russian Society of Music on 18 December 1880 by the P. I. Sakharov Chorus. The public responded enthusiastically to the work, though press reviews were less consistent. Well-wishers stated that the Liturgy created a "prayerful mood", that it "held no non-Russian feeling of a spiritless organ", as church song of the West had been referred to in the past, neither did it have the alien element of "secularity". Critics, on the other hand, pointed to the numerous and, in their opinion, unjustified innovations. Someone didn´t like the fact that Tchaikovsky´s music did not resemble the typical works of Lvov, Bortnyansky and Sarti, others spoke of a lack of the Old Church style, and certain spiritual leaders were indignant at the attempt of a "secular" composer to create music of divine service. Following the Moscow premiere, there was a ban on performing Tchaikovsky´s Liturgy of St John Chrystostom in church, this ban removed only after the composer´s death. The Synod Chorus, which performed the Liturgy at the requiem service for the composer in Moscow, went on to sing it annually in memory of the composer, usually at the Church of the Great Ascension by the Nikitsky Gates. The same tradition was continued at the cathedral of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery where Pyotr Ilyich´s burial service had been read. These were services where Moscow and St Petersburg´s intelligentsia gathered in their thousands. In the latter half of the 19th century in Russia, Tchaikovsky´s Liturgy of St John Chrystostom was the first brave attempt by a major secular composer to create a completely new piece of music for Orthodox divine service. In this music, Tchaikovsky aimed to express first and foremost his own emotional perception of key moments from the service without trying to reconstruct the archaic. The music of Tchaikovsky´s Liturgy was the first spring swallow in Russia´s musical and spiritual renaissance at the turn of the 20th century.

The Nightingale chorus, to his own words, and the arrangement The Legend for chorus to the children´s song The Legend, to words by Alexei Pleshcheyev, were written by Tchaikovsky at the request of Fyodor Bekker, Principal Chorus Master of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. From 1888 Fyodor Bekker had been the organiser and director of the annual spiritual concerts for the Mariinsky Theatre Chorus. In January 1889 he wrote to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky requesting the composition of two secular choruses for the Imperial Opera Company Chorus. The composer readily accepted the challenge, and, just four days after receiving the letter, he sent Bekker these two choral miniatures, performed in a concert by the Imperial Opera Chorus on 19 March 1889 in St Petersburg.

The chorus The Golden Cloud Did Sleep to Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov´s poem The Cliff became one of the works composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as it were, "by chance". Between 1886 and 1890 the composer had visited the Caucasus five times, while his own brother Anatoly Ilyich was working in Tbilisi. It was during one such visit on 2 July 1887 to Borjomi that Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary: "Three strangers arrived asking me to write a chorus for them. Could one conceive anything more ridiculous!!!" However, three days later, the chorus to Lermontov´s poem was complete. No information survives on the first performance of the chorus, and the original came to Jurgenson the sheet music publisher via Мikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov from a certain Mrs Kaitmazova, at the request of whom this masterpiece was produced. However, because of the size of the royalties involved, the chorus was first published in Moscow only in 1922, almost immediately becoming one of Tchaikovsky´s most popular works.

Yegor Kovalevsky

Age category 6+

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