Cherubic Hymn – Optina Pustyn Monastery

I’ve found another addition to my Music category here, it’s a YouTube recording of the Cherubic Hymn sung by the choir at Optina Pustyn Monastery in Russia.

Optina was an important spiritual centre which is returning to its former glory, and it was also connected to the 19th century spiritual renewal in Russia that was guided by the Startsy or mystic elders. The renewal movement continued into the early decades of the 20th century when it was extinguished by the Russian Revolution and the monastery was turned into a prison. The last hegumen or abbot was executed in 1938.  Optina was one of the first monasteries returned to the Russian Orthodox Church by the Soviet government in 1987 when “perestroika” began to end the persecution of religious believers which had endured the previous 70-years. Interestingly, the rebirth of Optina coincided with the millenium of Russia’s conversion to Christianity which was celebrated the following year in 1988.

Enjoy this one. (It’s sung in Old Church Slavonic)

Translated into English, the words of the Cherubic Hymn are approximately these:

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, 
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.”

The lyrics may be only 5-lines, but the hymn lasts for quite a while because the melody is drawn-out which also creates an ethereal feeling.



An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity)

▶ An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity) – YouTube.

We are about to enter the Christmas season, and the town of Hanley, Staffordshire (England) thought it would be appropriately festive to set up a Middle Eastern bazaar for their Christmas festival, to the point of even flying in rug merchants from Morocco, and offering camel rides. But it seems that the local residents there are confused, with many complaining that a German marketplace is more appropriate to represent Christmas time. Having been to Germany a few times, I can attest that the Germans really do know how to get into the Christmas spirit, and they are not shy about hanging out Christian symbols during the season. However, the Middle East is the historical heartland of Christianity and its people have an association with Jesus Christ since He walked in their midst nearly 2,000 years ago. All Christians are part of a faith with deep roots in the Middle East, as are the Muslims and the Jews. Although the Christian communities of the Middle East are diminishing in size due to the troubles in the region, there is still a significant Christian minority in the Muslim countries of the East. These people are almost invisible to Westerners who see and hear only about the Muslim majority populating that area, but their voices are occasionally heard as you may hear in the beautiful hymn that I am offering to my readers.

Orthodox Christians are about to enter the 40-day Nativity Fast which ends on the day of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. To all my readers, I offer my well wishes to you during this Holy Season, and pray that God may bestow His blessings upon you.

Excerpt: “But when one council announced that it will be marking the festive season by setting up a Middle Eastern bazaar the link appeared to be entirely lost on some residents. Residents of Hanley, Staffs, complained that the idea was not “Christmassy” enough and said that a wintry German market would be more appropriate. Some even claimed that the associations with the region would make it “Muslim” and would have nothing to do with the birth of Christ.”

UPDATE: Please pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering terrible persecutions this Christmas season, particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.

The full article was found at the electronic edition of The Telegraph (UK).

‘What has Middle East got to do with Christmas?’ ask residents as council plans camel bazaar – Telegraph.

The Great Litany

Here is another musical masterpiece from the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). This time from his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Sorry about the 30-second commercial, but you are given the option to skip it.

This piece can serve as a general example of part of a Russian Orthodox liturgy, but first a little background.

After the Roman Catholic Mass, the second most widely celebrated liturgy in the Christian world is the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom used by most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, including those of Greece and Russia. This recording is a fragment of the Liturgy as set to original music by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. This excerpt is performed in a liturgical language called Old Church Slavonic used by the Russians, Bulgarians, and several other eastern churches. This work was written by Rachmaninoff for a concert hall, but the Liturgy is still quite beautiful when sung in any form.

For those who are not familiar with Orthodox Christian styles of worship, it makes heavy use of chant in its liturgical practices. The Liturgy is typically sung or chanted from beginning to end. Russians tend toward large choirs while the Greeks tend to use cantors and much more plain chant.  Each style has its own beauty. Of course Rachmaninoff’s liturgy was composed to be sung in the Russian style.

What you are about to hear is the Great Litany sung and chanted in Old Church Slavonic during which the Deacon’s part is sung by the bass, the priest’s part by the tenor. The Deacon begins the litany by reciting a long list of petitions to our Lord God Jesus Christ that pray for our eternal salvation; for the welfare of God’s churches and for the union of all; for the faithful; for the clergy and all the people of the Church; for the nation and its institutions; for the given city and country; for good weather and abundant crops; for travelers, for the sick and suffering, and those in captivity, etc. The Deacon ends each petition with “Let us Pray to the Lord”  or “Gospodo Pomolimsya” in Church Slavonic. The choir and the people respond with “Lord have mercy” or “Gospodi Pomiloy“.

The Great Litany ends with a hymm of praise proper to the Holy Trinity, and then the prayer is completed by a final chorus of “Amen” from the people.

When worshiping in any Orthodox Christian church they say you are transported into another world, and Rachmaninoff has created a magnificant vehicle to help us pay a visit.

YouTube Video:

Sergei Rachmaninoff- The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, excerpt (1910)

Pink Floyd- Time

I remember how innovative Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was back in the day, a true masterpiece of psychedelic rock without the hard edges of the genre. When the guitar solo begins to kick in at about 4:28, it really makes this song. I never was much into rock music when I was younger, but I can appreciate good art. The entire album is pure genius.

Pink Floyd- Time (1973)

Nights in White Satin

All right, we’ll pause the news and commentary for a few minutes and interrupt with a musical interlude…

Anybody of a certain age will remember the legendary ’60’s band, the Moody Blues. Their Nights in White Satin (1967) was actually quite listenable unlike much of the drug-addled pap from the era. I remember being captivated by this song when I first heard it on (AM!) radio shortly after it was released.

Thanks to someone for adding a kind of Fantasia-like video track to the music.   This video appears to have the full 7+ minute song.

Rachmaninoff, Vespers

Vespers is still a very popular and widely performed work of classical music. It’s composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was the last (the very last) composer from the so-called “romantic” age of classical music who lived just long enough to see recording technology arrive. Considered the greatest pianist of his time, Rachmaninoff wrote symphonies, concertos, and several works of Russian Orthodox influenced choral music which include Vespers and his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Compared to other Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov, his artistic accomplishments are fewer in number as his creative energies were affected first by severe depression, and then by the upheavals of the 1917 Russian Revolution which forced him to flee Russia from where he eventually came to settle in the United States.

The entirety of Vespers was composed by Rachmaninoff in less than two weeks during January and February 1915 after which it premiered in Moscow on March 10 of that year.  It is considered one of the greatest musical achievements of Russian classical music.  Vespers is sung a capella and consists of choral settings of prayer taken from the Russian Orthodox all-night vigil service. The language used is not Russian, but rather Church Slavonic which is the liturgical language of the Russian Church and several other eastern churches. This part “Bless the Lord, O my Soul” is adapted from Psalm 103 in the Book of Psalms as found in the Holy Bible (Psalm 104 in the Hebrew numbering).

This particular recording is notable for several reasons among which is the fact that Vespers is seen as the greatest and last achievement of Russian liturgical  music, and it represents the definite end of an era. The Russian Revolution erupted two years later in 1917 after which public performances of religious music were banned for the next 70 years as the Communist government tried to erase religious faith by heavily persecuting the Church and its believers. As a consequence, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers was never again performed in public on Russian soil until after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

This very first recording of Vespers was made in 1965 by Alexander Sveshnikov conducting the USSR Academic Russian Choir for the Soviet Melodiya label. The recording was permitted for academic purposes and was never allowed to be released inside the Soviet Union. Despite this, word of its existence leaked out. The recording still has a legendary reputation, in part because of its extremely strong low basses, but also because of the solos by mezzo-soprano Klara Korkan and tenor Konstantin Ognevoi. The Sveshnikov recording was first released in the United States in 1973 on the Melodiya-Angel label. The March 1974 Stereo Review noted that Angel’s general manager Robert E. Myers “tracked down the recording” and “had to prevail rather heavily on the Soviet powers that be to make it part of their trade agreement with Angel”.

Vespers was one of Rachmaninoff’s two favorite compositions along with The Bells, and the composer requested that one of its movements (the fifth) be sung at his funeral which took place in 1943.

While listening to this piece, the second of fifteen movements, I’m always struck by the thought that most, if not all, of the choir members were probably non-believers. Now close your eyes and enjoy this masterpiece of pre-revolutionary Russian choral music. It’s best listened to with headphones to catch all the subtlety and texture.

YouTube Video:

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vespers (1915) 2nd Movement. Includes titles in English