The Divine Liturgy as a Musical Work
- Hi, all. Sorry about the inactivity. I hope this gets out to everyone
on the list.
When I first became involved in Greek Orthodox music, I approached the
liturgy as a "musical work," like an oratorio, cantata, or opera. All
I saw were "the Roubanis liturgy," "the Desby liturgy," "the Bogdanos
liturgy," etc. I even purchased recordings of the "Tchaikovsky
liturgy" and the "Rachmaninov liturgy." In Lansing, our choir
basically used the Gallos II liturgy every Sunday, but our director
used to substitute various Cherubic, Consecration, and Communion
Hymns. Some members of the parish council denounced this practice and
said that the music of only one composer should be used for the entire
liturgy in order to achieve "artistic consistency."
I found I totally disagreed with this and realized that my conception
of the liturgy had changed. Now I do not look upon it as a musical
work from the first Amen to the last. It is a service, actually a
series of services, of the church.
Even the masses written by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven were not
complete musical works. They were just the ordinary parts of the mass,
not the proper mass, which I assume used simpler music.
I now think that certain parts of the Divine Liturgy must ALWAYS be
chanted monophonically. It's a bit ridiculous to me to create several
grand, 4-part polyphonic Kyrie Eleison's for the litanies. These
should be simple, chanted responses to the petitions of the priest or
Similarly, any hymn that tells a story or sermon, such as O Monogenis
Ios, apolytikia, kontakia, etc. should also be chanted. The antiphons,
which have a verse-short refrain (trope) format should be chanted.
However, and here is where I disagree with strict traditionalists, I
think it is entirely appropriate for the choir to sing a 4-part hymn
at the normal "papadic" parts of the liturgy, where the music creates
an atmosphere while the priest silently performs his sacred duties.
Providing that the music is harmonically in the spirit of the tone of
the week, I see no reason why trisagion, cherubic, victory,
consecration, megalynarion, and Communion hymns cannot have 4-part
choral arrangements and be inserted into the liturgy between the
chanted parts. After all, the papadic forms of chant were once
innovative elaborations to extend the time of the hymn. Why can not
4-part choral writing also be an elaboration for the same purposes?
I also believe that the 4-part amateur church choirs of America would
benefit from not having to learn and rehearse a 4-part liturgy from
beginning to end, and rather concentrate on a few pieces each Sunday.
Of course, this does not mean we shouldn't use chant versions of the
papadic hymns. I believe they should also be in the repertoire and
I have just assumed the directorship of a church choir in Detroit. We
have instituted Nancy's plagal fourth (major diatonic) liturgy as a
base liturgy. I intend to add a first/fifth tone (minor diatonic)
liturgy, a third tone (enharmonic) liturgy, and a plagal second
(chromatic) liturgy to this. I want to use the minor diatonic liturgy
for first tone and plagal first tone Sundays, the chromatic liturgy
for second and plagal second tone Sundays, the enharmonic liturgy for
third and grave tone Sundays, and the major diatonic for fourth and
plagal fourth tone Sundays.
In addition to these basic chant liturgies, I would like to insert
some 4-part choral works for some of the papadic hymns. For example,
on eighth tone Sundays, I may use the Bortniansky Cherubic Hymn #7. On
chromatic Sundays, I may use the Maragos cherubic or the Desby Enite
ton Kyrion. On minor diatonic Sundays, I may insert the George Raptis
trisagion or Se Imnumen, etc. There is a long list of choral music by
many composers that would be appropriate.
Just because all the music was not written by the same composer, or
that chant and choral music are mixed, does not mean that the liturgy
cannot an uplifting service that sanctifies the priest and the people
and prepares them to receive the Holy Gifts.
- --- In email@example.com, "Stan Takis"
> Dear Dana and Fr. Ephraim:I think I understand. It can be hard to talk with one group of
> Dana, don't worry too much. I'm mostly just wondering right now.
> This is really from my conversations with Georgios. <snip>
people while one is checking his back, on the lookout for someone
As I mentioned earlier, I think that *in the long run* Orthodox chant
here will simply be called "American Chant", in the way that we speak
of "Romanian Chant" or "Antiochian Chant" (which are heavily
influenced by Byzantine Chant). In that setting, Georgios's "pure"
terminology will probably work well.
However, in the present day, we in the GOA must (IMHO) make
distinctions between what our "chanting" composers make, and what
our "harmonizing" composers make ... if only so that we can give the
faithful a simple explanation if they happen to notice the
different "sounds" of these two kinds of compositions.
Also, we in the GOA must (IMHO) make distinctions between what our
GOA composers make, and what other Orthodox composers in the US make
(in the OCA, in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and in the many other
For one thing, in the OCA and other jurisdictions that use Russian-
style music, they are using "harmonizing" music in a different spirit
than we use "harmonizing" music in the GOA. In the GOA, it's a
recent break from tradition and is seen only in the U.S. In the OCA
and elsewhere, the break occurred several centuries ago (in the late
1600s), and the resulting music was brought *to* this country from
the Old Country by the faithful in those jurisdictions.
As a result (I think) of that history in those jurisdictions, when I
follow mailing lists like OrthoPSALMS, whose members are *much* more
likely to be from OCA-type jurisdictions, the posts from people who
want to reverse their Church's use of "harmonizing" compositions come
almost entirely from the GOA. I've only seen two or three people
there who have been exploring or trying to revive the use of pre-
harmonizing chant in that musical tradition ... and, come to think of
it, one of them is an Old Believer whose Church never abandoned that
form of chant.
Which of course was one reason why you needed to start *this* list:
because the discussions among us GOA folks were bewildering the non-
So (IMHO) we need to be able to speak of the "traditional"
harmonizing in the OCA etc, and the "untraditional" harmonizing in
the GOA. Which means that we need a name for a "traditional" musical
approach, in English, in the GOA. Georgios doesn't need such a name,
but then he's not in the GOA any more.
> Also, I know it doesn't seem like it, but I have praised Frs.Glad to hear it, and thanks to our face-to-face conversation a few
> Seraphim and Ephraim's English work, among others, including
> Jessica and David Melling. <snip>
months ago I am glad to be able to say that I believe you!
All that I'm doing *here* is to offer some feedback on your
effectiveness in getting that across *here*: your good opinion of
them isn't always as evident to Folks Out Here as it might feel
like. :-) And, alas, the perception of Folks Out Here about that
could color their readiness to respond favorably to suggestions.
Yours in Christ,