Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
TCHAIKOVSKY, Peter (1840-1893) — Tchaikovsky's position among Russian choral composers was nothing short of seminal. Widely successful in the realm of secular music, Tchaikovsky influenced Russian Orthodox church music of his time in ways that cannot be underestimated. When he composed his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in 1878, the Imperial Chapel's censorship of church music was severely hampering the willingness of the rising school of Russian nationalist composers to write for the church. Tchaikovsky's Liturgy was promptly banned by the Director of the Imperial Chapel, Nikolai Bakhmetev, an action that in turn led Tchaikovsky's publisher, Jurgenson, to sue. The Russian Senate's ruling in favor of Tchaikovsky and Jurgenson broke the grip of censorship and opened the possibility for successive generations of Russian composers to compose sacred choral works without subjecting them to bureaucratic review. Although stylistically Tchaikovsky's music for the Liturgy was not in any way radical or innovative, the very fact that he composed new, freely invented music for most of the liturgical components shaped the approach taken by nearly every composer who subsequently undertook to write musical settings of this service, most notably, Gretchaninoff, Ippolitov-Ivanov, Chesnokov, and Rachmaninoff.
A few years after the Liturgy, in 1882, Tchaikovsky again broke new ground with his All-Night Vigil, op. 52, becoming the first major Russian composer to draw upon the traditional unison chants of the Russian Orthodox Church as the basis for composing an entire liturgical cycle. Again, Tchaikovsky's polyphonic treatment of the pre-existing chant material was in no way extraordinary, but his recognition of this long-neglected wellspring of national Russian melos made a mark. It is hardly coincidental that more than 30 years later, Sergei Rachmaninoff used many of the very same chant melodies in his monumental All-Night Vigil. op. 37.
After his two major liturgical cycles, Tchaikovsky, encouraged by Emperor Alexander III himself to write more sacred music, produced ten more liturgical choruses in which he pioneered some additional compositional and stylistic traits that would come to characterize the "new Russian choral school" of the early twentieth century: rich, and colorful choral textures with divisi, the invention of quasi-chant melodies, and the use of chant-like motives in melodic part-writing.
By virtue of his stature as a Russian musician, Tchaikovsky was contributed to the course of Russian church music in other ways. In the years between his Liturgy and Vigil, he edited the complete sacred choral works of Dmitry Bortniansky (1751-1825) for Jurgenson's Publishing House. He compiled A Concise Textbook of Harmony Intended to Facilitate the Reading of Sacred Musical Works in Russia (1875). And, perhaps most significantly, as a member of the Supervisory Council of the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, he secured the appointments of his students, the choral conductor Vasily Orlov (1858-1907) and the composer Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1926), to faculty positions at that institution. Together with the musicologist Stepan Smolensky (1848-1909), Orlov and Kastalsky, following Tchaikovsky's precepts, would shape the Moscow Synodal School and its Choir into a crucible for the creation and nurturing of one of the largest and substantive bodies of sacred choral music in modern times.
Tchaikovsky's contributions to secular choral repertoire cannot be overlooked, either. In addition to the extensive and vivid use of choruses in his numerous operas, he composed several occasional cantatas (the most prominent of which is Moscow, written in 1883 for the coronation of Alexander III), and several part songs for mixed, women's, and men's choir.
The Angel Cried
Church Choir of "Joy of All the Sorrowful"
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