The song of old Russia

Автор: Maks Ноя 20, 2020

Since Russia was not Christianized until 989, the festivities that were held before the eleventh century were by and large pagan rituals, little different from the pagan feasts that had been celebrated for millennia throughout Western Europe before the coming of Christianity. The ancient Slavs—much like the Vikings, Druids and Germanic tribes—sang in gladness to celebrate battle victories, the coming of spring and the birth of male heirs; in sorrow they sang to mark mournful occasions. Their songs hearkened back to the most primitive times of man. Animal bones were often placed in a heap and the villagers danced round them, whooping, moaning and yelling songs.

With the official sanctioning of Christianity at the end of the tenth century, a dramatic change occurred. Those attending church intoned the liturgy in a singsong voice; they did not sing it because they did not know how. It was in the early eleventh century during the rule of the second Christian grand prince, Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054), that three professional Greek singers moved to Old Russia from Constantinople to teach the kind of singing that was practiced in the Byzantine Church. Old histories recount that the three Greeks came with their families and sang for the Russians, who regarded such heavenly sounds as “the singing of angels.” From those humble beginnings, the cultivation of vocal music developed to celestial heights in the coming decades and was then refined over the centuries that followed. Handwritten hymnals, all with Greek names like heirmologion and octoichos, contained volumes of musical notations for singing and celebrating the Psalms, Easter liturgy and all the holy days. Since the singers were unable to read and musical clefs were unknown, notes and words were depicted by a series of hieroglyphic hooks and lines. Thousands of these ancient musical manuscripts have been preserved into modern times, some written by czars Ivan the Terrible and Alexey, father of Peter the Great. Many have been deciphered and are again being performed in concert and in the Russian Orthodox Church.

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