Bortniansky’s influence on Orthodox Church music

Author: Peter Broadbent

Performance: Three Traditions

Although Bortniansky really came from, and belongs to, the Classical tradition, he was a most influential figure on the development of Orthodox Church music.  Born in the Ukraine, he sang as a boy in the Imperial Choir in St. Petersburg, and followed his teacher Galuppi back to Italy where he studied composition.  On his return to Russia he eventually became the first Slavic Director of the Imperial Choir, and although he wrote operas and symphonic works, it is for his church music that he is principally remembered.

He performed Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Creation and conducted he first Russian performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. His settings of the Liturgy and the all-Night Vigil are complemented by a huge number of Sacred Concertos – the Orthodox equivalent of the Motet or Anthem. Some of these are for double choir, and he introduced some polychoral works into the Orthodox choral repertoire, all of which had to be unaccompanied.

The Cherubim Hymn comes at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful, the first part whilst the Great Entrance through the Holy doors – the central doors of the icon screen.  The “Amen” is sung in response to a prayer chanted by the Deacon, and the final exultant section is sung as the holy gifts are carried to the altar.

Bortniansky’s choral works were edited by Tchaikovsky, who himself wrote settings of the Liturgy of St. John of Chrysostom and many smaller settings.

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