The chant, or the city song (“artistic song”, “verse and music”) represents Ukraine’s musical everyday life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Appearing as an analogue to the book song genre in various European cultures, as a form of the lyric song of the Modern, and, especially, Baroque time.
The chant is intermediary between professional and amateur music, between the authors’ music and folklore. The subject-matter of chants varies: there are church songs (so called psa’lma), and also lyrical, dancing songs, songs of jest and parody. Psal’mas and solemn panegyric chants were influenced by Ukrainian church singing and Polish spiritual songs. Secular chants often betray their affiliation with folklore. Their texts use both the Ukrainian church (bookish) language and colloquial Ukrainian, with numerous Polish borrowings.
Ukrainian chants of the 17th and 18th centuries were mainly three voices stanzaic pieces in which two higher voices were sung by thirds, as in folk singing, and the low voice functioned as the bass. Having emerged the learned society, the chant spread very fast, especially among the scholars and students of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Chant singing was not only a favourite amusement among students but also an effective kind of income, to be earned: at holy days – in a city, and on travel – in villages and farmsteads.
By the 17th century the chant singing tradition had firmly been established as part of the musical life among city clarks, craftsmen, merchants, in the families of high-ranked Cassack officers, educated burgers and farmers; the fact is well documented by the marginal notes in manuscript chant collections.
Contrary wise, information about the ways of chants’ performing has been too scarce. Modern performers, encounter some difficulties, yet they also have wide possibilities for creativity of their own.
The most simple, natural and popular kind of chant performing was singing a cappella. Such scholar singing was described by M. Gogol, H. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, V. Peretz, S, Smolenskyi, P. Kozytskyi. However, later researchers of Ukrainian music (especially, Borys Kudryk) while pointing at the instrumental nature of several bass parts, forsaw the possibility that these could be played in the manner of basso continuo. Indeed, instruments did sometimes the chant performance, which is evident from the variations on the melodies of “Before Whom Am I Guilty?” and “Whosoever firmly Trusts in God”, in the harpsichord collection of Vasyl Trutovskyi. Hryhoriy Skovoroda also mentions chants as performed with instrumental accompaniment.
What did they sound like in different festive and everyday situations of the 17th and 18th centuries: among the young scholars, in a magnate’s palace, in a convent, at a Cossack officer’s court, in a tavern?..
Our second album from the “Ukrainian Baroque Music” series is an attempt to answer this question. Not only a cappella singing but also correspondent instruments have been used for the recording: positive organ, harpsichord, sopilka (a kind of recorder), violin, violoncello, bandura, percussion. Three voiced chant, in these cases, became the basis for the vocal and instrumental arrangement.
To render the spirit of the epoch more lively, at the very first episode of our tracking the ways of the Ukrainians chant we have used a little story from “Viy”, the short novel by Mykola Gogol. It colourfully describes the everyday life of the scholars/students in time of their work and leisure, and it was accompanied by the chant singing!
No less vivid in sounding is the scene from the students’ life as presented by “Today, Early in the Morning”, the 12 voices parody concerto. This anonymous piece of the 18th century seems to be a natural complement to our music collection.