Part-singing, partesnyi spiv (from Lat. partes), is the Ukrainian church singing of many voices. It was introduced at the end of the 16th century taking the place of monody and 2- or 3-voice neuma singing, so-called strochnyi spiv. Its appearance was caused by the spreading of humanist and Renaissance ideas in Ukrainian lands, by influences of the Western church music. It also was a reaction to confrontation between the Ukrainian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Churches. The new style of singing – solemn, expressive and colourful – was opposed to the magnificent beauty of music in Catholic temples. Due to the openness and tolerance of Ukrainian culture to external influences, it was introduced actively and naturally.
The part-singing of the 17th and 18th centuries made up an entire epoch in the Ukrainian music history, which was remarkable for its high artistic accomplishments and associated with such composers as Mykola Dyletskyi, Symeon Pekalytskyi, Ivan Kalenda, Ivan Domaratskyi and many more, also anonymous, authors. Beside the liturgy, the part-singing style helped to form other sacred and, later, secular music genres.
The most popular one was the concerto: this one-movement work, modeled after the Western motet, was established in the 17th century. Each part-singing concerto was intended for a fixed day of the church year; like in the motets, their subject-matter was mostly repentance. Beside this calendar music, there were solemn, glorifying concertos composed for special occasions, celebrating famous events or persons.
The 12-voice concerto of the first part of the 18th century belongs to the most representative genres of the Ukrainian Baroque culture. Along with other high style phenomena in literature, icon painting or architecture (the so-called “Cossack Baroque”), the church choral concerto became an epitome of exaltation and monumentalism, pathos and expressiveness that, being derivative of the Baroque world-view, were also reflections of the tragic events in Ukraine of the late 17th and early 18th centuries (“the epoch of Ruin”).
Such concertos are, for the most part, sorrowfully dramatic compositions, predominated with repentance and eschatology motifs (the end of the world, the Doomsday). Rhetorical pathos and emotionality of the wording make the author’s presence well-pronounced.
The musical style is original, expressive and exciting. It is still somewhat dependent upon the Italian manner, assimilated through the works of Polish composers: there are repeating patterns of 2- and 3-beat bars, multichorality, alterations of soli and tutti, figures of musical rhetorics. At the same time, there are vivid national features originating in the early tradition of monodic singing, in folk songs and Ukrainian chants (kanty). The absence of instrumental accompaniment is compensated by the dense, multivoiced texture that results is specific, organ-like sounding.
Recorded on this CD are seven 12-voice concertos that are typical for their times and represent a whole continent of music, with thousands of examples, mostly by anonymous composers. They belong to different, mostly non-liturgical, genres that were based on biblical or liturgical texts.
The Church Slavonic language of the texts is presented in Ukrainian pronunciation. This corresponds to the actual practice of the early 18th century when the scholastic Ukrainian was essentially influenced by the wernacular, and more in the way of phonetics than grammar.
The text of “Adam sat at the gate of Paradise” comes from the Irmologion’s Lent songs. It is the sticheron for “Call to God” (“Hospody vozzvakh”), tone 6, being sung on the Shrove Sunday, at the Vespers. Different versions of this text, set to music, gave rise to the so-called “Adam’s laments”, or psalms. Beside being used in everyday life of churches and monasteries, the psalms also entered the repertoires of kobzari and lirnyky (Ukrainian folk bards), and thus were adopted by the “low” Baroque culture. Influence of such songs is noticeable in the melodics of this concerto. Its form is based up on the interchange of some ensemble passages; the only developed tutti is the very expressive passage, “I that was tempted by the Evil One”.
“I cried by reason of mine affliction”. The music of this concerto was composed for the text taken from the second chapter of the Book of Jonah the prophet. Even among concertos of its kind this one is conspicuous for the peculiarities of its structure and musical language. Its one-movement composition consists of four contrasting passages: the sorrowful and dramatic “I cried by reason of mine affliction”, the mystically enlightened “And he heard me”, the imploring “For thou hadst cast me”, the solemn and triumphal “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving”.
“My time of life coming to an end” was composed for a text from the Prayer Canon of Kyrylo Turovskyi. The global eschatological theme is complemented here by more personal repentance motifs. The choir staff is rather unusual: there are four parts for each of the voices — boy soprano, tenor and bass. Low-voice ensembles — basses and tenors or four basses — often are heard in solo passages. The concerto has been recorded in the three-part mixed choir version.
“O woe is me, a sinning man” is the text formula that is often found in the church music scripts of the time, in the repentance pieces of different forms — concertos, chants, psalms. Its musical correlative, the falling-down “repentance motif”, also became a typical formula in the contemporary church music. The author of this concerto is a master in building up the musical form, a virtuoso in operating the means of contrast when he opposes the groups of soloists to the choral tutti, or the flat tonalities to the sharp ones. The unexpected major colouring lends a special expressiveness to the dramatic text.
“Having been born blind” is the sticheron for “Call to God” (“Hospody vozzvakh”), and is sung on the Sunday of the Blind, at the Vespers. Most important in this concerto are solo sections with the three-voice chant singing; they lend the chamber-like, more private character to the author’s narrative. The dynamic sequences of the choral tutti are associated with the Italian music manner. General colouring of the concerto is dark, in correspondence with the contents.
“I weep and cry” is the sticheron sung at a layperson’s funeral, tone 8. During the 17th and 18th centuries many part-singing compositions were based on this text. This 12-voice choral concerto of the first half of the 18th century, from the Kyivan Sophia Cathedral collection, is the most elaborated in the collection and the largest one among all thouse extant. Despite the funeral mood the author does not shun bright effects. Calm solos are often interrupted with “cries” of the choral tutti, like in the passages “When I contemplate death”, “That we should undergo this mystery”, and others.
No less expressive is the next concerto, “Here I lie” (verse by John Damascene; the sticheron is sung at the funerals of prelates, tone 3). The rhetoric devices are very ostensible here. We can here long melodious “chains” accompanying the words “and the hands are tied”; or harmonic “tangles”, upon “and the feet entwined”; or dramatic choral “cries”, upon “lament”, while the figure of “flapping”, in the boy soprano and alto part, supports the phrase “and with the righteous”, etc. The general musical colouring is not at all tragic, owing to the equilibrium of minor and major, and to brisk, even virtuosic, vocal parts. The music of the concerto picturesquely embodies the sorrowful mood, out of which a lucent hope is being born: “that on the Judgement day I may find grace and death with the righteous”.