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Following the recent thread about the Prokoviev’s “Hale to Stalin” I would like to pitch to the choral music lovers one more name.
Russian Orthodox liturgy mostly sucks. There was a dozen of Russkis composers who composed Russian chants: Totov, Grechaninov, Beresovsky, Turchaninov, Arkhangel'sky, Kastalsky, Vedel, Smolensky, Bortynsky and other…. and there were a few “Russian big boys” who did the same: Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka… All of them did more or less OK, but when you compare the level and the musical quality of thier liturgy accomplishments with what was done by the Western composers then Russians do sound like kindergarten compositions.
However, there was one composer among Russians who composed VERY interesting music and who saved the poor Russians from shame. It was Pavel Chesnokov – a greatest Russian Liturgy composer and choirmaster.
Pavel Chesnokov was born near Moscow in a family of Music Ministers on October 12, 1877. At very early age he began to sing at his father's church choir and reportedly he had good voice. When Pavel was seven his parents sent him to the Moscow Synodal Choir School that he graduated in 1895 with a golden medal. In this school Chesnokov begun to compose. After the school become a church regent and continued his studies of composition with Sergey Taneyev. During this time (before Russian Communist revolution in 1917) he composed over 500 sacred choral works, an opera, numerous romances and arrangements. Later on, Chesnokov entered Moscow Conservatory, which he graduated and where he became a professor. Reportedly, during the Chesnokov’s years in Moscow Conservatory he managed to release 2x78 records with his own conducting…
It was 1920, the Red Plague took over in Russia and Russia liturgy music for many years went to nowhere. Chesnokov still performed as choirmaster in Moscow public schools, directed church choirs, conducted and taught the Russian Choral Society, the Moscow State Choir and the Moscow Academic Choir, wrote a book about theory of chorus singing and chorus conducting. (As Russkies refused to publish a book about the “unnecessary church singing”, the American Sergey Rachmaninoff was asked for assistance. Today, many consider the Chesnokov’s book is mandatory for any serious chorus minded musician) Eventually the Chesnokov religion and personal disagreement with attest-centric Socialist government led to his withdrew for public actively and after the Bolsheviks demolished the church where Chesnokov was regent he stopped any composing. Pavel Chesnokov died on March 14th, 1944.
Unfortunately it is very difficult to find a good Chesnokov’s performance and there is no single CD/LP that would contain a good collection. Probably one of the best “single shot” would be an old Olympia release OCD 493 but now it is long gone. This CD dose not contains the best Chesnokov’s works, but it would give an idea of what Chesnokov’s music is all about, also it is well performed.
Below you might find an audio file with Chesnokov’s Psalm 120, performed by Russian Patriarch Choir.
To listen Chesnokov’s Psalm 120
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche