Demestvo or Demestvennoe mnogogolosie: An Example of Early Russian Orthodox Vocal Polyphony

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Our colleague Elena Chernova has created a critical edition of the music manuscript Add. MS 30063 from the British Library (GB-Lbl). The ceremonial illuminated manuscript dates from the time 1685 to 1710 and likely originally belonged to the choir of the Moscow Patriarch. It contains the repertoire of the singers of the Uspensky Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The collector and engineer William Bragge (1823-1884) probably acquired the manuscript during one of his trips to Russia and brought it to England, where it was later bought at auction by the British Museum.

Elena Chernova has also cataloged this source for RISM. There are 200 entries for this collection, which mostly contains demestvenny songs (RISM ID no. 1001103373; RISM Catalog | RISM Online). The liturgical pieces of the all-night vigil are four-part polyphony, while the few non-demestvenny pieces are for three voices. Beyond this, there are also some liturgical pieces for other feast days. The neumatic notation is not written on a staff. The vocal parts are called Niz (“bottom”), Put’ (“path”), Demestvo (a more soloistic part), and Verkh (“top,” to reinforce the Put’). The vocal parts are marked by dissonances. Parallel seconds and fourths are common. The Old Church Slavonic song texts are written in the old Cyrillic script. In the records, a transliteration of each text incipit alongside the original is included.

In her article “The All-Night Vigil in Early Russian Demestvenny Polyphony (Add. MS 30063 of the British Library): Presentation of the Critical Edition” (Journal of the International Society for Orthodox Church Music 6, no. 1 (2022): 149-160, cited in RISM as ChernovaD 2022), Elena Chernova goes into more detail about this particular form of Russian Orthodox vocal polyphony and describes the basis of her critical edition, which is part of her dissertation.

We are proud to be able to publish these records.

To get an idea of how this music sounds, a demestvenny chant to “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” by the Chronos Ensemble is available on the group’s YouTube channel, Evgeny Skurat, director.

Image: Incipit for “Благослови душе моѧ гѡспода” (Blagoslovi dushe moi͡a gospoda), RISM ID no. 1001103406.

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