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Ouverture spirituelle • Eastern Christianity IV: Coptic hymns and Ethiopian chants


Coptic Hymns
Ten ou osht | Hymn to Trinity
Epouro | Peace Hymn
Shere ne Maria | Marian Hymn
Pekethronos | Psalm for Good Friday
Christos Anesti | Easter Hymn for the Resurrection of Christ
Pi epnevma | Whitsun Hymn to the Holy Ghost
Asoamin to Kirio | Communion Chant for Whitsun and during the Apostles’ Fasting Period

Ethiopian chants
Abatatchen Hoy | Our Father who art in Heaven
Tèw semagn hagèré | Listen to me, my Countrymen
Selè senè fetrèt | On Creation
Kèto ayqèrem motu | You shall not be spared Death
Man yemèramèr? | Who may Question your Word, your Dead?

Chants of Saint Yared
Meltan | This is a Wonderful Day
Amelales | Truly, and it is Right
Araray | The Lord Answered Job
Quen Araray | Holding the Sign of God’s Son!
Selam | May the Peace of the Father
Wereb | I shall give you my Peace
Mezmur | You Became the Dwelling of God


End of concert approx.11:25 pm.

Print programme (PDF)


Michael Ghattas, Conductor
Coptic Orthodox Choir for Sacred Music (Egypt)
Alèmu Aga, Bèguèna
Chœur de Saint Yaréd (Ethiopia)


Coptic music represents both the waning and continuation of ancient Egyptian musical tradition, in the sacred and the secular areas alike. To this day, two percussion instruments are used in liturgical Coptic music: triangle and cymbals, supporting, but never dominating the chants. For centuries, Coptic music was handed down only through oral tradition, and in addition to the melody, guiding factors for performance, such as sound colour, ornamentation and tempi were included in the teachings. Word accentuation provides the metric structure of the melodies, determining rhythm and musical accents. The various texts – Biblical texts can be distinguished from prayers and hymns – may be performed in various ways, whether by soloists or the choir, as responsorial chants or antiphonal singing. In its concert, the Coptic-Orthodox Choir for Sacred Music will present selected spiritual Coptic-Orthodox melodies and hymns in Coptic and Arabic.
The liturgical chants of the Coptic-Orthodox Church go back to St. Yaréd, who lived and worked in Aksum in the 6th century. After the Kingdom of Aksum fell in the 12th century, the kings of the Zagwe dynasty fled to a region southeast of Aksum, where the city of Lalibela (formerly Roha) was built as the “New Jerusalem” of the North African Christian people, offering refuge to the Coptic Christians in Ethiopia. Today, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox are the largest Christian family of churches in the Oriental region, with almost 40 million faithful. The North African vocalists are accompanied by Alèmu Aga, who plays the bèguèna, the oldest Ethiopian musical instrument, which, legend has it, is derived from the “harp” played by King David 3,000 years ago. To this day, the bèguèna is heard as part of religious festivities, but never inside church, which is reserved for the chants of St. Yaréd.

Motive Ouverture spirituelle, © Robert Mertens




Ex oriente lux: the sun rising in the East became a symbol for Christian faith – and remained a catchphrase even after the ‘East-West Schism’ had divided the disparate traditions of Christianity into a Western and an Eastern church. From the perspective of modern historians, this was not a singular event in 1054, but a process of estrangement stretching over decades, even centuries, due to increasing linguistic, cultural, political, economic and of course theological differences, culminating in the catastrophic sack of Christian Constantinople by an army of Venetian crusaders in 1204. It was no coincidence that the Eastern tradition chose to call itself ‘orthodox’ (literally, ‘right in religion’) – after all, it worshipped in Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Even the spoken word of God was music, and song its most intense augmentation: no instrument but the human voice was able to express the effect of the Holy Ghost adequately. This conviction, manifest in sumptuous choral works, was handed down to the various traditions rooted in the Eastern church, spreading geographically from Africa to Asia. Ensembles from Russia, Armenia, Greece, Lebanon, Egypt and Ethiopia will offer resounding examples of these different traditions.
Echoes of these can be detected in works like the large-scale Concerto for Choir by the native Russian Alfred Schnittke – in the anti-clerical Soviet Union in 1986, this was as much of a scandal as the religious fundaments of the music of Estonian Arvo Pärt, particularly revered in the West today. His musical self-discovery in the 1970s went hand in hand with his conversion to the Russian-Orthodox faith. In a sublimated form, the latter may have already been present in the Symphony of Psalms which Igor Stravinsky, himself Russian-Orthodox, expressly did not conceive as a symphony featuring sung psalms, but psalms in a symphonic setting.
The ‘Western’ programme of the Ouverture spirituelle mirrors the status of choral music in the Eastern church, especially in great oratorios written in the Catholic or Reformed traditions. Of course the tradition of beginning the series with Joseph Haydn’s Creationcontinues – conducted this year by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It reaches its contemporary culmination with the world premiere of Peter Eötvös’s dramatic Halleluja – Oratorium balbulum; classical milestones include Mozart’s Mass in C minor at St. Peter and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. While the prophet in Eötvös’s work is afflicted with a stutter, the biblical Daniel in George Frederic Handel’s fascinating oratorio Belshazzar suffers no such impediment: summoned by the Babylonian king – truly a ‘monstrous human beast’, characterized by a pig’s grunt arising from the orchestra pit – Daniel interprets a mysterious writing on the wall (the well-known ‘menetekel’) to foretell his imminent end. The victorious Persian Cyrus liberates the Israelites from their Babylonian slavery: he too, appears as a light from the East.

Walter Weidringer

Tanslated by Alexa Nieschlag

as part of the Ouverture spirituelle

As in previous years, we are grateful that the Herbert Batliner European Institute will cooperate again with the Salzburg Festival, accompanying the Ouverture spirituelle with academic presentations and discussions. Complementing the concert programme focusing on Eastern Christianity, the Disputationes feature issues of intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

The first event takes place on July 22, 2016.
Three rounds of public conversations follow as part of the Ouverture spirituelle.