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Ouverture spirituelle • Eastern Christianity I: Sacred choral music from Russia


TSAR IVAN IV Fragment from the Sticheron on the occasion of the Feast of the Icon of the Mother of God by Vladimir, in the style of the “putyevoy raspyev”

MONK CHRISTOPHOR Russian Passion (Fragment) from a manuscript dated 1604 (edited by Albina Kruchinina)

ANONYMOUS Three Old Russian Hymns
"Praise the Lord, my Soul" (Psalm 103)
"Dignus est"
"Holy is the Lord" (edited by M.Brahnikov)

GEORGY SVIRIDOV Three Monasterial Stichera for Male Choir from Religious Chants and Prayers
"Morning Song"
"Hymn on the Publican and the Pharisee"
"Lord, I cry to You"

STEPAN DEGTYARYOV From the Easter Matins: "Today every creature rejoices"

MAXIM BEREZOVSKY "Do not abandon me in the days of my dotage" (Psalm 71.9-11), Sacred Concerto for Choir

DMITRI BORTNYANSKY Concert for choir No. 3: “Lord, in your Power the King rejoices” (Psalm 21.1-5)

ALEXANDER ARCHANGELSKY “Lord, hear my prayer” (Psalm 102.1-2)
“I believe“

GEORGY SVIRIDOV “Holy Love” from the incidental music for Alexey K. Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich using words by an unknown author of the 16th century

SERGE RACHMANINOFF “Nunc dimittis” from The All-Night Vigil Op. 37

PAVEL G. CHESNOKOV “Yea, my prayer rises up“ (Psalm 141), “My soul doth magnify the Lord“

ZORAN MULIĆ „Dignus est“



End of concert approx. 10:40 pm.

Print programme (PDF)


Vladislav Chernushenko, Conductor
Chorus of the State Music Ensemble St Petersburg

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.