Lost Russian Passion Week Cycle , Opus 13, by Maximilian Steinberg to debut 90 years after composition

Crucifixion by Lynette Hull

Living in a University town offers many benefits.  One of the most delightful is meeting Orthodox scholars from all over the world.  It was my pleasure to meet Alexander Lingas, the author of the following article.  

 Knowing of Father Dan Skvir’s love of music, his discovery of a long forgotten piece of music and its subsequent performance is a tribute to Fr. Dan and Matuska Tamara’s continued faithfulness to the Orthodox community both in Princeton and beyond its gates.

Passion Week, Opus 13 by Maximilian Steinberg (1883–1946):
The Recovery of a Neglected Musical Contribution to the Russian Religious Renaissance

Maximilian Steiner

Maximilian Steinberg

Alexander Lingas, City University London & EHRC, University of Oxford

 

Historical Introduction

Historians of Orthodoxy have charted the emergence of a ‘Russian Religious Renaissance’ out of the so-called ‘Silver Age’ of Russia, the culturally fruitful but politically turbulent decades immediately prior to the Bolshevik takeover in 1917. This movement encompassed a broad range of efforts aimed at various forms of spiritual, ecclesial, cultural and national renewal within the traditions of Slavic Orthodoxy. Its creative and often eclectic use of diverse ancient and modern sources overlapped with such other contemporary cultural phenomena as pan-Slavism and, thanks in part to the brilliance and productivity of Russian intellectuals living in Western exile, its effects continued to be felt well into the Soviet period.

Manifestations of this renewal movement in the fields of theology, philosophy, literature and visual art have received significant (if far from exhaustive) scholarly attention. In English the foundational survey is Nicolas Zernov’s The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (1963), supplemented in recent years by an increasing number of specialised studies treating particular figures or areas of activity.[1] Among the latter are chronicles of attempts made in Late Imperial Russia to revitalise the life of the Orthodox Church through institutional reforms pursued at levels ranging from the parochial to the national.[2]

In recent years the All-Night Vigil, Opus 37 by Sergei Rachmaninoff has become a cornerstone of the (non-Orthodox) choral mainstream, but outside of a small corner of academic musicology it is seldom considered in depth as a product of the Russian Religious Renaissance. Nevertheless, some years ago Vladimir Morosan had sketched out the historical development of what fairly might be described as its musical analogue: the ‘New Russian Choral School’. [3] This came about during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when an influential and productive group of Russian Orthodox churchmen, composers and conductors found inspiration for the creative renewal of church music in Slavonic monophonic chant and native traditions of polyphonic singing, both historic and living.

Morosan located the foundations of the New Russian Choral School in the 1860s, a decade marked not only by the freeing of the serfs in 1861 but also the relaxation of restrictions on public concerts of sacred music. Concerts, according to Morosan, facilitated not only the growth of a widespread culture of choral singing, but also encouraged composers to create musical settings of religious texts according to criteria that were to some degree independent of particular pastoral or liturgical considerations. He then attributed the consolidation of the New Russian Choral School to significant individual initiatives and institutional changes of the 1880s, among which were the publication of Peter Tchaikovsky’s liturgical works, ‘the appointment in 1883 of Mily Balakirev and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to head the Imperial Chapel’, and the ‘reform in 1886 of the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, together with the appointment of Vasily Orlov as the chief conductor of the Synodal Choir, and the appointment of three years later of Stepan Smolensky (1848–1909) as the School’s director’.[4]

Alliances with contemporary liturgiology and musicology conditioned the subsequent progress of the New Russian Choral School, which reached its apogee prior to 1917 in the work of such associates of the Moscow Synodal School as Smolensky, Rachmaninoff, Alexander Grechaninoff (1864–1956) and Alexander Kastalsky (1856–1926). These composers crafted musical syntheses of innovation and tradition that were technically more assured and aesthetically more satisfying than the experimental modal harmonisations produced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov during the 1880s.[5] In their works one regularly finds seemingly contradictory styles reconciled: traditional chant motives set to late Romantic harmonies, for example, or imitative counterpoint—the sixteenth-century Western style of part-writing then being revived in the Roman Catholic West by the Caecilian Movement with its exaltation of Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina[6]—dissolving into polyphonic textures redolent of Russian folk music in their parallelisms and open sonorities.

The Moscow Synodal Choir was dispersed within less than a year after the Communist takeover of Russia. Elements of its educational infrastructure persisted for a while as a People’s Choir Academy, within which Kastalsky and a few other members of its staff led a twilight existence cultivating secular and folk music, before it too was abolished and its remnants absorbed into the Moscow Conservatoire. Under these circumstances, open and direct continuation of the Russian Religious Renaissance in the field of sacred music could only be pursued outside the Soviet Union. Thus we find amongst the Russian emigration of Europe and America a variety of efforts to resume and disseminate the work of the New Russian Choral School: vocal ensembles singing the pre-Revolutionary repertoire in both Orthodox worship and concerts, editions of music aimed at the non-Orthodox with translations or paraphrases of the original Church Slavonic texts, new compositions in quasi-Kastalskian styles, and the continuation of pre-Revolutionary scholarship on Orthodox liturgical singing.[7]

 

A Coffee-Hour Surprise

Having become familiar with the history of the New Russian Choral School through my work as a scholar and practitioner of Orthodox liturgy and music, I was surprised in the autumn of 2012 when Fr Daniel and Matushka Tamara Skvir of Princeton, New Jersey presented me with the musical score of what was to me an unknown work reflecting the ideals of the Russian Religious Renaissance. This occurred when I was attending Orthodox services at Princeton University’s Chapel of the Transfiguration whilst in residence at Princeton University for a semester pursuing research on Byzantine chant as a Fellow in Hellenic Studies. Having learned that I had recently conducted Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil with Cappella Romana, the ensemble I founded in 1991 and with whom I was soon also to conduct his setting of the Divine Liturgy, the Skvirs described to me a virtually unknown chant-based work composed on a comparably grand scale: the Passion Week (Страстная Седмица), Opus 13, a setting of hymns for Holy Week by Maximilian Oseyevich Steinberg (1883–1946).[8]  Steinberg was born into a Jewish family in Vilnius, moved to St Petersburg to become the student and later son-in-law of Rimksy-Korsakov. A classmate of Stravinsky, he remained in Soviet Russia and eventually became the teacher of Shostakovich. A copy of Steinberg’s Passion Week had come into the possession of the Skvir family when Matushka Tamara (neé Turkevich) received a legacy from her uncle Igor Butekoff, a conductor who had evidently acquired the score from his father, the Very Rev. Constantine Buketoff.

My curiosity having thus been piqued, a week or two later the Skvirs gave me a PDF copy of the score. At a glance, I was able to confirm that it was indeed a major chant-based work in the tradition of the New Russian Choral School comparable in scale to the two well-known sacred services by Rachmaninoff, being likewise set for a chorus with a wide vocal range and sufficient personnel to allow for multiple divisions of parts. In its selection of texts from multiple services of Holy Week and its sophisticated musical technique, it also clearly resembled the earlier Passion Week, Opus 58 composed by Grechaninoff, a work that had itself been largely forgotten for decades after its first performances in 1912–13. Grechaninoff’s Passion Week, however, had been revived in the 1990s and was therefore known to me through several recent recordings and the critical edition of its score with commentary by Marina Rakhmanova published by Musica Russica.[9] In the remainder of this article I offer a preliminary report about the background and contents of the Steinberg Passion Week, the preparation of which was facilitated by the excellent research facilities and generous interlibrary loan policies of Princeton University (which helped me track down two short articles on this sacred work by Oksana Lukonina, a scholar whose primary research has been on Steinberg’s theatrical works[10]), as well as by informal consultations with my colleagues and friends Bogdan Đaković, Ivan Moody, and Vladimir Morosan.

 

Creation, Disappearance, and Rediscovery

The score of Steinberg’s Passion Week appeared in Paris around the year 1927 under the title La Semaine de la Passion d’après les vieux chants religieux russes pour choeur mixte a cappella from W. Bessel & Cie., a now-defunct Russian émigré firm affiliated with the major German music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel. It consists of ten separate musical items, all but one of which are based directly on Slavonic chants for the services of Great and Holy Week. Each choral setting is printed in a trilingual format comprising the original Church Slavonic text, a fairly close Latin translation, and a somewhat looser rendering into English. Here is a list of the titles of the movements annotated with their musico-liturgical sources and asterisks denoting texts set previously as a whole or in part by Grechaninoff:

‘Bridegroom’ Orthros of Great Monday–Great Wednesday

  1. ‘Аллилуя/Alleluja/Halleluiah’ (Znamenny chant)*
  2. Troparion: ‘Се жених грядет/Ecce sponsus venit/The Bridegroom cometh’ (Znamenny chant)*
  3. Exaposteilarion: ‘Чертог твой/Thalamum tuum video/I behold the room’ (Kievan chant)*

Orthros of Great Thursday

  1. Troparion: ‘Егда славнии ученицы/Cum discipuli magnifici/When the disciples’ (Znamenny chant)
  2. Canon, Ode 9, Heirmos: ‘Странствия владычна/Hospitalitate Dominica/Welcome, thou Feast Divine’ (Znamenny chant)

Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Great Thursday

  1. Great Entrance and Communion Chant: ‘Вечери твоея тайныя/Coenae tuae mysticae/Holiest Mystery’ (Znamenny chant)*

Vespers of Great Friday and Orthros of Great Saturday

  1. Troparion: ‘Благообразный Иосиф/Joseph nobilis/Joseph of Arimathea’ (Bulgarian chant)*

Passion Orthros of Great Friday

  1. Exaposteilarion: ‘Разбойника благоразумнаго/Latronem sapientam/Contrite malefactor’ (original composition but employing a chant-like melody)*

Orthros of Great Saturday

  1. Canon, Ode 9, Heirmos: ‘Не рыдай мене, Мати/Ne lugeas me, Mater/Cease from tears’ (Znamenny chant)*

Vespers of Great Saturday (=the Ancient Paschal Vigil)

  1. ‘Воскресни, Боже/Surge Deus/Oh, arise, God’ (based in part on Znamenny chant, combining the refrain of the responsory sung in place of the Alleluiarion with megalynaria (substitute poetic verses) from Ode 9 of the Paschal Canon)*
  2. Great Entrance Chant ‘Да молчит всякая плоть/Caro nunc quaelibet tace/Now let all flesh’ (Znamenny chant)*

 

It can be seen from this list that Steinberg overlaps to a large extent with Grechaninoff in his choice of liturgical texts. Steinberg differs from his predecessor primarily in his substitution of two chants for morning office of Holy Thursday for the series of four generically Lenten items from the Ninth Hour and Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts that Grechaninoff had placed after the Bridegroom chants: The Beatitudes, the vesper hymn ‘O Joyful Light’, the responsorial chant ‘Let my prayer be directed as incense’, and the Great Entrance chant ‘Now the hosts of heaven’. As Lukonina has noted, Steinberg’s Opus 13 shares with Grechaninoff’s Opus 58 not only a Kastalskian musical idiom enriched by seventh, ninth, and eleventh chords, but also a dramatic arc progressing from darkness to light.[11] Yet Steinberg tempers the late Romantic sonic luxuriance of Grechaninoff with features that bring to his Passion Week elements of comparative objectivity: extensive and direct quotations of Znamenny chant, frequent use of open sonorities mildly spiced with diatonic dissonance, and occasional passages of imitative counterpoint.

According to Lukonina, Steinberg composed his Passion Week in Petrograd/Leningrad (its name changed in 1924 following the death of Lenin) between 1921–26 but without hope, as he noted in a diary entry of 12 December 1923, that he would ever hear it performed.[12] She suggests that his decision to compose his only known sacred work under the restrictive conditions of Communist rule was motivated in part by unfortunate events of 1921 including the death of the poet Alexander Blok and the arrest of his brother-in-law Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov. Lukonina also sees Steinberg’s turn to chant-based composition as but one manifestation of renewed interest in the sacred wellsprings of Russian culture shown by such other artists of the early Soviet period as the painter Mikhail Nesterov and, somewhat later, the writer Boris Pasternak.

Relying for her investigations solely on manuscript copies now kept with Steinberg’s other papers at the Russian Institute for the History of Arts in St Petersburg, Lukonina seems to have been unaware of the Paris edition of Passion Week. Its publication abroad demonstrates that Steinberg was actively concerned with the continuation of Russian culture by his émigré colleagues. Furthermore, its trilingual format indicates that he was seeking ways for his Passion Week to be performed not only by choirs that were familiar with Church Slavonic, but also by non-Orthodox ensembles accustomed to singing in Latin and English. To date, however, I have yet to discover any evidence that the work was ever performed outside Russia in its entirety, but only anecdotal reports that individual movements were performed in the former Yugoslavia.[13] Knowledge of Steinberg’s Passion Week subsequently vanished outside of a very small circle of experts. Breitkopf & Härtel, the owner of its publication and performing rights, recently informed me (private communication, 27 February 2013) that no copy of the work can be found in their archives, whilst only a single copy of the Paris edition is listed as being publicly accessible by the electronic library catalogue Worldcat.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I conclude this short article by announcing that Cappella Romana will soon present under my direction what we believe to be the long delayed premiere performances of this formerly lost masterpiece of the Russian Religious Renaissance. These performances will take place in the United States at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1739 NW Couch St (at 18th) in Portland, Oregon on Friday, 11 April 2014 at 8.30 PM; and at St. Joseph’s Parish, 732 18th Ave East, Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington on Saturday, 12 April at 8.00 PM. These concerts are generously supported by an anonymous $50,000 gift that will also fund both the creation through Musica Russica of a new critical edition of Steinberg’s Opus 13, and a CD recording to be produced by Grammy-winner Steve Barnett. For more information, please see www.cappellaromana.org

Also:http://cappellaromana.blogspot.com/2014/03/cappella-romana-presents-world-premiere.html

Capella Romana

 

Cunningham, James W. A Vanquished Hope: The Movement for Church Renewal in Russia, 1905-1906.  Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981.

Garratt, James. Palestrina and the German Romantic Imagination: Interpreting Historicism in Nineteenth-century Music. Musical Rerformance and Reception.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Gavrilyuk, Paul L. Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance. Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

“Maximilian Steinberg.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Steinberg.

Morosan, Vladimir. Choral Performance in Pre-revolutionary Russia [in English]. reprint ed., revised and corrected ed.  Madison, Conn.: Musica Russica, 1994.

———. “Liturgical Singing or Sacred Music?: Understanding the Aesthetic of the New Russian Choral Music.” In The Legacy of St. Vladimir: Byzantium•Russia•America, Papers presented at a Symposium commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY, September 27–October 1, 1988 edited by John Breck, John Meyendorff and Eleana Silk. 69–78. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990.

Orlov, Genrikh, and Lyudmila Kovnatskaya. “Steinberg, Maximilian Oseyevich.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/25673.

Phoenix Bach Choir and Kansas City Chorale, dir. Charles Bruffy. Alexander Tikhonovich (1864–1956), Passion Week, Op. 58. Chandos CD CHSA 5044, 2007.

Rakhmanova, Marina P. “Passion Week, opus 58 and All-Night Vigil, opus 59.” Translated by Dimitri Shapalov and Vladimir Morosan. In Alexandre Gretchaninoff, Collected Sacred Choral Works, edited by Vladimir Morosan. Monuments of Russian Sacred Music Series 7, Vol. 2, xxxv–xlv. [n.p.]: Musica Russica, 2009.

Shevzov, Vera. Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution.  Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Slonimsky, Sergei. Заметки о композиторских школах Петербурга ХХ века.  St Petersburg: Издательство «Композитор», 2012.

Steinberg, Mark D., and Heather J. Coleman, eds. Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia, Indiana-Michigan series in Russian and East European studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Zernov, Nicolas. The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century.  London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1963.

Zvereva, Svetlana G. Alexander Kastalsky: His Life and Music [in eng]. Translated by Stuart Campbell.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.

Луконина, Оксана Игоревна. “В поисках утраченного: О хоровом цикле “Страстная седмица” М.О. Штейнберга.” In Южно – Российский музыкальный альманах, edited by Анатолий Моисеевич Цукер. 169–72. Ростов-на-Дону Ростовская государственная консерватория имени С.В. Рахманинова, 2005.

———. “«Страстная седмица» М.О. Штейнберга как образец «художественной реставрации» древнерусского певческого искусства.” In Композиторская техника как знак: Сборник статей к 90-летию со дня рождения Юзефа Геймановича Кона. 226-33. Петрозаводск: Петрозаводская государственная консерватория имени А. К. Глазунова, 2010.

 

 

 


[1] Nicolas Zernov, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century  (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1963). Notable examples of recent scholarship are Mark D. Steinberg and Heather J. Coleman, eds., Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia, Indiana-Michigan series in Russian and East European studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007); and Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance, Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[2] See, for example, James W. Cunningham, A Vanquished Hope: The Movement for Church Renewal in Russia, 1905-1906  (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981); and Vera Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution  (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[3] Vladimir Morosan, Choral Performance in Pre-revolutionary Russia, reprint ed., revised and corrected ed. (Madison, Conn.: Musica Russica, 1994) 76–126 and 205–48  ; and ———, “Liturgical Singing or Sacred Music?: Understanding the Aesthetic of the New Russian Choral Music,” in The Legacy of St. Vladimir: Byzantium•Russia•America, Papers presented at a Symposium commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY, September 27–October 1, 1988 ed. John Breck, John Meyendorff, and Eleana Silk (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 69–78.

[4] ———, Choral Performance in Pre-revolutionary Russia: 86.

[5] A good sketch of the stylistic progress of efforts to employ chant as a basis for the renewal of Russian sacred music is Svetlana G. Zvereva, Alexander Kastalsky: His Life and Music, trans. Stuart Campbell (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003) 20–26

[6] The parallels between the Russian New Choral School and other nineteenth-century European attempts at a ressourcement of sacred music deserve further study. On the links between German Romanticism and the revival of Palestrina, see James Garratt, Palestrina and the German Romantic Imagination: Interpreting Historicism in Nineteenth-century Music, Musical Rerformance and Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

[7] A comprehensive history of liturgical music in the Russian emigration has yet to be written, but the influence upon it of the New Russian Choral School has—despite the frequent complaints of its partisans regarding what they perceived to be the reactionary musical tastes of émigré congregations—been pervasive. This influence may be seen in the publications and recordings that have emerged from the Russian cathedrals of Paris, London and New York, as well as the St Sergius Theological Institute and St Vladimir’s Theological Seminary. A figure who resembled Smolensky in his pursuit of both chant scholarship and chant-based composition was Johann von Gardner (1898–1994).

[8] Two brief treatments of the life and works of Steinberg are Genrikh Orlov and Lyudmila Kovnatskaya, “Steinberg, Maximilian Oseyevich,” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/25673; and “Maximilian Steinberg,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Steinberg

[9] Marina P. Rakhmanova, “Passion Week, opus 58 and All-Night Vigil, opus 59,” in Alexandre Gretchaninoff, Collected Sacred Choral Works, ed. Vladimir Morosan, Monuments of Russian Sacred Music Series 7, Vol. 2 ([n.p.]: Musica Russica, 2009), xxv; and Vladimir Morosan, ‘Grechaninov: Passion Week, Op. 58′, CD booklet essay in dir. Charles Bruffy Phoenix Bach Choir and Kansas City Chorale, Alexander Tikhonovich (1864–1956), Passion Week, Op. 58, (Chandos CD CHSA 5044, 2007), 6.

[10] Оксана Игоревна Луконина, “В поисках утраченного: О хоровом цикле “Страстная седмица” М.О. Штейнберга,” in Южно – Российский музыкальный альманах, ed. Анатолий Моисеевич Цукер (Ростов-на-Дону Ростовская государственная консерватория имени С.В. Рахманинова, 2005), 169–72; and ———, “«Страстная седмица» М.О. Штейнберга как образец «художественной реставрации» древнерусского певческого искусства,” in Композиторская техника как знак: Сборник статей к 90-летию со дня рождения Юзефа Геймановича Кона (Петрозаводск: Петрозаводская государственная консерватория имени А. К. Глазунова, 2010), 226–33.

[11] ———, “В поисках утраченного,” 170–72.

[12] ———, “«Страстная седмица» М.О. Штейнберга,” 226–27. Sergei Slonimsky makes a similar observation in Заметки о композиторских школах Петербурга ХХ века  (St Petersburg: Издательство «Композитор», 2012), 10.

[13] Bogdan Đaković (personal communication, Spring 2013) has informed me that ‘Чертог твой’ enjoyed a certain level of popularity in inter-war Yugoslavia amongst Serbian Orthodox choirs.

3 comments for “Lost Russian Passion Week Cycle , Opus 13, by Maximilian Steinberg to debut 90 years after composition

  1. A. Antonio Montes
    April 12, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    I have had the distinct pleasure of attending this world premier in Portland Oregon and a lecture by Valdimir Morosan.I am lost for words to describe this splendid performance by Capella Romana It’s to bad that the political climate in Russia prevented this work from being performed.

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