THE MUSICAL WORLD OF THE ALL-NIGHT VIGIL IN THE WORK OF DOBRY CHRISTOV
Be always on the watch,
and pray that you may be able to escape
all that is about to happen,
and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
The Church follows Christ’s command through watchfulness at any time and through continuous prayer. Being always “on the watch” stands for the expectation of the Son of Man and for the readiness to meet Him, because “the day of the Lord will come as a thief” (2 Peter 3:10), while the continuous prayer is the unification itself. Because of this watchfulness and this readiness the Church has constituted the Divine Service as a “praying service”, as an “expression into words and acts of the prayer to Lord”, establishing the liturgical hours for sacralization of the time periods of the day. This praying service has to integrate the praying community with the Christ’s sacrifice. In this way, the continuous prayer expresses the ceaselessness of the offering and the ceaselessness of the communion.
A part of the everlasting praying process is the All-Night Vigil, which again implies the idea of watchfulness, this time even literary, as self-depriving one’s sleep. The liturgical texts also mention the belief that the Last Judgement will come at midnight. The All-Night service expresses the intention to follow Christ’s example when “one of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God” (Lk. 6:12). The day-and-night cycle divided into hours has its own inner direction and aim - the Eucharist, called the Sacrament of all Sacraments, the soul of the Liturgy. This inner connection gives a meaning to the succession in its continuous flow; the remembrance of Christ’s redeeming words and deeds, pulsating in the rhythm of the Divine Service, culminates in the Eucharistic Anamnesis: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22:19). Aimed at the actualisation of remembrance, the whole Divine Service embodies the dimension of the eternal, merging it with the temporal dimension: “On the one hand, the Divine Service reflects the historical, the temporal basis of the Christian faith and has a “figurative” character. But on the other hand, it represents the “eschatology” – the final goal of those historical events, the forthcoming and eternal God’s Kingdom. Simultaneously, the fact is ascertained that the forthcoming eternal being is anticipated and effectively experienced in the liturgical act itself.” John Chrysostom reminded the meaning of the Eucharist: “We offer even now what was done then, for we perform the anamnesis of His death”. The relation with the Offering that even now unites the Past and the Present” is maintained by the continuous prayer “again and again”... Thus the watchfulness and readiness of the All-Night Vigil are a preparation for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, being a logically integral part of it in the process of praying.
The liturgical researches always underline the communal character of the Divine Service based on the instruction: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). During the Divine Service the prayer of the community unifies people “unto the work of ministering” (Eph. 4:12), it incorporates them in the Church established by Christ himself as a mystic community. Understood in this way, as a community of believers, but also as a mystic community – Christ’s body - the church community is the condition, the way, and at the same time the goal of the Divine Service.
What is the place of music in the community of the Church? What is its role in the offering and in the communion?
The Divine Service actualises the Divine reality; it makes it sensible, visible, and audible. As a matter of fact, through his own participation in liturgy, one joins the Church community by co-announsing and co-partaking within the ritual, prayer, and music. Understood in this way, the music in the service is the sound and voice co-announcing and co-partaking within the process of praying. Understood in this way, it is not “a human word” said through music, but the very Logos turned into sound. The music is the mode of being in the perpetual prayer through voice and sound. Being in the prayer of the music, the individual becomes part of the mystic Body, of the Church. Thus, the music is an ethos; it is the very place of being. (The term ethos has antique roots. Its meaning is generally related to the modes, and to their correspondences with the states of the soul. Thus the term has its references to the notion of character or custom. While interpreting the ethos as “place of being”, I refer to M. Heidegger).
The music in the Church gains its general creative quality through the direct way of sound transmitting and vocalising the Word. By virtue of this quality it becomes the musical hypostasis of the religious community, where the separate human beings unite “in the unity of the common nature”. The unity, the surmounting of the separateness, is the basic community-building quality of music. Despite of all cultural differences emerging in the history of Christian Europe the music keeps its general meaning and purpose expressed by Augustine’s idea: music converts.
At the same time, there are two different musical paths occurring in the European cultural history, two ways of its being. The Western European tradition defines music as an autonomous reality, doubling and rearranging the religious community, recreating it out of itself according to its own laws, principles and means of expression. It becomes music as a work of art, that is, as an opus musicum. The music in Orthodox Church follows the way of immediate existence in the Divine Service, dissolving itself in it, and not alienating as a piece of art. Thus the creative work of a composer depends on his choice either to take music out of himself and to offer it as a complete artistic entity, or to remain within the music, being involved in its way of being, which preserves the never-ending prayer “again and again”... The symbol of such a musical way of existence becomes the Orthodox church mode, the echos: “Each mode of the Damascus’s Oktoechos, in itself, is based on a combination of independent melodies composed on some ancient-Greek scale, Ionian, Dorian, Phrigian, Lydian, Eolian, Mixolidian - Peter Dinev writes, a researcher, but also a follower of the tradition. - The melodic line of each mode has strict limits, outside of which no chanting is possible, except for modulation deviations... And, if we disregard or disrupt the melodic line, we run a risk to lose the connection with the mode of singing”.
According to the musician of the East the mode of the oktoechos as a system of the liturgical chant implies not only the respective modal relations; it implies the link of those relations with the text, referring also to the day and the week of the service. “We run a risk to lose the connection with the mode”, P. Dinev says, and this leads to a certain idea of the meaning of the mode, of its ontological status: the music exists in the system of the oktoechos. “The whole space of sound used in music was represented as divided into eight echoi”. The echoi “personified the musically systematised space of sound, and in modern terms this would mean – the mode-tonality”. But if we do not think in this modern way, we shall see that the mode-tonality is a certain reduction regarding the idea of the echoi, which preserve the connection with the musician himself because of their pre-existence before any attempt for musical creation. This idea leads us to the Heidigger’s understanding of the ethos as a “place of being”. The same idea emerges in the extracts from the treatise of hieromonk Gabriel quoted by E. Gertsman: “There are eight [echoi] and not more and it is not possible that an addition can be invented... everything one sings shall be harmonised in one of those eight echoi”. Also: “There are no other than these echoi, and everything one sings will belong to one of those echoi”. Thus, the oktoechos, where the music stays, is also the musician’s “place of being”: it is “everything one sings”, but it is also the place, where everybody singing is. The echos is the pre-existing order of music, which we can be connected with, and which we can lose, which means to lose ourselves. For, while staying in the echos we are integrated with the very sense and purpose of music.
The musician of the East remains anonymous, and this means not only a general expression of humility, but also a choice of giving up the res facta (according to the understanding of Johannes Tinctoris regarding the music as an artefact). The Orthodox church music is a way of participating in the Sacrament, a way of announcing the will for communion. The composer, being involved into the music, re-enacts each time through it the Truth of the Sacrament - predetermined, already existing, and continuously returning. In this way the music of the Orthodox Church becomes a remembrance, anamnesis. It revives the meaning of truth, which P. Florenskii sees in the Greek word aletheia: “... we experience an everlasting need of what has not yet been forgotten, which is unforgettable, which is staying and living in the current time. It is this non-forgetfulness, which is aletheia. The truth is a-letheia, that is, something able to reside within the flow of forgetfulness, in the flying streams of the sensual world – something resisting time, something staying and not flowing, something continuously remembered. The truth is the eternal memory of a Consciousness; the truth is a value, worthy of remembering and capable of it”.
The polyphonic church music came into being as a new phenomenon in the Bulgarian musical culture at the end of the 19th century. This phenomenon is interpreted by the researchers mainly in the context of the new National culture, signified by so called “europeization”. Totally devoted to the new elements in culture, and following the impulse of the after-liberation time with its “vehement leaning”, in the words of Dobry Christov, towards the musical art of Europe, these researchers’ interpretations not only describe, but to a great extend also reproduce, the cultural establishment attitudes and the specific language inherent to that time. However, the analysis of the phenomenon “music for the church” has to treat the very relation “music - church”. This is a relation, which has already been treated in the musical solutions of D. Christov’s church music. The composer’s archives include manuscripts, testifying about such a treatment.
I refer to two types of manuscripts connected with the All-Night Vigil. The first is inscribed: “All-Night Vigil. I. Great Vespers. II. Orthros. Notes on the Order of the Chants before Sunday and before the Lord’s and the Blessed Virgin’s feasts, as well as on the Feasts of Saints. 1938/October [signature]”.
These “Notes” include instructions about the sequence of the All-Night Vigil, following the order of the prayers, readings and chants. The initial words of the priests are marked there; all the chants that are interchangeable according to the liturgical canon are signified. As for the way the chants are written down, not all texts are written to notes. Some of them are just named. These are the Litanies (Ektenia), “Blessed are You, O Lord” (“Blagisloven esi, Gospodi”), “Praise the name of the Lord” (“Hvalite imia Gospodne”), Great Doxology (Veliko Slavoslovie), “More honourable than the Cherubim” (“Chestneishuju”), the choir acclamations “Amin”, “Glory and now” (“Slava i nine”), “Bless” (“Blagoslovi”). The following texts are fully written: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (“Blagoslovi, dushe moia, Gospoda”), “Blessed is the Man” (“Blazhen Muzh”), the stichera on “Lord, I call upon You” (“Gospodi, vozzvah k Tebe”) in the eight modes, “O Gladsome Light” (“Svete tihii”), the troparia “God is the Lord” (“Bog Gospod”) also in the eight modes, “Now that we have beheld the Resurrection of Christ” (“Voskresenie Hristovo videvshe”), mode 8th, “O Lord, open my lips” (“Otverzu usta moia”), “My soul magnifies the Lord” (“Velichit dusha moia”), “Praise the Lord all ye nations” (“Vsjak zemnorodnii”) and “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (“Vsiakoe dihanie da hvalit Gospoda)”, mode 2nd. The music in the manuscript follows to a great extend the same chants that were widespread in the already affirmed polyphonic practice when Dobry Christov was a conductor in the church of St. Alexander Nevski. The author’s interference in the “Notes” is very cautious and except for scarce melodic and technical changes concerns mainly the tonal and harmonic structure of the chants. The tonalities of the chants, taken from the Obihod, where they are already harmonized in the system of major and minor, differ from those in the Obihod. The tonal structure itself is quite flexible: There are presupposed transpositions marked by the composer with a reference saying: “it can be sung in another key too”. So, the “Notes” can be described as conductor’s sketches on the sequence of the Vigil, compounded for his own use. The inseparability of the music from the whole ritual here is reflected in the Christov’s remarks: not only the chants, but the prayers and the readings are listed with their own numbers. Consequently, the hierarchy focusing on the leading role of the music in an essentially musical manuscript has stepped back on behalf of the “order” this music should follow.
At the same time, under the conditions of the established written culture translating according to the wide-spread expression of that time “from Eastern to Western notes”, the manuscript represents a pedantic written fixation of many “versions” of the song sequence after the cannon. Notes of the kind “to be repeated, if necessary”, after a specific chant, witness the experience of such a fixation, of a written translation in its possible extreme. These instructions produce flexibility in the written text, which stands for the mirrored stability in the canonical order. For, if the canonical “order” has to be reflected in any specific case, the musical-textual whole has to gain the possible versions, that is, to include the flexibility. Due to this way of written fixation the All-Night Vigil as a separate part of the Divine Service bears also the open direction to the continuous prayer “at any time”, in which every element with its place according to the “order” preserves itself as an integral part.
For the second type of manuscripts there is another title page named: “Chants on the All-Night Vigil by Dobry Christov. Composed during 1935-1939. To be sung in the church of St. Alexander Nevski”. The manuscript include: “Bless the Lord, O my soul”, with a subtitle in brackets “Psalm, which is sung on the Vespers”, “Blessed is the Man”, “O Gladsome Light” ¹1, “O Gladsome Light” ¹2 with an inscription “after an old Eastern church motif”, “Now lettest Thy servant depart in peace” (“Nine Otpushtaeshi”), “Blessed are You, O Lord”, “Praise the name of the Lord” with a subtitle “song on the polyeleos”, and Great Doxology. Two Litanies, written during the same period, are added to them.
The Chants for All-Night Vigil are works of another mode of cultural existence of music. These are author’s compositions, written “to be sung in the church”, on the one hand, and on the other hand – to be part of a greater musical entity, of a more complete musical project. This project, however, does not transform itself into a cyclic form, does not produce an autonomous opus musicum, whose life to be guaranteed solely by means of an immanent musical integrity. The music continues to dissolve itself in the “order of the chants”, and to bear the possibility for substitution of one and the same chant with different musical settings. It remains devoted to the church chanting. The “Chants” become an open musical work subordinated to the flow of the service. We cannot define such a musical work as a practical or applied one; we cannot say that it presents music in a functional way. On the contrary, the creative process anticipating its output in the practical and ritual sphere is the result of its involvement in the specific way of musical being in the church.
Hence, if on the level of the separate composition the “Chants on the All-Night Vigil” can be definitely regarded as opuses, as accomplished musical works, composed by principles of the Classic and Romantic system of musical expressions and possessing a high degree of stability, then on the level of the cyclic form this degree is rather low. The musical cycle possesses “free options” for internal connections.
Ivan Kamburov, in the rubric “Unpublished Works” of his monograph about D. Hristov provides a list of the church musical works of the composer, where he presents under the title “All-Night Vigil” all of the compositions quoted here (except “Blessed are You, O Lord”. Such a cycle, however, couldn’t be found in the works of D. Hristov. Being the first researcher of the Christov’s creative work, Kamburov has reconstructed the cycle. The possibility for such a reconstruction can be found in the general composer’s intention, where the musical integrity is based on the liturgical integrity, without reorganising and restructuring it “once and for all” into a monolythic and autonomous musical cycle.
The “Chants” dissolve themselves and return back to the order of the Divine Service, filling it up “again and again”. With this dissolving and returning the composer himself comes back to the role of the medieval musical writer and singer. Close to these hypostases of the musician he renders his musical opus All-Night Vigil to be recreated “each time” according to the conductor’s or the researcher’s decisions, as it was, for instance, the case of Kamburov’s reconstruction. Because of the provided opportunity implied in the author’s intention, such an act is fully justified. The very actualization of the cycle will be placed in the cross-point between the means of musical expression revealing the thematic and the tonal unity of the compositions and the liturgical “sequence of the chanting”.
The described manuscripts are two textual entities, representing at the first glance an example of double perspective to music – as a church process related to the place and time of service, and as an opus, as a community of the musical works. At the same time, if it is obvious that the “Notes” have to be read in the context of the Divine Service, then the same has to be the perspective, in which the “Chants” have to be viewed, since they bear the idea to fulfil the service preserving the spiritual, mental and musical inclinations inherent to the church tradition. Thus Dobry Christov presents his interpretation of the Eastern idea of music. His creative work is capable of both influencing the human feelings and experiences – the aesthetic ones, and reaching the very religious core of music. This is the composer’s ability to revive the remembrance, and while carrying music out of himself to remain within it in the state of the continuous prayer, thus recalling the eternal memory of the Sacrament.