Ostromir Gospel

Old Russian Manuscripts of Vocal Music

The Ostromir Gospel, like other Aprakos-Gospels, is a Church service book. During the service, each reading from the Gospel is followed by sung verses. That is why, among items on display are many outstanding examples of old Russian vocal music. These musical manuscripts of a liturgical nature are very similar to Aprakos-Gospels. They were intented for use in worship and based on the New Testament stories.

The manuscripts of vocal music on view in the exhibition, span a period of many centuries: from the twelfth century to the second half of the seventeenth. The oldest manuscript (no. 53) represents the early period in the Church vocal music's history and, that is more, - in the Church's history in Russia. Only about a cenury separates this codex from the Ostromir Gospel. This handwritten book formerly belonged to the library of St Sophia's Cathedral in Novgorod, which included, as is well known, the Ostromir Gospel at one time. The latest manuscript (no. 59) on display is connected with Patriarch Nikon' reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was written trough the efforts of Gregory Zhernov, the monk of the New-Jerusalem Monastery of the Resurrection, and was bound in the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow. This codex reflects Nikon's reforms introduced in Russian liturgy.

Exhibited manuscripts of a liturgical nature differ in their contexts and represent the different periods of the history of church vocal music. Texts of hymns, borrowed from Greek sources and translated into Church Slavonic, were corrected a number of times, either to produce a more accurate translation expressing detailes of the language, or after consulting earler sources, considered to be more authoritative.

The different stages in the development of musical notation connected with Christian worship can be traced in early Russian manuscript codices. The earliest systems -ecphonetic, indicating how passages of text were to be chanted in church; neumes, special symbols znamena (in the Russian tradition, signs or hooks) used to record plain-song; and various combinations of notes and staffs - can be found in Greek works from the ninth century (The Gospel of Trebizond), and in Early Russian ones from the eleventh century (the Ostromir Gospel of 1057). The manuscripts on show mirror the evolution of the Church choral tradition. It includes change in the symbols of Znamenny notation, the disappearance of Kondakarian notation and the beginnings of Putevoy notation (no. 57), the development of Znamenny Chant (that is a way of singing the hymns) and the emergence of the so-called multi-chant. Thus, while the early manuscripts on view in the exhibition, records only Znamenny Chant, in the collection dating from the 80s of the 17th century (no. 59), the compiler mentions more than 10 various chants, including Great Chant, Small Chant, Bulgarian, Kievan, Tikhvinsky, Yaroslavsky, Solovetsky etc. Still, in spite of all the differences in their appearances and contexts, these manuscripts contain passages of the Gospel, recited during services, or hymns to Christ, the Virgin or the saints.

Hymns are sung in alternation with readings of the Gospel. For example, hymns, preceding a reading from the Gospel, are marked in manuscripts, they are sometimes followed by the note "the Gospel". Hymns, following the readings, are also marked by subtitles. Notated manuscripts also may include a table of readings. They are placed either after Gospel stichera (no. 58), or in the back of codeces (no. 56).

Displayed musical manuscript memorials demonstrate a close resemblance of hymns to the reading texts. For instance, both a title, and contents of Gospel stichera associated with readings. And what is more, 11 Gospel stichera in manuscripts of vocal music, like 11 Gospel readings in Aprakos-Gospels, are written in cycles on particular themes, supplied with special titles. Comparing the text of the Ostromir Gospels and manuscripts of vocal music, reveal an interesting case of "complementary information". The saints, named in the Gospel in the heading of the Church New Year holiday, celebrated on September 1, are omitted from the headings of the same feast in manuscripts of vocal music, but they are included in the text of the specific hymn (no. 54). The majority of texts of hymns, included manuscripts of vocal music, are based on the New Testament stories. These hymns have remained intact in the old Russian manuscript tradition over the course of its existence. The exhibition shows the earliest example of such texts (no. 53), of which artistic expression are emphasized and enriched by music.

N. Ramazanova

© The National Library of Russia, 2007