THE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

For mixed choir

By Josif Marinkovic

 

The Holy Liturgy   is certainly the most significant form of the Orthodox Christian worship. Its basic elements are the congregation (sinaksis) and thanksgiving to God through the bloodless sacrifice (Eucharist). The first liturgies were written in the fourth century, but individual songs were added later. The most important liturgies were those of the holy apostles James and Mark, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Dialogue (the Liturgy of Presanctified gifts). These last three are used today in Orthodox churches. St John Chrysostom (ca. 347 - 407), author of the best known and most used liturgy, was Bishop of Constantinople, and a famous theologian and preacher. His liturgy is somewhat shorter than the older liturgy of St Basil the Great (ca. 330-379).

 

The liturgy of John Chrysostom is one of the basic forms of Serbian sacred choral music. Foreign composers wrote music to it in the first half of the nineteenth century for the use of the first Serbian church choirs, later followed by Serbian composers, the first of whom was Kornelije Stankovic (1855). writing according to Serbian church chant. or in the spirit of church music but without using traditional tunes to the letter. Josif Marinkovic with his Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for mixed choir belongs to this last group of composers.

 

Josif Marinkovic (who was born in Vranjevo near Novi Becej in 1851, and died in Belgrade in 1931) was one of the most important Serbian composers of the nineteenth century. He was educated in Petrovaradin, Vrbas and Novi Sad. He received elementary musical education from Professor Dragutin Blazek at the Teachers' School in Sombor. Marinkovic studied music with Frantisek Skuherski at the Organ School in Prague from 1873 to 1881, and also stayed in Vienna for a short time (1886 - 1887) where he attended lectures by Eduard Hanslik at the University. He came to Belgrade in 1881 and stayed there until he died. Marinkovic. worked as a choir master and conductor (First Belgrade choral society, the "Obilic" academic singing society, the Serbian - Jewish choral society, the workers' choir and others) and composed continually, also working as a music teacher (at the Theological seminary, Teachers' school and the Second male Gymnasium). He was elected as associate member of the Serbian Royal Academy in 1907.

 

Marinkovic's creative work is formed of vocal compositions in the main. These are secular and sacred a cappella choral compositions, songs for soloists, and choral works with piano accompaniment. Of his sacred choral compositions, only the Liturgy and Requiem for mixed choir were published, while other works still remain in the composerís manuscript inheritance. The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom was not written as a sole composition but as individual songs composed as needed for the church choirs he conducted. Judging by the names of the king (Milan Obrenovic.) and the metropolit (Teodosije Mraovic) mentioned in the liturgy, most of the songs are from the period 1883 to 1889. Only after the composer's death were parts of the liturgy found in manuscript, chosen and edited by the composer and music scholar Kosta P. Manojlovic. By his own account, he transposed individual songs to enable them to be combined more easily, adding designations for dynamics and tempo. Thus edited, the liturgy was published by the state press of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1935 and performed in May that year by the "Marinkovic", Teachers' choral society choir, under the direction of Milan Bajsanski.

 

The negative attitude towards sacred music after the Second world war meant that a veil of forgetfulness hid many works of Serbian church music, including Marinkovic's Liturgy. Only individual songs were performed occasionally by a small number of unextinguished church choirs, but more recently the work was publicly performed for the first time by the RTS (The Radio and Television of Serbia) Choir, under the direction of Bojan Sudjic at a concert in the Ilija M. Kolarac Foundation in 1992.

 

Marinkovic wrote the Liturgy for mixed choir in the spirit of Serbian church music, but he did not directly use traditional church chant melodies. He knew the flow and character of the church services well, understood the Church Slavonic text, respected its metre and accent, sometimes favouring the Serbian and not the noted Russian pronunciation. With Marinkovic the musical content is always in the foreground, and "melodic arches grow and develop by their own inherent musical logic", as was precisely concluded by Vlastimir Pericic in his monograph Josif Marinkovic - Life and Works.

 

On the basis of individual songs one notices traditional church melody or more often just part of the melody (Jedinorodnij Sine, Cherubic Hymn, Oca i Sina, Tebe pojem, Dostojno i pravedno, Communion Hymn, Blagosloven gradij), while recitative sections (the Creed, SIava, Blagoslovi duse moje Gospoda) are closer to Russian syllabic church chant. Certainly the most impressive numbers in this Liturgy are the Cherubic Hymn and the Lord's Prayer (Oce nas), both well known as individual compositions. It is interesting that Marinkovic does not repeat himself but always harmonizes the Litanies in a different way. The Litanies are a people-choir response (Gospodi pomiluj, Podaj Gospodi, Tebje Gospodi) to the prayers sung in the service by the deacon and priest.

 

The harmony language in Marinkovic's compositions is more varied and richer than in those of his contemporaries. He knows and feels choral well, he leads voices freely, but never to the detriment of a clearly pronounced text. He skillfully uses imitation, a frequent form of contrapuntal work, to emphasize a text or to attain gradation and contrast within homophonic echoing.

 

Marinkovic's Liturgy is an exceptional and valuable work of Serbian sacred music. Historically, it lies among the contemporary works of Kornelije Stankovic, who opened the possibility of a national trend in Serbian music, and Stevan Mokranjac, who artistically shaped traditional Serbian church chant in his works. As an expressive romantic, Marinkovic demonstrates the possibility of creating independent musical expression in sacred compositions always following the function of the worship service while speaking a new musical language created from a deep knowledge and consideration of tradition.

 

This recording is the first sound publication of Marinkovic's Liturgy. In his interpretation of the work, the conductor Bojan Sudjic, like the composer, follows traditional liturgical singing and experience acquired through work with church choirs. His tempo is logical, and his phrasing clear and light, without rigid adherence to notations. The solo singing by protodeacon Vlado Mikic is also traditional. The clear diction, soft singing, united voices and fine sound colour of the RTS Choir contributes to the beauty of this exemplary but forgotten work of Serbian sacred music.

 

Danica Petrovic

Translated into English by Esther Polenezer