according to the traditional Serbian Chant

harmonized for a mixed choir

by Kornelije Stankovic


The works of Serbian composers. especially of those who wrote in the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, are rarely accessible to contemporary researchers, performers and - it follows - audiences. Some are still to be found in unpublished manuscripts or old publications which have never been reprinted. So it was with the Liturgy of St. John the Chrysostom by Kornelije Stankovic published in Vienna in 1862, but reprinted in facsimile edition only in 1994. In recent times this Liturgy was per formed completely in August 1993 at a service in the Cathedral church in Sremski Karlovci during a church chant summer school. “To the memory of Kornelije Stankovic". At the concert it was performed for the first time by the Choir of the Radio and Television of Serbia with conductor Bojan Sudjic, in the Foundation of Ilija M. Kolarac in Belgrade in October 1993.


Kornelije Stankovic, (born in Budim. on August 30th 1831 and educated at Arad, Szeged, Pest and Vienna) belonged to the 18th and the 19th century group of Serbs who settled in the Austrian state after the Great migra­tion of 1690. At the time when he entered the circle of Serbian and Slavic intelligentsia gathered in Vienna, the Serbs' national movement was already firmly based in Vuk Karadzic's struggle for a national language linked with and encompassed by his work in the field of national literature Vuk's work was encouraged and supported by the great German poet Johan Wolfgang Goethe and representatives of the Heidelberg literary society, with the Grimm brothers at its head. The new philosophy of the national spirit (Volksgeist) culture, established by the German philologist J. G. Herder on the value of national creativity, found a wide circle of supporters among Slavonic people, and on territories where Serbs lived.


The need to notate the tunes of national songs and church chant soon became evident to Vuk Karadzic and his contemporaries, but there were no professional musicians to do this. Thus Stankovic with his talent, education and creative achievement, presents a historical phenomenon awaited for decades in Serbian culture. He had a good understanding and serious grasp of his cultural and national mission, both among the Serbs in the Austrian Empire, where he was supported by patriarch Josif Rajacic and those in the principality of Serbia, where he was warmly accepted by metropolitan Mihailo and prince Mihailo Obrenovic.

Re wrote his first two Liturgies while studying with his professor the composer and court organist Simon Sechter, in Vienna. When His Holiness the Serbian Patriarch Josif Rajacic celebrated the Liturgy for the first time in the city, at Easter 1851. Kornelije's music "was sung in the Greek church". These were, though only the early attempts of the young musician who had not yet entered into the national music tradition. Komelije Stankovic therefore went to Sremski Karlovci (1855-l857) and to the Fruska Gora monastery of Ravanica (1861) where, with the help of the best experts in Karlovci Chant, under the supervision of the priesthood and patriarch Rajacic himself, he patiently put into notation the melodies of virtually the whole church repertoire.


Three books of Orthodox Church Music of the Serbian people published in Vienna (1862, 1863 and 1864), and 17 manuscript volumes with four part choral settings of the traditional church melodies, represent the rich inheritance that he left to the "Serbian people".


In Vienna, Stankovic together with members of the singing societies and the opera, performed Serbian Church music on feast days at services in Greek and Russian churches, and also at concerts in the Musikverein. Only with the publication of his work did the Serbian chant, written down in modern notation and harmonized for a mixed choir, become eligible for the singers and the conductors of the church choirs from Vienna, Trieste, Zadar, Kotor and Petrinja to Pancevo, Timisoara, Belgrade and many other bigger and smaller cities in Austro-Hungary, the Principality of Serbia and the regions that were still under Turkish rule. His preface to the Liturgy, published in the first volume of The Orthodox Church Chant of the Serbian People, is a classic about church chant in the 19th century. By his attitude and education as an honest Orthodox Christian, Stankovic always sees church chant as a sung prayer, and the motives for his work on the notating and harmonizing of the church melodies were artistic, historical and educational. Among other things, he wrote: "We have listened to the Church chant from our childhood: we listen to it at the most solemn moments of our lives. It has flowed into our blood, and it has the power always to remind us of our Creator and of His endless mercy. But it is not enough just to have riches - and our church chant is the precious riches of our people - it must be preserved and presented to the world, so that its worth may be known."


As a creator, Kornelije Stankovic marked an era not only in Serbian, but also in southern Slav musical art. As a composer and a collector of melodies he presented an example to Serbian greatest composer Stevan Mokranjac, and also to the first South Slav ethnomusicologist, the Croat Franjo Kuhac. Unfortunately, he has not to this day been adequately presented in Serbian musical history and national culture as a whole.


In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, as in other church compositions, Stankovic completely preserves the traditional melody in the soprano part, according to the Karlovci chant. His harmony is within basic scale degrees, sometimes almost academic, but always completely following the traditional melody. This is four-part music in which there is practically no special movement within the voices. The melodies are divided into classical bars, but the composer tried not to disturb the meter of the text.


The conductor Bojan Sudic understands and presents Stankovic's Liturgy, which essentially carries the simplicity, calmness and motor of the traditional liturgical chant, in the right manner. Without great gestures, accents or gradations, unsuitable for church music, he performs this music cleanly, clearly and with restraint. The soloist, archdeacon Vlado Mikic, singing the litanies sung during the service by a priest and a deacon, according to the traditional practice of the Serbian church, also contributes in this. The unified choral sound, the beauty of the voices and the precise diction of the RTS Choir makes this simple, intimate music communicate its real meaning and noble beauty to the listener.


Danica Petrovic

translated into English by Marija Petrovic