The Akáthistos Hymn to the Virgin Mary, set by Ivan Moody. This lyrical masterpiece in 24 stanzas has been treasured for nearly 1,500 years by Eastern Christians. Father Moody’s 1998 setting, composed specially for the ensemble, weaves beloved Greek melodies into Russian choral textures as it progresses from reverent contemplation to ecstatic transcendence.
This second 2018 edition of Cappella Romana’s original release features updated essays and biographies of the artists. With full texts in English and translations for lyrics in Greek and Slavonic.
“The harmonies are lush and dark in Russian style, though periodically the shadows disperse as in a cloud-break and the sound brightens. The effect over the whole hymn is of a slow revelation of light and warmth over an ancient musical ground.” (Willamette Week)
“Something new, substantial, and profound” (Sunday Oregonian)
Standing Room Only — Ivan Moody’s Akáthistos Hymn
Interview originally published on iClassics.com:
Ancient melodies and a sixth-century poetic meditation form the ground of Ivan Moody’s setting of The Akáthistos Hymn, one of the most beloved devotional hymns in the Orthodox tradition of Christianity.
The Akáthistos Hymn is a meditation in 24 stanzas (one for each letter of the Greek alphabet) on the cosmic role of the Virgin Mary as mother of the incarnate Word of God. The popularity of the devotion is especially associated with the raising of the siege of Constantinople in the sixth century, a miracle attributed to the intervention of Mary as the protector of the city. In gratitude, the citizens of Constantinople gathered in the Holy Temple of Saint Sofia and sang the hymn while standing (hence the name Akáthistos, which means “not sitting”).
Moody’s setting makes use of a celebrated contemporary English translation by Bishop Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary; the refrains are sung in Greek to traditional Byzantine chant, with its characteristic microtonal ornaments. Moody is the first to compose music for the entire hymn since the Middle Ages.
iClassics.com: What was the genesis of this composition?
Ivan Moody: Having worked with Cappella Romana in the past – they gave the North American premiere of my oratorio, Passion & Resurrection, for example – I wanted to write a large-scale work especially for them. The Akáthistos Hymn is one of the great poetic compositions of the Orthodox Church, and I see that it is increasingly used in the Roman Catholic Church too. It is full of astounding imagery that just cries out for music.
Much of your music comes out of your interest in the traditions of the Orthodox church.
I’m a practicing Orthodox Christian; when I set words from our liturgical tradition, I’m always keenly aware of the historical riches we have stored up in musical terms. As a performing church and concert musician I’ve researched a number of Orthodox musical traditions, and feel privileged to be in a position to absorb all this.
However, I’m not Russian, or Greek, or Serbian: I was born in London, England. I think that the challenge for me is to reconcile all those musical traditions, which I love, with my own heritage and my own voice. I don’t do this consciously – if I may say this without sounding too pompous, there’s a period during the course of composition when one is just “digesting,” thinking subconsciously, and then all these things come together really quite spontaneously. If it doesn’t work that way, then it’s a sure sign that I should throw what I’ve written away…
How did you go about setting the Akáthistos Hymn? What were some of the special challenges?
Liturgically, nowadays most of this is intoned by a priest or deacon, the choir singing just the opening and closing sections and the refrains (“Rejoice” and “Alleluia”). However, it was not always thus: there are some extant mediaeval settings of the entire hymn in Byzantine chant. So, I bit the bullet and decided to set the whole text. The finished piece lasts for more than 90 minutes, making it the largest piece I’d ever written.
The first and biggest challenge was simply finding musical notes to correspond to the richness of the text! It’s so full of images that one can hardly find music for each idea – that would simply become tediously madrigalistic. It was a question of responding, simultaneously, to words, spiritual “ambience” and long-range architecture.
The second was how to structure the piece: it’s divided into four sections, and that helped me organize a harmonic scheme, but there are numerous sub-divisions, so one strategy that I adopted right from the beginning was the alternation of three inter-related styles. One was audibly related to Russian mediaeval music, the other was clearly Byzantine, and the third was, well – me. And that “me” is, in part, a result of those other two.
How did the recording come about?
Alex Lingas thought initially that I was nuts to undertake such a project, but once he had the score in his hands, he programmed it for Cappella Romana and made it a real success. I was present at the world première, in Portland OR, and it was quite one of the most extraordinarily moving occasions of my life. It was repeated in a subsequent concert season, and enthusiasm was then running at such a high level that the idea of recording it came about. If anyone was going to record it, Cappella was the choir.
“The Byzantine Akáthistos Hymn probably dates from the early 6th century and comprises 24 stanzas, one for each letter of the Greek alphabet. Moody’s is believed to be the first complete setting of the hymn, a meditation on the Virgin Mary, since medieval times.
Moody has combined authentic Byzantine melodies … [and produced] music of such purity and radiance that, to modern sensibilities at least, the beauty of the sound is a sensuous pleasure which is its own justification, regardless of the intention of the text. Moody’s realisation is sinfully lovely. Cappella Romana specialises in the Slavic and Byzantine traditions, so the excellence of this performance is no surprise…
As if 96 gorgeous minutes of the Akáthistos Hymn were not value for money, the album is rounded off with a shimmering performance of O Tebe Raduetsya, Moody’s 1990 setting of another hymn to the Virgin, this time from the Russian Orthodox tradition.” —B. Witherden, Gramophone
Rev’d Dr. Ivan Moody, British composer, conductor, and Orthodox priest, returns to direct his stunning setting of the 6th-century hymn to the Mother of God, blending Byzantine chant with richly-textured Russian-style choruses. Composed expressly for Cappella Romana, in English with Greek refrains.
The Hillsboro Tribune previews this weekend’s presentation of The Tudor Choir:
World-class musicians will grace St. Matthew Catholic Church with choral music when Cappella Romana presents “The Tudor Choir: Music of John Taverner and Nico Muhly.”
Under the direction of founder Doug Fullington, Seattle’s Tudor Choir will come to the concert stage for the first time since 2015, on Sunday, March 4, at 2 p.m., to perform a program that spans five centuries of choral music. It will feature John Taverner’s 16th-century “Western Wind Mass” and the world premiere of “Small Raine” by star composer Nico Muhly, both inspired by a song from Tudor England, “Westron Wynde.”
St. Matthew’s music director, Shanti Michael, said, “It means a great deal to bring high-quality sacred music to Hillsboro. It also means a great deal to the community to have exposure to art.”
March 2-4, The Tudor Choir will perform the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Small Raine, inspired by the same English tune as John Tavener used in his 16th-century Western Wind Mass. After watching the video, explore the text of Small Raine and get your CR Presents: The Tudor Choir tickets today!
Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow? The small raine down can raine. Chryst, if my love were in my armes And I in my bedde again!
– Anon. (early 16th century)
O splendor gloriae et imago substanciae Dei patris omnipotentis, Iesu Christe, unice eiusdem fili dilecte tocius boni fons vive, redemptor mundi, servator, et Deus noster, salve.
O Jesus Christ, radiant light and image of the nature of God the almighty Father, his beloved and only Son, living fountain of all good, redeemer of the world, our Saviour and our God, hail.
– Votive Antiphon for Compline (early 16th century)
The men of Cappella Romana are warming up for Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame in Seattle!
“The most visceral part of the recital was simply the experience of hearing this music in a close approximation to its original acoustical and architectural context. What’s more, partaking in Machaut’s Messe reinforces why Medieval music is so fascinating to contemporary composers. Listening to it is rather like listening to a 20th century landmark composition for the first time. The music is speculative, exploratory, even avant-garde. You can tell that its practitioners were eager to learn how polyphony worked: how voices should move, how textures might be built, which intervals should be considered consonant or dissonant, and how one could possibly capture these newfangled ideas in written form—the very concept of a “piece” of music as a physical manifestation on a scrap of parchment. When you hear these sounds, you’re listening to the birthing of Western art music, the fledgling of a new musical language—even if that sense of striving is less evident in the Messe (which culminated both Machaut’s career and a particular lineage of French polyphony reaching back three centuries) than it might be in Machaut’s more experimental chansons, or the motets and organa of his Frankish predecessors. … It’s fitting that his valedictory work, the product of such tumult and persistence, should convey so directly to modern listeners a momentous range of musical and human experience.”
Machaut receiving Nature and three of her children. (c 1350)
Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (c. 1360-65) began to attract great interest during the 20th century. It is the first mass composed for four voices with a known composer, and as such, it is widely considered to mark the beginning of a new musical era. In addition, Machaut himself continues to fascinate many scholars. Not only a great singer, he was also a famous poet and diplomat who lived at the center of the social and political movements of his time. He spent half of his life as the secretary of King John of Bohemia, Duke of Luxemburg, with whom he traveled to nearly every country in Europe.
The movement of the papacy to Avignon in 1309 prompted a migratory movement of singers from the north who disseminated their art and built connections with their southern counterparts from Aquitaine, Quercy, Catalonia, and Italy. Musicians who had once been attached to a specific location now began to travel from cathedrals to princely courts, to learn and to offer their skills. Their circulation created an unprecedented exchange of musical techniques, and the style of Machaut’s Mass is a testament to this cosmopolitan collaboration.
Machaut was also a priest and canon, even though the majority of his work dealt primarily with romantic rather than sacred subjects. He composed the Messe de Nostre Dame toward the end of his life, but it is interesting to note that at the same time he also wrote another masterpiece, Le voir dit, a setting of his poem describing courtly love.
Artists of the 14th century would have been astonished and perhaps affronted to hear their creations described as “Gothic.” The word only came into use beginning in the 16th century to designate the aesthetic of the previous three centuries, which was considered somewhat barbarous by those who saw Antiquity as the archetype for all art. They no longer shared the world-view that gave birth to the artistic forms of the preceding centuries, which 19th-century historians later categorized once and for all as “Gothic.” Today, for the sake of convenience, we continue to use this word for the period, conscious that neither the Goths nor the European people of the late Middle Ages had the slightest idea that historians would lump them together under a single term.
During the Gothic period, Europeans saw themselves as profoundly modern and uniquely able, thanks to the development of their faculties of observation and analysis, to utilize the laws of nature to create architectural or mental constructs that had hitherto been impossible. This period is largely the result of a tremendous enthusiasm that swept through the consciousness of the time, giving rise to new forms that synthesized age-old skills and recently mastered techniques, the fruits of observation and the spirit of analysis; in a word, science. The creators of the time, particularly the musicians among them, considered themselves deeply scientific, an adjective that today seems anachronistic, but which accurately sums up their self-image.
A Musical Revolution
In the 13th century, music underwent a radical evolution, both in theory and practice. A new musical notation system made it possible for the first time to indicate the precise duration of sounds. This was the result of efforts begun in the Carolingian period to forge tools that would enable composers to notate their music with increasing precision. Music manuscripts of the 9th and 10th centuries indicate only the articulation and ornamentation of the melody, since a system for analyzing and notating intervals was not developed until the early 11th century. In the late 13th century, musicians finally succeeded in devising a notation that also indicated every possible note-length.
When these new models of notation were proposed, they began to radically alter our relationship with time. Music, a phenomenon that could previously be properly grasped only through action, became an object of contemplation. Its unfolding in time could be perceived as a mathematical or geometrical object, independent of its manifestation in sound. This “freezing” of sound made it possible to scrutinize and structure the deployment of the sound material, creating a temporal object outside of time.
Musicians embraced this concept eagerly, and toward the middle of the 14th century an even more complex and sophisticated movement, later known as the Ars Subtilior, began to explore the temporal combinations that notation permitted to their furthest extreme. A far-reaching transformation took place. The mastery of numbers in the sphere of time gave men the impression that they had become something greater than mere cogs in a greater cosmic order. Thanks to the mathematical mastery of durations, music had become geometry of time.
With this new ability to conceive music outside of time, musicians began to regard themselves as creators, building structures that did not exist before their intervention in the sound material. This is probably why the 14th century gave rise to the gradual emergence of named composers.
Polyphony, Chant, and Performance
To set these colorful polyphonic pieces in their ritual context, we have surrounded the mass with some Gregorian chants sung in the French manner described by Jerome of Moravia in the late 13th century. These are the Propers of the Mass of the Purification of the Virgin. The tempo of plainchant expresses the degree of solemnity. It is brisk and lively on ordinary days, while the rhythm of declamation was slowed down for great liturgical celebrations. Polyphony always appears in a context of solemnity, for it permits one to sing the words even more slowly. This is why it was sometimes called the Positio Solemnis (“Solemn Position”). The slower the chant, the more space opens up for the art of ornamentation to blossom. Today – despite the evidence of documents of the period – performers who attempt to recreate this music of the 14th century have a tendency to ignore this art. This is a pity, because the practice, far from being a superfluous element, constitutes the very basis of the art of chant. Ornamentation conveys the skill, and therefore the legitimacy, of the singer. Ornaments are above all at the service of the text, bringing out the subtlety of its phrasing. It attracts the listeners’ attention to the complex sounds of the words by underlining syllabic articulations: the diphthongs, liquescences, and percussiveness of certain consonants that are important for the understanding of the word. The art of ornamentation, when properly mastered, opens the listeners’ minds to multiple resonances of the text which is uttered, for each word is polished, sculpted like a precious stone in which every cut, by reflecting the rays it receives, projects the twinkling of light.
Byzas: Sticheron Apostichon Idiomelon for St. Basil
Tues, Jan 30
Dufay: Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinpolitanae
Wed, Jan 31
Machaut: La Messe de Nostre Dame
Following his Cappella Romana début in 2012 leading powerful chants from Santiago de Compostela, international early music star Marcel Pérès from Paris directs the earliest known Mass setting by a single composer, Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), with chants for Candlemas.
“a highly distinctive timbre and approach” —Gramophone Magazine
Widely considered an iconoclast in the early music movement, Medieval Latin chant specialist Marcel Pérès has developed a robust and vibrant, expressive and energetic style of singing plainchant, challenging audiences and fellow scholars and performers to reconsider how to approach ancient repertories from throughout the Christian world.
After studying organ and composition at the Nice Conservatory, Pérès pursued his musical education in Great Britain and Canada. Upon his return to Europe in 1979, he began to specialize in medieval music and in 1982, he founded Ensemble Organum for the purpose of undertaking a methodical exploration of medieval liturgical repertoires.
In 1984 he founded a research centre at the Royaumont Foundation for the performance of medieval music: the CERIMM (Centre Européen pour la Recherche sur l’Interprétation des Musiques Médiévales – European Medieval Music Research and Performance Centre) where he was director until 1999.
Under his direction, Ensemble Organum has released numerous highly acclaimed recordings. Their awards include: Diapason d’or, Classical Awards, Choc de l’année of the Monde de la Musique, and New York Times’ Essential Records of the 20th Century. Pérès is also the composer of over thirty works.
In 2001, at the former Abbey of Moissac, Pérès created the CIRMA (Centre Itinérant de Recherche sur les Musiques Anciennes – Itinerant Centre for Early Music Research), designed to examine historical movement and experiential knowledge from past centuries in order to develop a mutually informative approach between living traditions and musical archaeology.
In 1990, Monsieur Pérès was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Prize by the French Secretary of State. In 1996, he received the distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) from the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2013 the distinction of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters (Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). He is godfather of the “Marcel” bell, which was built in 2012 and consecrated on February 2, 2013 for the 850th anniversary celebration of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.