Ivan Moody Guestblog: The Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus

Composer, Ivan Moody

The Paschal Canon of St John of Damascus encapsulates the theology, and the joy, of the Resurrection of Christ, the most important day of the Orthodox liturgical year. As the text has it in Fr Ephrem Lash’s translation, “This chosen and holy day is the first of Sabbaths, the Queen and Lady, the Feast of Feasts and the Festival of Festivals.”

I was deeply moved and honoured to be asked by Cappella Romana, with whom I have had a long and fruitful working relationship, to contribute to this multi-composer setting of this wonderful text. I chose to set the 8th Ode, which both connects the Resurrection to the people of Sion, coming “from West and North” and directly to the experience of the Triune Godhead, “Almighty Father, Word and Spirit”, manifestations of Paschal joy.

Musically, I have used the Byzantine chant of the received tradition as a basis (and have retained the Greek text), but have taken it in new directions, as has been my practice in recent years, endeavouring to find a meeting point between the liturgical sobriety of monophonic chant and the textural luxuriance of polyphonic writing – expanding the chant, as it were, by incorporating its characteristics into my melodic writing and constructing the harmony on that basis, endeavouring never to lose sight of its context and message. At the same I am perfectly aware of the mixed heritage that a composer who has worked in Russian, Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian traditions, and who has never lost sight of the great tradition of English choral music, has inevitably absorbed! Responding accordingly to such a wealth of traditions of part of the challenge, and the joy, of composing.

— Ivan Moody