Lenten Listening with Pavel Chesnokov

Today, as I crunched my early morning way through the blinding, post-storm whiteness, Pavel Chesnokov’s “Salvation is Created” popped unbidden into my head. I did not complain.

WARNING:  I’m not entirely sure for which liturgical season this piece is most appropriate. My instinct  — based on the lyrics — is that it was written for Christmas, but I’ve always found it deeply Lenten in tone and mood. Of course, I think that’s true for nearly all Russian sacred music;  something to do with all those steppes and endless, icy vastness, I suspect. That being said, please note that The Word That Shall Not Be Spoken During Lent is mentioned. So be careful out there.

Salvation is created, in the midst of the earth, O God, O our God. [Redacted].

I can vividly recall hearing this piece for the first time — live, at a concert with my father in “most definitely not snowy” Santa Barbara, California — and can just as vividly remember being absolutely blown away. The deep, powerful male voices that are the hallmark of all truly great Russian vocal music give the piece a profoundly somber sound, but it’s the combination of that “basement” with the piercingly high female voices that gets me every time. (And it’s such a solemn Alleluia, I hardly feel ashamed. Watching and waiting aplenty.)

Here’s a fascinating side note from Chesnokov’s Wikipedia page:

By the age of 30, Chesnokov had completed nearly four hundred sacred choral works, but his proliferation of church music came to a standstill at the time of the Russian revolution. Under communist rule, no one was permitted to produce any form of sacred art. So in response, he composed an additional hundred secular works, and conducted secular choirs like the Moscow Academy Choir and the Bolshoi Theatre Choir. In the Soviet era religion was often under oppression, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, whose last choirmaster had been Chesnokov, was destroyed. This disturbed him so deeply that he stopped writing music altogether.

shutterstock_81123202Attribution(s): “Bells on a Clear Morning” provided by Shutterstock.

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