Russian Orthodox "Canonical" Chant Books

(Since the repertoire of liturgical chant books was firmly established before the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in the mid-1600s, the pre-Nikonian neumatic chant books will be considered as definitive or "canonical" in the realm of traditional Russian Chant. Post-schism editions varied somewhat in their adherance to the traditional models in regard to contents of the separate volumes. But it must also be recognized that the contents of the pre-schism chant books also varied a bit according to the source, time period, region, preferences of the compilers, etc.)

The chant books of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first centuries were somewhat awkward attempts at creating anthologies of liturgical music for practical usage. As the Church continued to grow and become more organized and refined, the contents of the chant books became more firmly established, the chant melodies underwent changes, and the system of neumatic notation continued to be refined so that the neumes could fairly accurately present the chant melodies on paper. The Old Ritualists preserve numerous manuscripts and books containing chants with neumatic notation, which they use to this day; the dominant post-Nikonian church attempted to adapt the older stately Znamenny Chant melodies to the new staff notation, but several factors collided to result in a sweeping change in the overall chant tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, with most of the older Znamenny Chant melodies being left behind in the wake of liturgical and cultural reforms.

About ninety percent of the entire body of pre-Nikonian chant liturature is contained in the following chant books (the rest being found in manuscripts in various libraries and private collections):

a) Obikhodnik (or: Obikhod): contains the “usual” or “common” (as opposed to “proper”) music for Great Vespers (the Vigil), Great Compline, Sunday Midight Office, Great Matins, the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, the Moleben, the Panikhyda, etc.

b) Oktai (or: Oktoikh): contains music for the eight-week cycle of eight Tones (Octoechos), each Tone being sung for a whole week. The book, in eight chapters, is primarily intended to provide music for the eight Resurrectional Services for each Sunday, but a few selections from the weekday Octoechos are included. Some editions also have the music for the eleven-week Matins Resurrection Gospel cycle as an appendix.

c) Irmoloi (or: Irmologii, Irmologion): contains the complete collection of the Heirmoi which are sung at each Ode of the Canons (sung at Compline and Matins, and at Molebens and Panikhydas). The book is in eight chapters, one for each Tone, and each chapter has nine divisions, according to the nine Odes, which are based on the nine Biblical Canticles listed in the back of the Psalter. Some additional chant materials are contained as an appendix (the Refrains for the 9th Ode of the Canon for certain Great Feasts, and the Heirmoi for December 21, 22, 23, 24; January 1, 3, 4, 5).

d) Triod: this book contains all the music for the movable Lenten-Paschal cycle, and is in two parts (divided according to pre-Nikonian usage): i) the Triod Postnaia (Lenten Triodion), which provides music for the pre-Lenten season through Lazarus Saturday, and ii) the Triod Tsvetnaia (Flowery Triodion) or Pentecostar (Pentecostarion), which contains music for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Pascha, and the Sundays and feasts up to the Sunday of All Saints. In the Byzantine and New Rite Russian traditions, however, the Lenten Triodion covers the period of time covering the pre-lenten season, Great Lent and all of Holy Week, while the Pentecostarion begins with Pascha and continues through until the Sunday of All Saints.

e) Prazdniki: contains music for the Great Feasts which are on the fixed calendar, namely: the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Elevation of the Cross, the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, the Nativity of Christ, the Theophany of the Lord, the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, the Annunciation of the Theotokos, the Transfiguration of the Lord, and the Dormition of the Theotokos

f) Trezvon (or: Anfologii, Anfoloi, Anthologion): contains various selections of music for most of the important lesser feasts of the fixed Church year, including hymnographic materials to many of the important local (Russian) saints. Of all the above-mentioned chant books, this is the only one which is not available in a New Rite rescension; it was prepared for press on the eve of the 1917 revolution, but political circumstances prevented its publication.

g) Obednitsa: This is a fairly modern chant book which contains all the chants for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, as well as the Presanctified Liturgy, the Hierarchical Liturgy, Weddings, and a few other occasions. Some editions include alternate Demestvenny Chant melodies for the Divine Liturgy.

h) Treby, or Sbornik: This is any collection of chants for services from the Trebnik (Book of Needs), including Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms, the Lesser and Greater Blessings of Water, Molebens, Panychidas, etc.

i) Azbuka: This is a Primer of the nuematic (Hook or "Kriuki") musical notation. The book may contain a wide variety of teaching and reference materials.

It should be kept in mind that various regions, community traditions and scribes had considerable influence in determining the precise content of these chant books, particularly the Obikhodnik, Trezvon and Treby. Some regions also made use of Demestvenny and Put’ melodies for special occasions, as well as alternate melodies within the Znamenny tradition; some obscure chants, the compositions of various regional chanters, are located in manuscripts (the Solovetskii monastery collection, for example) found in libraries throughout the world, the study of which would occupy a person for many years. In addition, thousands of neumatic chant Primers exist world-wide, containing both chants and instructional materials.

The 1601 Suprasl (Byelorussian) Irmologion (actually an extended Obikhod or Anthologion) was the first printed collection of chants using the five-lined quadratic (Kievan) natation.


Compiled by Nikita Simmons, February 2005