Carpatho-Rusyn Prostopinije: The Influence of Znamennyj chant
Sources of the Prostopinije
The Carpatho-Rusyn Slavonic plainchant (prostopinije) is a typical and distinctive feature of Rusyn culture. Where did it come from?
No single answer can be given, because the prostopinije is a
composite chant system, including elements from various sources.
The oldest of these is the znamennyj chant, and it is remarkable that
this chant, which has almost disappeared in Great Russian church
singing, is preserved in a few still-living traditions: the chant of
the Russian Old
Believers, the "Ukrainian Chant" of Galicia and other western
Ukrainian provinces, and the Carpatho-Rusyn prostopinije.
The First Slavonic Chants
After the conversion of the rulers of Kievan Rus' to Christianity
(late 10th century), the Greek "Byzantine" chant was adapted to
Slavonic texts (we do not know to what extent this may have already
been done among the Balkan Slavs).
The chant melodies were written with signs called neumes; these
were applied to the Slavonic text.
Two Styles of Neumes, Two Styles of Chant
The Greeks had two styles of neumes at that time, and these
produced two styles also among the Slavs of Kievan Rus'.
The "kondakarion" notation was applied to melodies used for
kondaks (short hymnic stanzas that vary according to the day,
sung at Matins and at the Liturgy) and to several other categories of
hymns, mostly sung at Matins.
The "stolp" notation was applied to the melodies used for
stichiry (hymns accompanying psalm verses, sung at Vespers and
Matins), for irmosy and stepenny (based on canticles or
psalms from the Bible and sung at Matins), and so on.
Manuscripts containing these two forms of chant have survived from the
end of the 11th century.
The Spread of Znamennyj Chant
In the 13th century, the Tatars (Mongols) destroyed Kiev and most of
the other important centers of Kievan Rus'.
The kondakarian chant vanished from use entirely, but the stolp
notation and the znamennyj chant to which it was applied flourished,
particularly in Belorussia and in Novgorod and the Russian northwest,
and were further developed in the 15th century.
After the Muscovite takeover of Novgorod and Pskov (late 15th
century), the North Russian (Novogorod region) chant tradition was
adopted throughout the Grand Duchy of Moscow, developing separately
from what we may call the "Ruthenian" chant tradition, that is, the
chant employed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland,
and the Kingdom of Hungary.
But the znamennyj chant remained basic to both, and remained
essentially the same in both traditions despite some differences in
Development of the Irmologia
The Ruthenian chant was collected in a single volume, the Irmologion,
in which the znamennyj chant was the dominant element.
Carpatho-Rusyn cantors continued to write manuscript Irmologia until
the second half of the 19th century; in western Ukraine, printed
editions of the Irmologion began to appear in 1700.
The chant remained essentially the same; the biggest change was that
beginning around 1600 the neumatic notation was abandoned for notation
with a 5-line staff and square note heads.
Bokšaj's Cerkovnoje prostopinie (Church plainchant), first
published in 1906, employs modern notation with round note heads; most
of the irmosy, and a number of other chants, are still sung to
the traditional znamennyj melodies in this collection, although
Bokšaj does not refer to them by that name.
So the Carpatho-Rusyns have preserved the old znamennyj chant down to
the present as the oldest element in their traditional prostopinije.
Next: Znamennyj chant: structure and character
By Steven Reynolds, University of Oregon.
From the "Carpatho-Rusyn American", Vol. II (1979), No. 3, published by the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Society.