The Paschal Canon in the Russian Znamenny Chant Traditions
(Пасхальный канон)

Transcriptions and notes by Nikita Simmons
Woodburn, Oregon

Over the past several years I have been compiling recordings and manuscript versions of all the known "mainstream families" of melodies for the complete Paschal Canon according to surviving Znamenny manuscript and oral traditions, and I am gradually making transcriptions of these sources. In addition to those presented here, I am still trying to locate more settings, such as Siberian groups of Old Believers (particularly the Semeiski Zabaikal groups), but so far I have not had much success.

Definitions of terminology:

a) "Naonnoe" melodies (наонное пение): singing texts according to the archaic pronunciation; the "hard sign" (ъ) is sung as «О» ("o" in oar), and the "soft sign" (ь) is sung as «Э» ("e" in bed).
b) "Narechnoe" melodies (наречное пение): singing texts according to the current received pronunciation (without vocalization of the hard and soft signs).
c) "Raspev" (распев) : chant; a cohesive system or repertoire of chant melodies.
d) Singing "Na raspev" (пение на распев): singing "to a melody" (unspecified); singing a lengthy or difficult melody according to a more simplified or abbreviated oral tradition.
e) "Na podoben" (на подобен): singing "to a melody" (specified); singing a text with a melody known to be associated with another text; using the same melody or set of motifs for multiple texts.
f) "Pripevy" (припевы): the Refrains before the troparia of each Ode.

i.) For Odes (песни) 1-7 and Ode (песнь) 9, we sing:
"Christ is risen from the dead." (Христос воскресе из мертвых.)
"Glory..." (Слава...); "Both now..." (И ныне...)

ii.) On the 8th Ode we sing the Refrains: "Christ is risen from the dead" (Христис воскресе из мертвых); but before the third troparion we sing: "Most Holy Trinity, our God, glory to Thee" (Пресвятая Троице, Боже наш, слава Теве).
Instead of "Glory..." (Слава...), we sing "We bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Lord" (Благословим Отца и Сына и Святаго Духа, Господа); "Both now..." (И ныне...).

iii.) Following the 8th Ode, but before the Katavasia, we sing: "We praise, we bless, we worship the Lord; we hymn and supremely exalt Him unto the ages." (Хвалим, благословим, кланяемся, поем и превозносим Его во веки.)

iv.) In the Greek Rite and the Russian New Rite, there are special Refrains on the 9th Ode sung before the troparia. (Evidence points to these being very late additions to the Greek books.) Note that none of the traditional pre-Nikonian or Carpatho-Rusyn settings of the Canon which I located include refrains on the 9th Ode of the Canon; the only exception is the 1902 Galician setting, which also follows the New Rite text.

Authorship of the Canon

The text is the composition of St. John Damascene. The music gradually evolved out of the ancient Byzantine Slavonic neumatic/oral tradition; the earliest Russian manuscripts that can be sung with full comprehension of the notation date from c. 1600, both in Central and Southwestern Russia. The known sets of melodies dating from after c. 1600 are the focus of this study.

The Lineage of the Paschal Canon Melodies

In tracing the lineage of the Paschal Canon in Znamenny Chant, the earliest neumatic settings are found in the medieval East-Slavic chant books called Heirmologia (collections of Heirmoi) and Sticheraria (collections of Stichera). Undoubtedly these are Slavonic-language adaptations of an earlier Byzantine-Slavic proto-type (possibly from the Chilandar monastery on Mt. Athos), but we do not have solid evidence to prove this theory with absolute certainty (although partial evidence is available). These earlier neumatic settings (a number of which are included below in PDF format) seem to have been distributed quite widely throughout the East-Slavic world — in the older Kievan Rus' regions, in the Novgorod-Pskov cultural region, as well as the emerging cultural center of the early principality of Moscow (especially at the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra). By the 16th century (or quite likely much earlier), the musical traditions of each of these earlier cultural centers had begun to diverge, in part due to geographical distance, political separation, external cultural influences, and the natural development of oral traditions.

An in-depth study of several of regional variants of the Paschal Canon (presented below) reveals that all these settings have recognizable melodic traits that tie them into an common original "Znamenny" prototype, although each have unique features that set them apart as distinctly different settings. Undoubtedly, the reasons for these variations are due to the dispersion of the original prototype over a wide geographical area, and the subsequent transmission of this prototype through the following centuries, subject to the fluid nature of oral traditions in a diversity of regions.

A closer examination of these variant melodies reveals that there are three discernable "sub-families" descending from the prototype, each of which share a fairly obvious relationship to each other (i.e., similar melodic motifs, or motifs which are predictably divergent from other settings). These three sub-families are:

Additionally, each of the "sub-families" is likewise subject to the same principles of "oral evolution" on a smaller scale; this has resulted in almost every single parish having its own unique interpretation of the Paschal Canon. (Tracing the lineage of these melodies is strikingly similar to tracing the lineage of a group of languages. One can establish that certain languages are closely related to each other, and then one can see that there are regional dialects within each language, and different accents and vocabulary in every town and village.)

Liturgical Note: In the pre-Nikonian rites, the Pascal Troparion "Christ is risen..." is not sung three times after each Katavasia; the addition of the Troparion is a feature of the Greek tradition. At the Paschal Matins (on Sunday only) there is a Small Ektenie following each Ode of the Canon.


Paschal Canon
(Пасхальный Канон)
Early Znamenny Chant
(commonly-shared East-Slavic tradition –
neumatic notation without pitch marks)

Национальная библиотека Республики карелия (National Library of the Republic of Karelia)

Manuscript: НБ РК, инв. № 165794 рИрмологий, розники и праздники: богослужебный нотированный сборник на крюковых нотах (see this link for description).
extracted Irmosy (JPGs): Odes 1 and 3 are missing; Ode 4 - Ode 5 - Ode 6 - Ode 7 - Ode 8 - Ode 9


Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра (Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra)

Собрание рукописных книг Московской духовной академии (фундаментальное) – РГБ ф. 173.II.

Рукопись № 27 — Ирмологий (без начала) и Октоих на крюковых нотах.
(A date and description of the manuscript is not given. Probably dates from c. 1605-20, as the notation has an early system of red pitch marks.)
extracted Irmosy (large JPGs): Ode 1 - Ode 3 - Ode 4 - Ode 5 - Ode 6 - Ode 7 - Ode 8 - Ode 9

Рукопись № 120 — Ирмологий (без начала) и Октоих на крюковых нотах.

(A date and description of the manuscript is not given.)
extracted Irmosy (large JPGs): Ode 1 - Ode 3 - Ode 4 - Ode 5 - Ode 6 - Ode 7 - Ode 8 - Ode 9

[more sources to be added]    

A. Northern Russian (Pomorskii) Znamenny Oral Tradition
(Type B neumatic notation with red pitch marks; naonoe pre-Nikonian text)

1a. Older Great Russian Znamenny Raspev

Source: Pomorskii Obikhod (Preobrazhenskii Bogodelnyi Dom, Moscow, 1911). Naonnoe text; Type B neumatic musical notation; heirmological genre melodies. [PDF of the complete Pascha section of this book]
This printed chant book strictly follows the manuscript tradition of Novgorod and Moscow (c. 1600), and is still used by the majority of Pomortsy and Fedoseevtsy Priestless Old Believers (primarily in Northern Russia and the Baltic Republics, as well as the eastern USA). This is the full authentic slow version of Znamenny Chant; while it is still included in the Pomorskii chant books, I have found no evidence that any communities actually sing the Canon strictly according to the book, but instead they sing it "na raspev" (more rapidly, according to a simplified oral tradition).

ALSO: A transcription (source unknown) of the Irmosy into modern notation with pre-Nikonian text: PDF





1b. Great Russian Znamenny Raspev

Source: наречный поморскии обиход (Narechnyi Pomorskii Obikhod), manuscript РГБ 354-144, contributed by Andrei Dement'ev (posted at Narechnoe text; Type B neumatic musical notation; heirmological genre melodies.
Description: Это приблизительно 1648-52гг., т.к. в многолетии есть имя патр. Иосифа. Текст раздельноречный, с немногими наречными фрагментами. Редакции напевов в основном 1 половины 17 века, традиционные. Есть и новины - в плане распевов, а не вариантов. Опометка поздняя, с выговской редакцией, подписанной киноварью наверху. Есть этот Обиход в чищенном виде в Фотошопе. Очень подробно им занималась Анна Абрамова и делала небольшой доклад на 4м съезде. Литургию будем готовить к изданию.



2. Riga (Pomorskii) Small Znamenny variant

Source: Recording by S. Pichugin, 2004. Naonnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the Riga (Pomortsy) oral tradition. The Theotokia are not included in the recording.




3. Samara (Pomorskii) Small Znamenny variant

Source: Recording by ... . Narechnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the Samara (Samarskaia Pomorskaia Obshchina) oral tradition. The melodies have been adapted to modern Old Believer pronunciation of Slavonic, and are quite similar to the Riga tradition.


4. Another (Staropomorskii) Small Znamenny variant

Source: A tape recording of an unidentified Staropomorskii/Fedoseevtsy community (location and year unknown, possibly Saratov or somewhere in the Baltic Republics), which I purchased from a collector in Moscow. Naonnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev"(abbreviated Znamenny raspev), quite similar to the Riga oral tradition, but somewhat slower than the other local variants I have heard.

Transcribing this recording was a difficult task because the singers all sound very elderly and there were numerous "challenges" getting used to their unrefined vocal techniques (especially vocal imprecision). The most obvious feature of the recording is that each singer executes the melodies from memory in a slightly different way than all the others; while this is not always a problem, there are phrases where the pitches are very difficult to identify. The momentary difference in pitches usually create a consonant interval (thirds, fourths or fifths), but sometimes the interval is dissonant (seconds) or even an indistinct "tone cluster". All of this makes it difficult to determine which is the definite "correct" pitch. (There is an incidental or unintentional "heterophony" at work here, and one can even create a "folk polyphony" as an academic exercise, but it must be stressed that the Old Believer singing ideology is strictly based on monophonic singing, as polyphonic settings are contrary to our Church teachings.)

Moreover, it is equally frustrating that the singers seldom repeat the same Heirmos or Troparion in the same way (even when it is immediately repeated), but there is a fluid, almost improvisatory nature to their performance that speaks to the "living quality" of this oral tradition. In transcribing the melodies, I frequently had to listen to the entire sequence of Heirmos and Troparia for each Ode, determine what the "motifs" sounded like, and strive to set down the melodies with consistency. At times I had to "tweak" the phrases to ensure that the Heirmoi and their Troparia have a unified melodic structure, and at times I allowed the difference to remain, as they complemented the text better. In a few instances where it sounded like two melodies being sung together, I deliberately chose melodic contours that were in contrast to the Riga melodies, in order to give some variety. (I had to reconstruct a portion of the Troparia of the 7th Ode because the recording is incomplete.) My final choice of melodic structure and phrasing is aimed at using these transcriptions for a practical use in church services. This is by no means a perfect transcription.




5a. Erie [Pennsylvania, USA] (Pomorskii) Small Znamenny variant - Slavonic

Source: Tape recording by N. Simmons, c. 1990. Naonnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the oral tradition of the Pomortsy Old Believers who settled in Erie, Pennsylvania in the 1920s, after leaving their original villages in the Suwalki region of Poland. As expected, the melodies are quite similar to the Riga community, but it is very interesting to note that the Erie community sharpens the high B-flat to B-natural, producing a modal sequence that is not characteristic (or even possible) within the Znamenny "gamut" (scale). This phenomenon, however, is found in a few other recordings I have found, especially in the Lipovan tradition (which has some interesting historical implications).

I have reconstructed the melodies for the Theotokia based on analysis of the Canon melodies, since the Erie community has all but abandoned the use of Church Slavonic in favor of English, and I made my recording long after these particular melodies were lost. (There is the possibility that the Theotokia were never sung to the Paschal Canon melodies, as is the case in the vast majority of places, but I have found it easy to make a theoretical reconstruction which seems entirely plausible.)





5b. Erie (Pomorskii) Small Znamenny variant - English adaptation

The pre-Nikonian text was translated by Rev. German Ciuba, c. 1983, and was adapted to the traditional melodies by N. Simmons, c. 1990. (Note: these are not the same settings sung by the Erie community, but have been arranged to more closely match the oral tradition of this Pomortsy community.)


6. Oregon Small Znamenny variant: Priested Old Believer oral tradition

Source: Tape recordings by N. Simmons, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Narechnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the Oregon (Priested Old Believer, Church of the Holy Ascension) oral tradition.

Oddly enough, the melodies for the Canon are more closely related to the Pomorskii oral tradition than to the Moscow/Nizhnii Novgorod tradition, although sung rather quickly. (More research needs to be conducted to understand why this is the case.)




7. Oregon Small Znamenny variant: Turkish Lipovan oral tradition

Source: Digital recording by N. Simmons, 2006.

This version, which is sung in Oregon, USA, at the Church of the Holy Protection (a Priestless Old Believer community which emigrated from Turkey to the USA c.1963), is quite unusual compared to all other known versions of the Paschal Canon.

The text is fascinating; while this community claims to follow the narechnoe text tradition, there are frequent vestiges of naonnoe singing scattered throughout their entire singing tradition. This suggests that the community may have once followed the naonnoe tradition and then switched to narechnoe singing at some point in time; typically, such communities in the Baltic Republics which have made this transition tend to revert to naonnoe singing for many well-known pieces of music of the Great Feasts (which demonstrates the conservative nature of the Old Believer oral tradition). Likewise, many other "hold-overs" from the earlier "naonnoe" textual tradition (such as vocalized semi-vowels) are preserved in this community's archaic oral tradition.

The melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the oral tradition of the Oregon "Turkish" community. While the melody is certainly a regional variant of the abbreviated Znamenny melodies, the community's extreme isolation for two centuries, as well as a lack of maintaining knowledge of the neumatic notation, has allowed the oral tradition to evolve into a dramatically altered set of melodies for almost all of their melodic repertoire. This oral tradition is a unique local variant of the Lipovan oral tradition, which is preserved by Old Believers in Romania, Moldova, parts of Ukraine and Crimea. (I have not been able to locate any other communities which preserve similar melodies for the Paschal Canon.) Most notable is the altered tonality with a raised "high FA" pitch and atypical intervals in the melodic motifs.


B. Central Russian Znamenny Oral Tradition
(Type A neumatic notation with red pitch marks; narechnoe pre-Nikonian text)


1. Newer Great Russian Znamenny Raspev

Source: Krasnoiarsk Museum manuscript No. 145031, Обиход (1694-1696 гг.)
Nikonian narechnoe text with Type A neumatic notation (a rare find).

ALSO: Two other manuscripts (one [original] and two [originally posted at, but now removed]) – modern adaptations of the Pomorskii version using the Nikonian texts.


2. Moscow/Nizhnyi Novgorod Small Znamenny variant

Source: Tape recordings..... Narechnoe text; the melodies are sung "na raspev" (abbreviated Znamenny raspev) according to the central Russian oral tradition. There are slight differences between the Moscow and Nizhnyi Novgorod traditions, but they are quite similar melodically.


C. Southwestern Rusyn Znamenny Oral Tradition
(Kievan square-note staff notation; pre-Nikonian & Nikonian texts)

1) Southwestern Russian Znamenny Raspev

The Canon and Stichera for Pascha
Source: Carpatho-Rusyn manuscript [PDF: original Kievan square-note notation / modern round-note notation in alto clef], possibly from Peremyshl, c. 1780's (Jasynov'sky catalog number 228).

The narechnoe text follows the pre-Nikonian recension, but with a few regional peculiarities; "Kievan" staff musical notation is used. The melodies are quite similar to the Great Russian neumatic versions, suggesting a common shared lineage (i.e the "Prototype"), but some of the cadences have a different structure; this confirms the fact that the original neumatic notation had different regional interpretations.

The manuscript contains no melodies for Refrains, but it does include a unique melody for the Hypakoe and the Paschal Stichera (also without refrains). The Paschal Theotokia are not included in the manuscript.




2) Carpatho-Rusyn Small Znamenny variant by Khoma

Source: Prostopinije, edited by Fr. Ioakim Khoma, Mukachevo, 1930.
The text follows the Nikonian recension, and the melodies represent the tradition of the Monastery of St. Nicholas on the Black Mountain in the Mukachevo Diocese.




3) Carpatho-Rusyn Small Znamenny variant by Papp

Source: Irmologion Grekokatolickij Liturgijnyj Spiv Eparchiji Mukachevskoji, edited by Stefan Papp, Preshov, 1970.
The text follows the Nikonian recension, and the melodies represent the tradition of the cathedral parish of the Mukachevo Diocese. Note that the text has been tampered with by anti-Semites, in order to avoid Jewish references (particularly in the Irmos of the 9th Ode of the Canon).




4) Galician Small Znamenny variant

Source: Napevnik tserkovnyi (Напевник церковный), edited by Ignatii Polotniuk, Peremyshl, 1902.
ThIs variant uses Nikonian text, and the melodies are derived from a local or regional oral tradition of Galicia. Comparing these melodies with some of the other oral traditions, one can clearly see that they are derived from an abbreviated Znamenny tradition. It is interesting to note that this book provides only a single refrain for the 9th Ode of the Canon, so it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions whether the other refrains were sung or not.