Eastern Orthodox music

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Byzantine music is the medieval sacred chant of Christian Churches following the Orthodox rite. This tradition, encompassing the Hellenistic speaking world, developed in Byzantium from the establishment of its capital, Constantinople, in 330 until its fall in 1453. Byzantine music drew on the artistic and technical productions of the classical age, on Jewish music, and inspired by the monophonic vocal music that evolved in the early Christian cities of Alexandria, Antioch and Epheus. Thus, Orthodox music developed from a Greek musical background.

Orthodoxy has spread and its music adapted to its various regions, however, Orthodox musics has retained its distinctive features and differs from European music. On important occasions, singing is used in place of chanting, thus some things which are chanted at minor services are sung at more important services. Singing is as varied and multi-faceted in its forms as chanting and vestments, changing with the Church 'seasons' of commemoration thus singing during Great Lent is always somber and during Holy Week nearly becomes a sorrowful dirge while during Pascha (Easter) and the Paschal season the notes are high and quick and as joyful as they were sad during Lent. The power of music is used to its full effect to bring about spiritual renewal in the listeners.

Over the centuries Orthodox church music has expanded and become more elaborate. The Church uses eight 'tones' or 'modes,' which are broad categories of melodies. Within each of these tones are many small more precise melodies. All of these tones and their melodies rotate weekly so that during each week a particular tone is used for singing music.


Russian Orthodox choral music is known for its Oktavists, singers capable of an exceptionally deep-ranged basso profundo. This voice type has a vocal range which extends down to A1 (an octave below the baritone range) and sometimes to F1 (an octave below the bass staff) with the extreme lows for oktavists, such as Mikhail Zlatopolsky or Alexander Ort, reaching C1.

Slavic choral composers may occasionally descend to lower notes such as F1 in "Kheruvimskaya pesn" (Song of Cherubim) by Krzysztof Penderecki, G1 in "Ne otverzhi mene" by Pavel Chesnokov or B♭1 in the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, although such notes sometimes make an appearance likewise in repertoire by non-Slavic composers (e.g. B♭1 appears in Gustav Mahler's Second and Eighth Symphonies). Russian composers often make no distinction between a basso profondo, an oktavist or a contrabass singer.

Sergei Kochetov, Vladimir Miller, and Mikhail Kruglov recorded a number of classic Russian folk songs and similar music, singing them in a low-pitched key to invoke the old oktavist tradition which dates back to the Tsar's court.