Variations on an Orthodox theme
The music of the Orthodox Church contains innumerable riches. Today I’m pushing the envelope a little further and recommending a CD of improvisations based on Orthodox hymns. The ECM album is by the Greek jazz pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos, and here is his own description of the music:
Inspired by ancient Byzantine Greek music and the hymns sung during the Easter period in the Orthodox churches, the music on this album became a poem of eight pictures. It was the timeless essence of this music as well as its expressive simplicity that drew me to it. I approached this rare musical expression with deep respect and attention to its unique melodic form, careful to remain within this rare musical expression with deep respect and attention to its unique melodic form, careful to remain within the context of a holy tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation.The album is titled Akroasis (Divine Music) and it is available on ECM 1737. Sample the music via this link. Track 3, the hymn Ek nyktos gives a very good taster of this outstanding CD.
The music included in this recording is a polychromatic mosaic. The musical text is developed in broad phrases, which are repeated in the manner, one might say, of fixed periods, sometimes in the original form and sometimes pianistic variations. Despite this repetition, characteristic of Byzantine composition, the interweaving of the modes and melodic lines leads to frequent leaps, which are underlined for example, by the conclusion of one musical passage in the fourth mode and the beginning of the next an octave higher. Each piece portrays an appropriate mood or scene. Ideally, this collection should be performed only as a set.
Vassilis Tsabropoulos has recorded two other albums with Byzantine connections. In Chants, Hymns and Dances he is joined by cellist Anja Lechner and in the newly released Melos the duo team up with percussionist U.T. Ghandi. Both albums include improvisations on themes from the Greek-Armenian Sufi philosopher and composer G. I. Gurdjieff. And talking of Gurdjieff, there is Keith Jarrett’s grossly underrated ECM album Sacred Hymns of G. I. Gurdjieff.
Now listen to some original Russian Orthodox music.
Header photo by Chris Hellier. His wonderful book Monasteries of Greece (Tauris Parke ISBN 1-85043-264-3) is well worth seeking out, but it is out of print and copies aren't cheap. All CDs mentioned in this article were bought at retail. I also paid my own cleaning bills. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk