Nine Church Pieces
Tchaikovsky's Nine Church Pieces (Девять духовно-музыкальных сочинений) for unaccompanied mixed voices (TH 78 ; ČW 79-87), also known as Nine Sacred Pieces, were written between November 1884 and the summer of 1885.
Scored for unaccompanied mixed chorus (SATB). Let My Prayer Ascend (No. 8) includes parts for SSA soloists.
Movements and Duration
- Cherubim's Song No.1 (Херувимская песнь № 1)
Quite slowly (F major, 78 bars).
- Cherubim's Song No.2 (Херувимская песнь № 2)
Slowly (D major, 116 bars).
- Cherubim's Song No.3 (Херувимская песнь № 3)
Slowly (C major, 85 bars).
- We Hymn Thee (Тебе поем)
Moderately (C major, 36 bars).
- It is Truly Fitting (Достойно есть)
Moderately (D minor, 48 bars).
- Our Father (Отче наш)
Quite lively—More slowly (F major, 70 bars).
- Blessed Are They Whom Thou Hast Chosen (Блаженни, яже избрал)
Quite slowly (E-flat major, 58 bars).
- Let My Prayer Ascend (Да исправится)
Slowly (D minor, 15 bars).
- Now the Heavenly Powers (Ныне Силы Небесныя) 
Slowly (G major, 78 bars) .
A complete performance of all nine pieces lasts around 45 to 50 minutes.
The words were adapted by Tchaikovsky from Russian liturgical texts. No. 7 uses verses from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy, and No. 8 is based on the text of Psalm 140.
On the way to Davos, while staying for four days in Berlin, the composer wrote the first two Cherubim's Songs, as he told Pyotr Jurgenson from Munich on 7/19 November 1884 . During his visit to Davos, to see the gravely-ill Iosif Kotek, the third Cherubim’s Song was composed, and all three were copied out and sent to Mily Balakirev at the Imperial Chapel Choir.
Tchaikovsky told Balakirev: "I have written three Cherubim's Songs, which I am now sending to you... If His Majesty orders [the Imperial Chapel Choir] to study one of them, then I humbly ask you, my good fellow, to choose which one of the three you consider to be superior. In my opinion the third (in C major) is the best, but I fear lest my attempt to imitate non-notated sacred chants (in "That we may receive the King")  should strike you as unsuccessful and inappropriate. Then again the remaining two are different, in that one (in D major) sounds closer in style to Bortnyansky, while the other is much further away, although I am admittedly a poor judge of my own works, and you have complete discretion to choose any one of them .
In reply Mily Balakirev told him: "I received your Cherubim's Songs some time ago, and since I was not ordered to make a hasty decision, I sent them to your publisher friend in order to study them from the printed parts, which is more straightforward for choral works. On their relative merits I shall say nothing, since I have hardly seen them. But with regard to the one in C major, which you prefer, then I am not sure that it could be considered the best. From the start its piquancy is undermined by an out-of-place dance rhythm [after the opening notes]. Anyway, in spite of these reservations, it is my considered opinion they should be published" .
Leaving Davos for Paris, Tchaikovsky told his brother Modeston 3/15 December 1884 that he had successfully written one church number . Following his return to Russia in April 1885, Tchaikovsky again set to work on composing church music, and wrote of this to Modest Tchaikovsky on 15/27 April: "I am presently working on a number of things for the church; between ourselves I have written a trio Let My Prayer Ascend" .
Precise information on the completion dates for all nine numbers was completed has not survived, but during the summer of 1885, Tchaikovsky worked on the proofs of six numbers (Nos. 4–9); in July the proofs were sent to Pyotr Jurgenson with authorisation to print them .
A reduction for solo piano (intended as an aid to rehearsals) was made by Tchaikovsky at the same time as the fair copy of each number.
The first performance took place on 17 February/1 March 1886 in the Moscow Conservatory at an evening concert of church music by the Russian Choral Society, conducted by Dmitry Orlov. The composer wrote that "one of Moscow's best church choirs performed a programme, which I put together, of various new compositions from the realm of church music. Some of my new church pieces were included, and were sung very well" .
The full scores were published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1885 as separate numbers: the three Cherubim's Songs in February 1885 , and the remaining numbers in August 1885 . A subsequent edition containing all nine pieces was issued in December 1896.
The Nine Pieces (omitting the piano reduction) were published in volume 63 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1990), edited by Lyudmila Korabelnikova and Marina Rakhmanova.
According to Tchaikovsky’s note on the sketches, the main tune of We Hymn Thee (No. 4) is based on a melody from the Common Chant of the Russian Orthodox service.
Notes and References
- In ČW Nos. 1 to 3 are styled "Cherubic Songs"; No. 8 is translated as Let My Prayer Arise, and No. 9 as Now the Powers of Heaven [back]
- Letter 2587 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 7/19 November 1884 [back]
- «Яко да Царя"» — the opening words of a verse in the Cherubic Song [back]
- Letter 2594 to Mily Balakirev, 17/29 November 1884 [back]
- Letter from Mily Balakirev to Tchaikovsky, 18/30 December 1884 — Klin House-Museum Archive [back]
- Letter 2617 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 3/15 December 1884. The number was To Thee We Hymn —see Notebook No. 16 in Klin House-Museum Archive [back]
- Letter 2688 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 15/27 April 1885. See also Letter 2689 to Nadezhda von Meck of the same date [back]
- See Letter 2734 to Sofiya Jurgenson, 9/21 July 1885 [back]
- Letter 2896 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 February/5 March––25 February/9 March 1886 [back]
- Passed by the censor on 17/29 January 1885 [back]
- Passed by the censor on 13/25 July 1885 [back]