Ten Motets for SATB a capella
1. Cherubic Hymn no.1
2. Cherubic Hymn no.2
3. Cherubic Hymn no.3
4. We worship thee
5. We honour thee, blessed maid
6. The Lord’s Prayer
7. How blessed are those dear souls
8. Let my prayer rise up
9. Lift up your heads O ye gates
10. Hearken to the voice
In these little-known sacred choruses, composed in 1885, Tchaikovsky embraces the traditional style of orthodox Russian church music, with its deep, sombre harmonies and extended alleluias.
In 1775 Tchaikovsky had written to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, “For me the church still possesses much poetical charm. I very often attend the services… If we follow the service very carefully, and enter into the meaning of every ceremony, it is impossible not to be profoundly moved by the liturgy of our own Orthodox Church.”
Tsar Aleksandr III (1881–1894) told the composer that he was puzzled at his not having written any more sacred music after completing the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, op.41. Between November 1884 and April 1885, therefore, Tchaikovsky composed three further settings of the Cherubic Hymn, all similar in mood to that found in the complete Liturgy but much more influenced by chant and transparently modal. He also set a series of other sacred texts, three of them from the Liturgy (no.4 We worship thee, no. 5 We honour thee, and no.6 The Lord’s Prayer), whilst the magnificent, light-filled no.7 How blessed are those dear souls comes from the Funeral service. No.8 Let my prayer rise up is from the Vespers, and no.9 Lift up your heads, in which the richness of Tchaikovsky’s scoring takes him close to Rachmaninoff or Kastalsky, is from the Liturgy of the Presanctified. These nine motets were published together as “Nine sacred musical compositions for full choir by P. Tchaikovsky” whilst the tenth motet – Hearken to the voice – was published separately two years later in 1887.
Tchaikovsky also completed his All-Night Vigil in the same year as the Motets. However, the most famous setting of the All-Night Vigil is the later setting by Rachmaninoff. This better-known work is a culmination of the two preceding decades of interest in Orthodox music, as initiated by Tchaikovsky. The similarities between the works, such as the extensive use of traditional chants, demonstrates the extent of Tchaikovsky’s influence over Rachmaninoff and other choral composers of the time.