The singing in Russia—that is, in the Russian Church—is confined entirely to men. All the monks are singers. For a thousand years Russia has been searched for the best voices among the monks, and they are brought to the most important centers. As no person can become a priest in Russia who is not the son of a priest (the parish priests being married), in nearly all the training has gone on from age to age.
Bass voices in Russia are of extraordinary depth, some of them so deep and powerful that they have special parts assigned to them an octave below the real part. These are called “octavists.” It is not uncommon to find those who can take the F below the C. Most of these bass voices come from North Russia. It is an interesting fact bearing on climate that contraltos of unusual depth and resonance are found in that part also.
The Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg has a choir (the finest in Russia) of one hundred and twenty voices. The members of it have no other business, and preserve their voices with the utmost care. Every day they study vocalization for an hour and a half under Italian masters; besides this, they receive regular instruction in church style under native teachers.
No church music in Russia can be printed or performed until it has first received the sanction of the proper authorities. The general church chants in Russia are akin to the Gregorian, being unbarred melodies destitute of rhythm. There are eight of them in use, which are changed every week.
Von Moltke, the great German general, recently deceased, was a connoisseur of music, and he asserted that “the music of the Russian Church is as far removed from the meagre hymns of Protestantism as from the operatic music of the Roman Catholic Church.” We have lost no opportunity to hear the best music the cathedrals and churches of all religions have to offer, including the Jewish synagogues, and have never heard anything so distinctive, impressive, compact, and massive, nor any single basso equal to that of the priest who was celebrant at the memorial service to Peter the Great, in St. Petersburg, or (excepting Mme. Alboni) a contralto equal to that of a woman who sang in the Russian Convent on Mount Tabor, in Palestine.—Christian Advocate.