Prostopinije: a lament

Traditional wooden church in Slovakia

Traditional wooden church in Slovakia

From my first encounter with it, I’ve loved the Prostopinije, the distinctive liturgical plainchant of the Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox churches. Like the old Russian Znammeny chant, it’s always seemed to me to have the sobriety and spiritual depth that we see in Byzantine Chant, the Church’s oldest music. In America it’s still the official church music of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese and of the Byzantine Catholic parishes descended from Orthodoxy.
It’s hard to deny that Prostopinije is dying, rapidly.
The “Bible” of traditional Prostopinije is John Bokshai’s Tserkovnoje Prostopinije (Church Chant), published in 1906. The bishop of Uzhorod Cathedral, the story goes, was concerned that much of the Church’s traditional music was becoming less well known, so he employed Bokshai to transcribe the singing of the Cathedral’s cantor. Apparently the cantor didn’t read music and carried the huge deposit of traditional melodies in his head. Even in 1906 it seems that there was some concern that the tradition was endangered. Since then, the decline of Prostopinije as a living tradition has accelerated. I think that several factors have brought this about.
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