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Different versions of the Lord's prayer. A comparative approach.

As a musical production, the Lord's Prayer occupies a large area of the liturgical answers of the choir. In printed books we will find its polyphonical harmonic versions, which are closer or further, from the point of view of the composition, to the church spirit. Some variants were written only for the sake of the tonal-functional or modal aspects, others in order to prove the compositional or interpretative virtuosity, but there are only a few versions that predispose the listener to introspection and prayer. That is why we will provide a monodic version of "Our Father" that is less known, to use both in compositional activity and in the course of services, especially during the Holy Liturgy.

The idea to revitalize this variant of the Lord's Prayer has its origins a few years back when the author of this study was approached by an elderly woman, probably a music teacher, who initiated the following dialogue: "Father, why don't they sing in churches that Our Father I used to listen to in my youth?" "Which one is that?" And that this point the lady started to sing the first words, which was enough to remind me that I had heard this version in the 60s-70s, sung by the old cantor in my grandfather's church (1).

The "problem" of this "Our Father" is that its origin is unknown: we do not know who the composer is, where and when it was composed. In the course of my research, many people promised to help me identify the composer, but unfortunately all the leads were deadends. Several people said that it was a "Russian Our Father", but they could not back up their statement and all they were able to say was that "this is the way we heard it, this is what we inherited from our ancestors."

We will first give the melody in neumatic notation, as I heard it from the cantor mentioned before.

For those who are not accustomed with the neumatic notation, I will give a version in linear notation.

If we analyze this melody briefly, we will see that this version of "Our Father" can be best included in the stichiraric style. It is not ornamented, and the longest "melisma" does not include more than four notes. The vocal range is limited to that of the first tone, going over that only once in the ascendant register to the 3rd step in order to emphasize the message of the literary text. Mention must be made that each syllable of the text has the duration of one time.

The prayer starts from the upper tonic and evolves descending in an apparent arpeggio, but immediately, with the 5th step, the melody "settles down" to take a sinusoidal development which will prepare the melismatic interval of an eighth (IIa--IIa'). Using the notes from the inferior tetrachord, the melody then passes the limit of the pentachordna--KE (re-la)--to take the plunge as we have already mentioned, to the 3rd step in the acute register, a fragment which insists on the word "heaven" but also is an attempt to join together heaven and earth.

Then we observe a rhythmical-melodic cell, which is used three times within this melody:

1) Caption

2) Caption

3) Caption

It is a motif that can be divided into two parts, A and B, and each of these parts can be included within the range of a descending tetrachord, the second sequence being transposed one step down. This manner of creating sequences generates a force meant for only to the melodic aspect of the prayer, but especially for the spiritual one, with view to pleading for God's mercy. We consider that this motif, which is repeated three times, as we have already mentioned, constitutes the rhythmical-melodic "heart" of the entire composition.

It seems that the use by the composer of a natural "zo" ("B" natural) once, and the "ni" sharp ("C" sharp) four times during the melody is intended as an escape from the sober atmosphere of the 5th tone (D minor in linear notation)--in order to transmit joy and hope for the fulfilment of what has been requested from the Creator.

On the whole the melody of this "Our Father" may be said to convey spiritual strength and willpower but, at the same time, humility and gentleness.

Another variant of this melody can be found in the notebooks of father Partenie Apetrei, a monk who joined the monastic life at Neamt Monastery, was distinguished with the rank of archimandrite and, between 1959 and 2000, served as a priest at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, being made a great ecclesiarch. He loved church music passionately and he was gifted with a pleasant voice. Father Partenie put on paper some of the chants he loved and often sang during the services in the Metropolitan Cathedral. These chants were published posthumously (2009, father Partenie passing away in 2008) in a volume, Antologie de cantari adunate de Arhimandrit Partenie Apetrei / Anthology of Chants edited by Archimandrite Partenie Apetrei), published with the blessing of Bishop Ioachim Bacaoanul, Bishop of the bishopric of Roman (now Archbishop of the Archbishopric of Roman and Bacau). The publication was initiated and supervised by Archimandrite Timotei Aioanei, cultural exarch of the Archbishopric of Bucharest and great ecclesiarch of the Patriarchal Cathedral (now Vicar of the Archbishopric of Bucharest, as Timotei Prahoveanul). The volume was issued under the umbrella of Filocalia Publishing House, and we will find the Lord's prayer (5: 363-365) that father Partenie put down in an eirmologic style (?!) with the notification that the composer was "anonymous." (2) We present it below in neumatic notation:

At the end of the chant, father Partenie Apetrei added: "N.B. According to some researchers, this is attributed to Protosyngellos Kiril Arvinte [dagger] 1968 and buried in Neamt Monastery." (3)

Musicologist Gheorghe C. Ionescu, in his Lexicon tells us that Chiril Arvinte is to be found in three manuscripts in the Library of Neamt Monastery: Rom. Ms. 220 (Musical cluster comprising church and popular chants, 20th century), Rom. Ms. 221 and Rom. Ms. 223 (Musical Cluster and Akathist of St. Elijah). These were the numbers of the manuscripts that Gheorghe C. Ionescu found when he embarked on his research in the library of Neamt Monastery i.e. before 1994, when his Lexicon was published (4). In the summer of 2018, I made a research in the library of Neamt Monastery, and concurrently I took a good look in the area of the manuscripts, but I could not find the manuscripts mentioned above. The manuscripts may have been recatalogued and this is why I was unable to identify them. However, Gheorghe C. Ionescu mentioned them among the chants attributed to Chiril Arvinte as "Our Father", tone 8. No mention of tone 5!

But the version of Father Partenie contains a mistake that generates others. In the cadence ending the phrase "Thy kingdom come" he noted erroneously the martyria for "di" (sol; see the rectangular mark) and, according to the melody, the cadence ends on "ga" (fa). According to the martyria for "di", the melody develops and ends correctly in the nest martyria on "pa"--the upper tonic (re2). But if we take the cadence on "ga", the melody ends in the following cadence on "ni" (do2). Father Partenie should have used the correct martyria, i.e. "ga", and then, on the first syllable of the verb "be done" ("fa") he should have written an oligon over the petaste or a kentemata (rectangular mark). With a correct martyria on "ga" and with the oligon over the syllable mentioned, the melody would come to the following martyria, "pa'" (re2), only if for the syllable "se", as a particle of the reflexive Romanian verb, the composer having written an oligon instead of an ison, of course with the necessary gorgon.

A plausible outline of the melody may be observed in the phrase "...those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation."

We will give the transcription into linear notation for those who are not accustomed with the neumatic notation:

According to the rules of neumatic notation, an alteration, sharp (flat, in linear notation) makes a difference only on the note above or under which it is placed. If Father Partenie put a sharp under "ni" (do) under the oligon of the syllable "in" in the first phrase "as it is in heaven"--see the oval mark in my presentation--he should have added a sharp under each of the following "ni"--s, i.e. under the following Romanian syllables: "si", "mant", "in" twice, "cum", "noi", "si", "ti", "du".

But, the best choice father Partenie might have had was to place the chromatic fthora of tone 6 on "ke", that is above the oligon for the Romanian syllable "fa", and thus the melodic aspect of what was presented above would have had the intervallic structures specific to tone 5.

A third melodic variant, on tone 5, of the Lords prayer can be found in a manuscript in the form of a notebook, that belonged to a former church cantor, Balan Pantelimon (1930-2014). He worked in the church of Boboteni, Hangu, Neamt County between 1948 and 1992.

The notebook has the following dimensions: 17x24 cm and has hard cardboard covers covered in black cloth. On the first cover there are floral and geometrical motifs, and in the middle a golden cross. It contains 40 pages that I numbered ex officio. The first page has the following text: "A Few Selected Chants. Cantor P.I. Balan. Hangu, Neamt County, Boboteni" (f 2r). The literary text is written in Romanian with Latin characters, capitals. The color of the neums and of the literary text alternates from green to black and blue. Pages 24-39 are unwritten. On page 40r there is a note of the cantor providing a few biographical data.

On page 16r we will find that "Our Father" on tone 5 which is as close al could be to the first variant in this study. The cantor credits "I. Costescu" with it. None of the dictionaries I consulted indicates the fact that Ion Costescu ever wrote a Lords prayer on tone 5.

We will give this version as well, first in neumatic notation:

We will also give the transcription on linear notation:

One may see several errors in the version belonging to Pantelimon Balan: The church cantor uses the dynamic terminology for in the linear notation, which is not characteristic of the neumatic notation; in this type of notation the nuances result from the message of the literary text. On the other hand, some of the terms are given erroneously: "cres...ce", "pi...mosm" (in neumatic notation marked with blue ovals, and in linear transcription with red rectangles). In 9 out of 10 cases, he uses the two kentemata for new syllables of text, which is in disagreement with the writing rules of the neumatic notation. As a rule, the two kentemata are used to prolong a syllable of the word (the equivalent of the slur or legato in linear notation). We cannot see why the author changed into a sensible the second step of the 5th tone (vu'), respectively of D minor (mi2), for the syllable "heaven" by ascending the tonic (pa', respectively re2). Probably that sharp was meant for ni' (do2), but negligence or rather hastiness generated this mistake. Also, we cannot understand how, in the same syllable mentioned above, upon the oligon, the cantor put down, concurrently so, time gorgon and klasma, an association of "temporal signs" that has never been used in the church music of Byzantine tradition. We suppose that the writer meant to use the "klasma" and not the "gorgon", and thus the rhythmical development would have been easier to render. The phrase "on earth as it is in heaven" which is repeated--emphasized with a red rectangle in both notations--has a rhythmical-melodic course that puts to test even the most experienced psalts. We cannot know what the church cantor wanted to render, but we tend to believe that he wrote this melody in haste, without following the most elementary rules of writing for the neumatic notation. Despite of the downsides above, it seems that this version, authored by cantor Pantelimon Balan, is the closest to the first version I presented, from a melodic point of view.

Now, it would be useless to force down the conclusions that I have already drawn for the presentations of each of the versions in both notations.

The problem is then still in the air when it comes to establishing correctly the composer by finding the original composition. In this respect, musicologist Vasile Vasile (5) once stated in front of several passionate practitioners of church music that this melody belongs, with a probability of 60%, to Isidor Vorobchievici (6) and 40% to Dimitrie Bortneanschi (7). His opinion may be a good starting point for the solution to this problem. But probability is not the same as certainty...


(1) I refer to Saint Nicholas parish and Saint Emperors Constantine and Helen parish in Baiceni, Botosani. The cantor's name was Gheorghe Muraru who often said that "I've learned music with Stupcanu". He graduated from the Cantors' school in Iasi. But he wouldn't say if he studied with Theodor Stupcanu, a renowned composer of church music in psaltic notation and professor at Veniamin Costachi Seminary in Iassy or Teoctist Stupcanu, a music teacher at the Cantors' School in Saint John the Baptist Iasi Church. For Theodor Stupcanu see Ionescu 1994: 329-330. For Teoctist Stupcanu one may access the Archives of the Metropolitan Church of Moldavia and Bukovina, Fond "Chancellery", File no. 89/1907, 55/1909, 31/1924, 1928, 1931, 1934 and 1943, 92/1940.

(2) See Antologie de cantari adunate de Arhimandrit Partenie Apetrei (2009), the pages mentioned in the text. Bishop Timotei Prahoveanul provides in the foreword to the volume, a few biographical data, as well as a characterization of father Partenie Apetrei.

(3) Chiril (Constantin) Arvinte--protosyngellos, cantor, composer, psalt (1897-1968) (Cf. Ionescu 1994: 32-33).

(4) Ibidem, p. 33.

(5) Vasile Vasile--professor, scholar, musicologist, Byzantinologist, ethnomusicologist (b. June 3rd in Borlesti, Neamt county) (Cf. Ionescu 1994: 357-359; Dictionar de muzica bisericeasca romaneasca 2013: 838-844).

(6) Isidor Vorobchievici (May 6th 1836, Cernauti--September 18th 1903, Cernauti) priest, professor, composer (Dictionar de muzica bisericeasca romaneasca 2013: 861-862.

(7) Dimitrie Bortneanschi (October 28th 1751, Gluhov--October 10th 1825, Sankt Petersburg)--Russian composer, conductor, cantor ( [phrase omitted], accessed in october 23rd 2018, 21:05).


The notebook was available for the good offices of father Mihail Petrea, parson of the "The Dormition of the Theotokos" parish in Petris.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Apetrei P (2009) Antologie de cantari, Bucuresti: Filocalia.

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Ciobanu Gheorghe (1974) Studii de Etnomuzicologie si Bizantinologie, vol. I. Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Ciobanu Gheorghe (1979) Studii de Etnomuzicologie si Bizantinologie, vol. II. Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Ciobanu Gheorghe (1984) Etudes de musique ancienne roumaine, Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Dictionar de muzica bisericeasca romaneasca (2013), Bucuresti: Basilica.

Giuleanu Victor (1981) Melodica bizantina, Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Ionescu G C (1994) Lexicon al tuturor celor care, de-a lungul veacurilor, s-au ocupat cu muzica de traditie bizantina in Romania. Bucuresti: Diogene.

Pantiru Grigore (1982) Lectionarul evanghelic de la Iasi, Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Pantiru Grigore (1971) Notatia si ehurile muzicii bizantine, Bucuresti: Muzicala a Uniunii Compozitorilor.

Petrescu-Visarion Ioan D. (1967) Etudes de paleographie musicale byzantine, vol. I. Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Petrescu-Visarion Ioan D. (1984) Etudes de paleographie musicale byzantine, vol. II. Editie ingrijita si adnotata de Titus Moisescu, Bucuresti: Muzicala.

Vintilescu Pr. Petre (2005) Despre poezia imnografica din cartile de cult si cantarea bisericeasca, editia a II-a, Cluj-Napoca: Renasterea.

Web sources[phrase omitted]


[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]

Alexandrel Barnea, Rev. Lect. PhD Dumitru Staniloae Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Department of Research, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University; Iasi, Romania;
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Author:Barnea, Alexandrel
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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