Works by Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac:
The Lord’s Prayer, composed in 1912
The LORD’S PRAYER (Oče naš) is in fact the part of a Liturgy, although Stevan Mokranjac has not composed this version while working on his Liturgy, but much later.
It was not created according to the traditional church melodies, like the rest of the Liturgy, but is his own composition. It represent one of his last sacred compositions, as it has been written by the already ailing master during his recovery (July 1912) in the hotel “Zlatorog”, in the vicinity of Lake of Bohinj (now in the Republic of Slovenia).
Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, composed in 1894-95
Among Mokranjac’s finest religious works – in addition to his Requiem, Hymns for Good Friday, Akathistos to the Mother of God, Stasis – is definitely his Divine Liturgy after the Serbian Folk Chant. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, “in terms of its depth, expression, polyphonic and formal values can stand equal to the best works of Palestrina”.
With its expressiveness, unusual melodies, beauty of shading, tonal colouring, Mokranjac’s Liturgy is firmly linked with the Serbian folk tradition of church singing – Octoechos. It is an expression of the Serbian Orthodox religious heritage. Its rich, broad-reaching, strong harmonies inspire spiritual joy. “Truly, Mokranjac’s Liturgy is above all – in the purity and beauty of style with which the inspiration of a master has produced a brilliant work of art – a monumental tonal construction, unique in Serbian music.”
The aura of venerable Serbian churches, the melodious Octoechos, the religious symbolism of the Liturgy all enhance feelings of faith and love. One must indeed delve deep into the spiritual environment inhabited by Mokranjac, with his natural creative talent, in order to understand the grandeur of his Liturgy, its classical beauty and profound inspiration, a supreme achievement in Serbian choral literature.
Mokranjac composed the Liturgy for use in Orthodox church services. It is an expression of the hearty, broad and also warm feelings of the pious, God-fearing Serbian folk. There is joy and light, darkness, sorrow and pain. It is firmly connected with the tradition of Serbian chant on which it is based. It is composed – “tailored” – either from the beginning, middle or final portions of the Octoechos and Veliko pojanje (Great Chant), or from the whole chants of individual modes.
Mokranjac’s Liturgy is thus based not only on the first mode, but also from parts of the melodies in the Veliko pojanje and the Octoechos.
Just as the composer of the Octoechos – Serbian church chant – remains anonymous, so are the “serene monks” who composed liturgical texts based on the Octoechos, thus creating a new tune – “liturgical” – of splendid spiritual sonority. Mokranjac enriched these lovely melodies with solemn harmonies of astounding beauty, producing a magnificent fresco of sound – the Liturgy – one of the most beautiful pieces of Orthodox church music.
Funeral Service (Requiem), composed in 1888
The FUNERAL SERVICE – REQUIEM (Opelo – Parastos) composed for a mixed choir, is found in the Mokranjac’s manuscript (autograph) under the title “Parastos – Pomen” (Slavonic = Panihida), but with time the name “Opelo” has been assimilated which, after all, originates from Mokranjac himself. Opelo II (F sharp minor) for a mixed choir was written for the occasion of 100th anniversary of Vuk Karadzić’s birthday in 1888.
The difference, however, between the “Opelo” and the “Parastos” as church rituals is very big. The Opelo is longer and comprises more than 30 stichera (songs), whereas the Parastos has about 15 stichera only. Mokranjac has composed even shorter comprising only the Litany, No one is as holy, With the Saints, Spirits and Souls and Eternal memory, what is probably the reason for his putting the title of “Parastos” in his manuscript.
The main musical point of the Funeral service is No one is as holy (Njest svjat), which represents Mokranjac’s masterpiece and is considered to be among the most beautiful pages of the Serbian music creations. That is why it is often performed separately as a concert piece.
With the Saints (So svjatimi) represents even more expressively Mokranjac’s psychological, almost programmatic interpretation of the verses. The same applies to the final Eternal memory (Vjecnaja pamjat), only that the version in F sharp minor has the advantage of already being thematic and tonal reprise of the initial Lord, have mercy (Gospodi pomiluj).
We Praise Thee (Te Deum), composed in 1904
WE PRAISE THEE (Tebe Boga hvalim), composed on the basis of the melody “Slavoslovije” (Doxology) of the mode VI, ranks among Stevan Mokranjac’s best sacred compositions.
That is an Old Church Slavonic translation of a well-known old Christian hymn Te Deum laudamus, nowadays attributed to the 4th century St. Nicetas of Remesiana (Bela Palanka, Serbia). Mokranjac has written this musical piece in the year of 1904 as an integral part of a repertoire prepared for the coronation ritual of the Serbian king Petar I Karadjordjević. According to the church ritual, it is also performed during the religious services at New Year eve and the thanksgiving.
During the years, We Praise Thee has become a very popular concert piece, thanks to the skilfully written and extraordinary sonorous and effective choral harmony.
Hail, Bride (excerpt from Akathistos), composed in 1892
AKATHISTOS (Akatist) – the song of praise to the Mother of Jesus; composed in 1892 is another one of Mokranjac’s masterpieces that enthuses the audience with crystal clear melodic lines and an expression of undisturbed serenity. In this case too, composer finds the appropriate psychological expression for the modest worshiping by exclaiming “Radujsja, nevjesto nenevjestnaja” (Hail, Bride without bridegroom).
Kosta Manojlović, another Serbian eminent composer, once remarked “(the song) reminds one of the Sistine Madonna and Raffaello’s paintbrush”.
All compositions are performed using scores appearing in: STEVAN ST. MOKRANJAC, Complete Works Volume 4, Sacred Music I, Liturgy (1994) & Volume 5, Sacred Music II (1995) Published by: Institute for Textbooks and Teaching Aids, Publishers • Belgrade, Serbia Nota • Publishing House For Music Editions, Knjazevac, Serbia
The notes above are excerpts from the source above, written by Vlastimir Peričić and Vojislav Ilić, translated by Karin Radovanović and Danica Šćekić.