Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim”: A Celestial Meditation

Hymn of the Cherubim is an excerpt from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41, a sacred, a cappella choral work Tchaikovsky completed in 1878. It was the first “unified musical cycle” of settings of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The core of the text is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century.

“A vast and untrodden field of activity lies open to composers here,” wrote Tchaikovsky to a friend regarding the text. In a letter to his close patron, Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky mentioned the “poetic” meaning he found in attending church services:

I consider the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom one of the greatest productions of art. 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… to be startled from one’s trance by a burst from the choir; to be carried away by the poetry of this music; to be thrilled when… the words ring out, ‘Praise the name of the Lord!’ – all this is infinitely precious to me! One of my deepest joys!

At the time, Russian church officials were quick to censor and ban the performance of new settings of sacred texts they found unacceptable. Much of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy was quickly confiscated by the director of the Imperial Chapel in Saint Petersburg. Tchaikovsky’s publisher, Pyotr Jurgenson, entered into a long legal battle and eventually won. The groundbreaking victory allowed future Russian composers to create sacred music free from bureaucratic review.

The politics of the time fade into irrelevance as we enter the celestial, meditative space of Tchaikovsky’s Hymn of the Cherubim. 

Recordings

  • Tchaikovsky: Hymn of the Cherubim, Valery Polyansky, USSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir (This recording is featured, above.) Amazon
  • Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41 (complete) Yevhen Savchuk, National Choir of Ukraine “Dumka”

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

19 thoughts on “Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim”: A Celestial Meditation”

  1. Just today, heard this fabulous piece of music on TV Music channel called “Soundscapes” & was so pleased to hear it again on Utube. Thank You

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  2. Timothy, thanks for the insight. Loved the music before I understood it. Now with the liturgy behind it as the backdrop, the love is complete.

    Reply
  3. La palabras no son suficientes para describir la emoción y la altura se sentimiento de estas notas. Simplemente sublime, es de otra dimensión!
    Gracias, gracias, gracias!

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  4. Thank you for this music, which really is heavenly beautiful. I will have the opportunity to sing this with Choir of the Earth this year. Really looking forward to it.

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    • After preparing his burial tomb beneath the shade of an ancient Royal Palm and the quiet of his once territory……I came in to get my Welsh Corgi’s body and stopped to search for “Sacred Music @ Burial” and “Hymn of the Cherubim” appeared. Gus was my sole, loyal companion for 14+ years. He taught me wisdom, discipline, patience, tolerance, unconditional love, forgiveness, loyalty, perseverance, dignity, freedom from judgement, freedom from fear & LOVE!

      2/2008 – 2/24/2022

      Back with the Elves he roams through cool, green, tall blades of St Augustine. From the Spirit Gus came and graced, taught us all. Returned from whence he came and now created anew…… I will latch onto his clear, fair, Royal example and certain guide to join him forever in Bliss!

      Until then – I will miss my Good Good Boy – Gus!

      Ambrose J Ordoyne III
      Pensacola, Fl

      Reply
  5. Happened to catch last 5 minutes of this on public radio today, November 2nd, 2022,
    All Souls Day…so beautiful! Reminded me of Gregorian chants. So surprised to find it was Tchaikovsky! Thank you for sharing this, as well as the story behind it. The version I heard today was by the same USSR choir that you posted. Sobering to see that the other recording you share with us, the entire version of this opus, is by the National Choir of Ukraine. Who knew back in 2019, of the war that now rages. God bless the peoples of these nations and of all the world. May we have the peace like this music brings us.

    Reply

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