We’re back visiting the Russians, this time with Pavel Tschesnokoff (or Chesnokov). He was a bit older than Shostakovich, living from 1877 to 1944. You may remember from my post on Festive Overture that there were restrictions on what artists and musicians could do during that time in Russia. Tschesnokoff also faced those limitations. Sadly, he never heard Salvation Is Created (Spaseniye Sodelal) performed, but it lives on as a staple of the choral (and band) repertoire. Kansas State University has a teaching unit on this piece that has more information.
The lyrics are simple and short. The English translation is as follows: “Salvation is created, in midst of the earth, O God, O our God. Alleluia.” (source: CPDL.org).
For this piece, I want you to just close your eyes and listen. Don’t even think. Absorb the sound. We can talk about theory after you’ve listened to it once.
This piece is not complicated. But it illustrates that simple can be amazingly beautiful. There are no “weird” chords, no crazy clashes like in Three Shanties, no funky time signatures. It was written for a six-part choir, with four male parts and two female parts (soprano, alto, tenor 1, tenor 2, bass 1, bass 2, commonly referred to as SATTBB).
The form of the piece is also straightforward. A song’s form is like a blueprint or road map. We map out those sections using letters (A,B,C, etc.) and additional symbols (A’, B”, C’ etc.) The symbols give information as to whether something has changed. Salvation Is Created is A-B-coda-A-B-coda’ (a coda is basically a musical “tag” at the end of a piece or section). Here are the landmarks:
Tschesnokoff has the A sections in B minor, with the B sections in D major. The first coda ends in B minor, leading us easily back to the A section. The second coda finishes on a satisfying D major chord. These two keys are relative keys, meaning that they share a key signature – in this case, two sharps (F sharp and C sharp).
What makes this piece so beautiful? It’s hard to say. The long melodic lines certainly play a part, as do the chord progressions. The change between the end of the A section and the beginning of the B section gives me chills. When good sopranos sing that D up to the high A, it just soars.
My first introduction to this piece was in band – college, I think. There are a few minor changes for the band version (i.e. key is in C minor and E-flat major). However, it’s just as effective with instruments as it is with voices.