A Bridge Between the Past and the Present:

The Musical Realization of an Ancient Poem, "Adam's Lament", in the Penitential Psalms by Alfred Schnittke

  • Zhanna A. Lehmann University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Keywords: penitential poems, polystylism, motifs, monograms, Russian Christianity, Orthodox, znamennyi rospev, lament


The article explore Adam’s Lament, the first movement of Alfred Schnittke’s choral masterpiece, Penitential Psalms (1987–88) , commissioned to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Christianization of Rus’ (988–1988). These poems represent a genre of ancient Russian, lyrical poetry commonly referred as penitential poems; they are not “Psalms” in the Biblical sense, but do draw upon imagery found in various biblical, liturgical sources, patristic writings and hymnody. The musical analysis of this movement proceeds along a discussion of the historical review of the origin of the text of Adam’s Lament and a close analysis of Schnittke’s reading and interpretation of this text.

In this composition Schnittke synthesized the musical elements associated with historical Russian Orthodox sacred music with his unique personal compositional style. One of the compositional techniques that Schnittke uses for realization of the text is the system of musical structures or motives associated with specific textual concepts. The author has identified and cataloged these motifs. Adam’s Lament introduces the motifs that enroot into other musical transformations and figures, monograms, penetrate into and synthesize with other forms of the musical language in the other movements, and impel a musical development of the entire work. A synopsis of Schnittke’s procedures for implementation of the motives is a subject of the discussion.

Conference Papers: Ancient & Modern Creativity, Minneapolis 2018
Jun 3, 2020
How to Cite
Lehmann, Zhanna A. 2020. “A Bridge Between the Past and the Present:: The Musical Realization of an Ancient Poem, "Adam’s Lament", in the Penitential Psalms by Alfred Schnittke”. Journal of the International Society for Orthodox Music 4 (1), 70–82. https://journal.fi/jisocm/article/view/89424.