In modern times, Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical music is divided into two major categories: i) Canonical Singing is music where the melodies are notated in officially approved liturgical chanting books (whether the choir harmonizes them or not). ii) Uncanonical Singing consists of freely-composed monophonic melodies, polyphonic choral settings of liturgical texts, and paraliturgical compositions and texts (such as the modern Russian ‘concert’, which is inserted after the Communion Hymn). The Orthodox Church has never fully approved of the use of uncanonical singing within its services, but has tolerated its use for nearly 300 years. Indeed, the uncanonical choral music is now so commonly used that most church-goers (except the Russian Old Believers) are unfamiliar with the authentic canonical chant melodies. Foreigners who walk into the cathedrals of Moscow and hear the majestic and sumptuous choral singing (especially with the deep Russian basses) are being presented with a tradition that is hardly more than a few hundred years old, and seldom do they ever hear the ancient Byzantine-Slavonic plain chants, untouched by Western European culture, that are the authentic heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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