Though there is frequently a difference between the dates set for Easter in the Western and Eastern Christian churches I think this year has to be the widest gap I can remember. The Western Church has just finished the commemorations of Holy Week while the Eastern Church will celebrate the Resurrection on May 1 – over a month later.
So why the wide gap? The date for the movable Feast of the Resurrection was set down by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE: it was to be the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. So far so good. However in the West we follow the Gregorian Calendar in our calculations while the East follows the Julian when setting the date for Pascha (Easter). There is a thirteen-day difference between the two calendars, the Julian calendar being behind the Gregorian. Also the Nicean Council (325 CE) set the requirement that Easter take place after the Jewish Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of the Passion – a edict that the Western church choose to ignore.
All this to say that perhaps I should save this piece until May but it is one of my “Easter” (and any other time) favourites. My preferred version is a live performance by Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphony recorded in 1952. For all it’s imperfections of both sonics and performance it has a sound that invokes incense, flickering candlelight and bejewelled icons. Unfortunately I could not find it on YouTube and didn’t have time to create a video this week; so I settled for an unusual version on authentic instruments by the Anima Eterna Orchestra conducted by Jos van Immerseel.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wasn’t a religious person, in fact he was an atheist, but like many Russian composers he was intrigued, and influenced, by the music of the Orthodox church. In composing his Russian Easter Overture, the last of his three great concert works, he borrowed three chants from the Obikhod collection of Orthodox church music. It had become the dominant liturgical music of the day and by 1848 had become the mandatory form of chant for all churches in Russia. To Rimsky-Korsakov’s listeners it would have had a nationalistic subtext as well as religious significance. For the composer it had a more personal meaning as he dedicated to the memory of his friends Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.
In composing the Overture Rimsky-Korsakov said that he was eager to reproduce “the legendary and heathen aspect of the holiday, and the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning”.
On this day in 1954: The Yonge Street subway line opens in Toronto. It is the first subway in Canada.