Last year, a former lecturer of mine in the Russian department at the University of Exeter, Peter Scorer (1942–2020), sadly died. As well as teaching Russian, Peter was also the University’s Orthodox chaplain, being for many years a deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church. You may recognise his name from the Corydon Singers (follow the link and click on the first track and you’ll hear Peter’s distinctive bass voice) and King’s College, Cambridge discs of Rachmaninov’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, on which he sang the deacon’s parts. In the department, Peter also ran a Russian Choir with which I learned and performed various Russian folk songs, and he kindly put me in touch with the Chesme Church in St Petersburg, where I spent a happy summer in 1996 singing with the choir there. An amazing experience.
Fast forward to 2020. For some time, I had wanted to write a set of canticles for evensong. Peter’s passing (thinking about his faith, his voice) proved the catalyst, and I decided to fuse both Anglican and Orthodox elements in the creation of my new ‘Short Service’: the fauxbourdon canticle settings (based on traditional chant) which I had sung during my time in Exeter Cathedral Choir and an anonymous 17th-century Russian Trisagion which I had first come across when I was at university.