During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Russian liturgical music experienced a great flowering, much of it emanating from the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing, a vital center for liturgical music and choral innovation. Konstantin Nikolaevich Shvedoff (1886–1954) was one of the younger members of the New Russian Choral School that formed around the School. Like his better known contemporaries Alexandr Kastalsky, Pavel Chesnokov and Sergei Rachmaninoff, he worked to reinvigorate Russia’s ancient choral and spiritual traditions and give them new contemporary expression.
Unlike Rachmaninoff who used massive chord structures in his sacred music, Shvedoff’s Liturgy focuses instead on rich textures and shimmering choral movement, using a harmonic vocabulary quite new to traditional sacred music. Some of the harmonic shifts are startling indeed and would certainly cause heads to turn in a liturgical celebration.
This period of musical experimentation came to an abrupt and tragic halt with onset of the Russian Revolution, and shortly thereafter Shvedoff moved to America, where he directed a church choir and continued to write choral works, including a number of arrangements for the famous Don Cossack Choir, directed by his fellow Synodal School alumnus, Serge Jaroff.