While Alexander Andreyevich Arkhangel'sky is not as well known
a composer as the iconic Dmitri Bortnyansky in the realm of Russian choral music, he was nevertheless a seminal figure in the development of performance practices within that tradition. Moreover, as a composer he is a significant minor master, active primarily in the genre of Russian church music.
Arkhangel'sky was born Staroye Tezikovo, Russia, between the 11th and 23rd of October, 1846. Little is known about his early years, though his first training likely came as a choirboy in local churches. His first advanced musical study took place at the Imperial chapel in Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg, where he gained a deep knowledge of music theory and Russian sacred music.
While he exhibited an interest in various genres of serious music in his formative years, he developed an abiding devotion to choral music, and in 1880 founded his own choir. Its reputation for excellence spread quickly, leaving Arkhangel'sky and his group in great demand throughout Russia. Consisting of twenty mixed voices, the ensemble performed not only hymns and various other sacred pieces, but also works by classical composers, including contemporary ones, as well as arrangements of folksongs. Over the years Arkhangel'sky increased the group to ninety voices and adopted the practice of using women's voices for those of boys in church music. This latter innovation would become widely adopted by Russian church choirs.
Arkhangel'sky led his choir in highly successful concert tours of Russia in 1899-1900. He also took the group on an extensive tour of major cities in Western Europe in 1907, garnering high praise from critics and generally enthusiastic response from audiences. Five years later he and his singers again toured Western Europe, with much the same favorable results.
While conductor Arkhangel'sky was very active during this period, composer Arkhangel'sky seems to have been as well. He wrote many unaccompanied sacred choral pieces throughout his career, including Paschal Irmosi and Velikii kanon, which both appear to have been written in or just before 1908.
Arkhangel'sky was, in fact, fairly prolific in his compositional yield, producing an All Night Vigil, Masses (including a Requiem Mass), various sacred pieces and numerous arrangements of both Russian hymns and popular folksongs. He died in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1946.