Moscow: Verkhnaya tipografiya, 1680. 167 pp. 31x19,5 cm. Contemporary full leather binding. Later clasps and the spine. Lacks l.3 and the last leaf. Few margins are restored in the 19th century, in a couple of cases the restoration affects the text. Two 19th century owner’s inscriptions on the first leaves about the ownership of “Psalms” by Arzamas merchants.
The significance of this copy comes from the handwritten notations that go through the entire text of the psalms, in contemporary handwriting. It’s possible that the handwriting belongs to one of the first Russian composers Vassily Titov (1650-1715), who was the author of the music to Polotsky’s ‘Psalms in verse’.
Titov has been referred to as the founder of Russian national choral school. He has modified the tradition of church singing that existed for centuries setting the standard of choral music from his time on. Titov was one of the first Russians to write secular music like ‘Rtsy nam none’ dedicated to Poltava victory (1709). Titov has spent 21 years in the court of four Russian tzars and has been composing music for all the formal occasions. Chronology of his works is still unclear because of the scattered knowledge about his life. However this work, music on Psalter, could be considered one of the early works, he started to work on it in 1677 and later dedicated it to tsarevna Sofia. In 1702 Titov founded Moscow choral school in which more than 100 students were listed the next year. He has developed his own unique polyphonic style, in which solo, tutti and different groups of voices interchange with each other to create the musical phrase.
“Psaltyr” is sometimes referred to as the first book of Russian poetry in print form. Mikhail Lomonosov has mentioned it being his first poetic book. Simeon Polotsky (1629-1680) was indeed a very unusual publisher for his time - he was the guardian of the young tsar Fyodor Alexeevich and the founder of the first Russian typography that didn’t belong to the state, Verkhnaya tipographiya which was located in Kremlin itself.
Polotsky was one of the most influential figures in Russian politics of the second half of the 17th century. He was mentoring the children of Tsar Alexei, actively polarizing with Old Believers, he founded the school in Zaikonospasskiy monastery, and was the teacher of the first Russian bibliographer Selvestr Medvedev.
Polotsky is probably the best-known Russian baroque poet, he has been composing verses for the different occasions of tsar’s life. He created several figural poems (one is in the shape of the heart, the other is in the shape of the star), that are known in manuscript. For this edition Simeon has created a typographical rebus on l.8 with the letter ‘Ψ’ in the middle, from which the same text could be read in any direction. The “Psalms” themselves are versified by Polotsky which was very unusual for the canonical Russian Orthodox tradition of the time. In the preface he stressed that the book is not intended for the church services, but rather for the home use of the poetry lover.
In this edition one of the first examples of engraving in a Russian book is presented. Since the 1560s the books in Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian tradition were accompanied by the woodcuts. The frontispiece of the king David, created for this edition by Simon Ushakov (1626-1686), one of the most prominent and well known icon painters of the second half of the 17th century. The editions of Verkhnaya tipographiya all included his engravings, in the technique previously used in Moscow only once - in the military book, called ‘Ucheniye i khitrost’ ratnogo stroyeniya pekhotnykh lyudey’ (1647), but at the time they were delivered to Pechatny Dvor from Netherlands. The works of Simon are the examples of the first engravings created in Moscow itself. The plate showing king David is full of details: architectural elements, the guards at the background as well as the elements of the interior. The plate is signed by Ushakov in the right bottom corner.