Cherubikon (Cherubic Hymn)

SSAATBB solo voices or choir 

Recording credit: West Coast premiere by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble,
conducted by Loren Pontén in St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA; Oct. 1, 2005

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Greek Transliteration in Western Characters
I ta chéruvim mistikós ikonízontes, ke ti
zo-opió Triáda ton trisájion ímnon prosádontes,
pasan tin biotikín apothómetha mérimnan. Os
ton Basiléa ton ólon ipodexómeni
tes angelikés aorátos doriforúmenon táxesin. Allilúia.

English Translation
We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the
thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity, let us lay aside
every care of this life so that we may receive the King of all
invisibly escorted by the angelic ranks. Alleluia.


The Cherubic Hymn (Herubikon in Greek) is sung at a pivotal moment in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings in the Orthodox Church and represents the blending of the worship of the Earthly Church with the Heavenly worship as described in the biblical book of The Revelation of St. John, as well as in passages from Isaiah and other Old Testament scriptures. Settings of the Cherubic Hymn represent some of the most extended musical treatments of text in the Divine Liturgy. The music is typically divided into two parts, the first often being quite extended (especially in Byzantine settings) and frequently slow in tempo, comprising the first 3/4 or so of the text; the second section is shorter, frequently in a faster tempo, and includes what amounts to the last line of the text plus the Alleluia.

Two of the great traditions of Cherubic Hymn settings are found in the European-inspired Russian Orthodox settings (some of which blend ancient Russian Znameny chant with European homophony and polyphony) and in the Byzantine-chant settings of the Greek and Arabic Orthodox churches. Muehleisen’s Cherubikon setting blends elements of the Byzantine-chant style with his own musical language. The Byzantine-chant elements in the setting include:

  • Use of ison (drone) techniques.
  • Several types of melodic ornaments.
  • Highly melismatic and florid lines.
  • Chromatically inflected melodic lines, esp. inflections of raised and lowered 2nd, 3rd, and 7th scale degrees
  • Breaking and resumption of phrases in the middle of vowels.
  • Alternation of solo (cantor) passages over a group ison with choral passages over the ison.
  • Predominantly step-wise melodic motion with occasional leaps.
  • Distension and segmentation of text with frequent repetition of syllables.

The influence of elements of Muehleisen’s own style in the setting include:

  • Diatonic clusters, frequently derived from the resonance of particular notes in a melodic line (like notes of a melody that “get stuck in the On position”). For example, the ison, which begins either as a single pitch or as a 5th gradually accrues other pitches to become a diatonic cluster or other more complex chord.
  • Lydian inflection of 4th scale degree (not typical in Byzantine chant).
  • Frequent use of text-painting.
                                                                                         – John Muehleisen (March 2001)