Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Year's Music: Rachmaninoff's Vespers (All-Night Vigil)

What a lovely piece! Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye in only two weeks in January-February, 1915. With the Russian Revolution two years later, the piece became a line drawn between an earlier and later era of Russian religious life. The title means All-Night Vigil but has also been translated Vespers and Vesper Mass. In Russian churches, all-night services are held on the evening of holy days, and (from my reading about this piece) although Rachmaninoff was not a church attender, he was influenced by church music and considered this piece one of his best compositions. Largely based on chant, a notable aspect of the piece is the fifth section, "Nunc dimittis," where the basses descend to the low B-flat two octaves below middle C.

I don't remember how I learned of this piece, but now I listen to it frequently---the music is so lovely and evocative! I am listening to the Telarc CD with a performance by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers conducted by Robert Shaw himself. Here is another performance, from YouTube:

Here is the Russian text and English translation:

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