Nov 29, 2009

Before the Light Went Out

I have been revisiting one of my favorite choral pieces - Rachmaninoff's Vespers.  Several years ago, my son had this CD playing in his car for many months, and I remember riding with him on several occasions, during the month of December, and enjoying together the richness of this work.  Subsequently, I now associate Vespers with Christmastime even though it isn't directly related to the Nativity!

Rachmaninoff wrote the collection of 15 songs within a 2 week period (amazing!) in the year 1915 - a troublesome time between the Great War and the Russian Revolution in 1917.  I wonder if Rachmaninoff sensed the looming storm that would come and force the Russian Orthodox church underground along with a ban on performances of all religious music.  In hindsight, this composition appears to be a final blaze of glory before being snuffed out for decades.  It has been written that "no composition represents the end of an era so clearly as this liturgical work".*

Some of the words from the ninth piece - Blessed Art Thou, O Lord (Blagosloven Yesi, Gospodi):
By giving birth to the Giver of Life, O Virgin,

Thou hast delivered Adam from his sin,

Thou hast given Eve joy instead of sadness:

The God-man born of Thee has restored to life

Those who had fallen from it.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

To hear some excerpts from the pieces, click here and scroll down to the "Listen to Samples".

*Francis Maes, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002, p.206

1 comment:

Allen Long said...

My all-time favorite Rachmaninoff choral piece! Thanks for sharing this.