When you think of Rachmaninoff, a few things come to mind. You’ll probably think of his difficult piano writing, the audience pleasing technique, melodies perfect for whistling and humming, “pop” classical that can be put on in the background of cocktail parties. This superficial view of Rachmaninoff was upheld by critics during his life, and it is only afterward that he is being treated more fairly. Even so, there is this camp of people who think he was too “Romantic” for his time, that his music is all sentimentality and cheapness, I mean how else is he so popular? [ironically, the same people have no problem praising Beethoven’s genius, and he’s one of the top most popular composers EVER]. To the nay sayers who don’t want to look deeper into his concertos, the second symphony, the cello sonata, the preludes, or other “top hits” that have unique harmonic structure and rhythmic displacement, I’ll instead show the “sacred” side of the composer. Following in the Russian Orthodox tradition, Rachmaninoff wrote a setting of the All Night Vigil. He looks back to Tchaikovsky’s setting of the mass, and to original plainchant, and the result is music that is heavy in polyphony and textural variety. But I don’t want to load this description with jargon, with different musical elements, as if to try and justify its value. Listen for yourself! Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, or whether or not you have any, I’d bet you’d be moved by the music like I was when I discovered the piece in high school.
1. Come, let us worship / Придите, поклонимся 2. Praise the Lord, O, my soul / Благослови, душе моя 3. Blessed is the Man / Блажен муж 4. Gladsome light / Свете тихий 5. Lord, now lettest Thou (Nunc dimittis) / Ныне отпущтаеши 6. Rejoice, O Virgin (Ave Maria) / Богородице Дево, радуйся 7. Glory To God in the Highest (Hexapsalmos) / Слава въ вышнихъ Богу (шестопсалміе). 8. Praise the name of the Lord / Хвалите имя Господне 9. Blessed art Thou, O Lord / Благословен еси, Господи 10. Having beheld the Resurrection / Воскресение Христово видевше 11. My soul doth magnify the Lord (Magnificant) / Величит душа моя Господа 12. The Great Doxology / Славословие великое 13. Troparion: Today salvation has come / Тропарь: Днесь спасение 14. Troparion: Thou didst rise from the tomb / Тропарь: Воскрес из гроба 15. To Thee, the victorious Leader / Взбранной Воеводе
Good afternoon, everyone! Continuing with our week long celebration of Puccini’s music, I’ll be sharing this popular excerpt that comes from the end of the second act of Madame Butterfly. Since its premiere, Madame Butterfly has been successful and made its way into the standard opera repertoire. The story is based on a short story of the same name by John Luther King, which in tern is based on stories he heard from his sister about an American soldier who impregnated a Japanese lover, promised he would return to her, and instead, abandons her and the child. While Puccini’s musical language is richly part of the Romantic tradition, his source material is more Modernist, focusing on “real” lives of “real” people, instead of overblown figures of legend. Stories that are more relatable on the human level, on the profane level that before were too taboo to write about. Here is the Coro a bocca chiusa, a wordless choir that hums off stage while Butterfly and her daughter Suzuki wait for her lover Pinkerton to return.
Stay tuned this week for more music and discussion on Puccini! - Nick Olinger
Composed in less than two weeks in January and February 1915, Rachmaninov’s work is a culmination of the preceding two decades of interest in Russian sacred music, as initiated by Tchaikovsky’s setting of the all-night vigil.
It has been praised as Rachmaninoff’s finest achievement and “the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church”; the composer requested that one of its movements (the fifth) be sung at his funeral.