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Monday 24th December 07 7pm
Rachmaninov Vespers
Skolia Soloists
Elizabeth de Lacey - Conductor
Lorna Perry - Mezzo Soprano
Ben Thrapa - Tenor
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
Vespers (All Night Vigil)
    Priidite poklonimsya O come and worship … the priest enters and summons the congregation to prayer
    Blagoslovi, dushe moya, Gospoda Praise the Lord, O my Soul … the priest gives a blessing
    Blazhen muzh Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the Ungodly
    Svete tikhii Joyful Light … the candles are lit and the priest passes through into the Holy of Holies
    Nyne Otpushchaeshi Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace … Prayer for the Dead
    Bogoroditse Devo Hail Mary … the priest blesses the congregation; the lights are extinguished; Vespers are over.
    Slava v vyshnikh Bogu Glory to god in the Highest … Matins begins
    Khvalite imya Gospodne O Praise our God … lamps and candles are lit once again symbolizing the splendour of the Resurrection
    Blagosloven yesi Ghospodi Blessed be the Lord … the story of Christ's Resurrection into Heaven is recounted
    Voskreseniye Khristovo videvshe Christ's Resurrection … the book of the New Testament is carried into the centre of the church to be venerated
    Velichit dusha moya Ghospoda My soul doth Magnify the Lord
    Slava v vyshnikh Bogu Glory to God in the highest … Matins ends
    First Hour
    Dnes spaseniye Today is salvation come into the world … hymn celebrating the resurrection
    Voskres iz groba Christ is risen from the Dead … a further hymn celebrating the Resurrection
    Vzbrannoy voevode O Queen of the Heavenly Host … a hymn of thanksgiving at the close of the service
'Orthodoxy is first the love of beauty. Our entire life must be inspired by the vision of heavenly glory, and this contemplation is the essence of Orthodoxy...Russian asceticism aims at manifesting God's Kingdom on Earth. It does not deny this world but embraces it.' Sergei Bulgakov, philosopher, economist and theologian. (1871 - 1944)
The title 'Rachmaninov Vespers' is not strictly an accurate one. The fifteen choral movements which make up this extraordinary work are settings of the texts of 'Vespers', 'Matins' and 'First Hour', which together comprise the 'All-night Vigil'. The All-Night Vigil was a celebratory sung service which traditionally took place - and still does in some churches and monasteries in Russia - on the eve of important feast days. Traceable back as the fourteenth century, the service traditionally begins at sunset on Saturday night and ends at dawn on Sunday morning.
The music which accompanied the religious services of the Orthodox Faith was not dissimilar to that of the Catholic Church, consisting of intonations by the priest and chant from the choir. Just as in Orthodox iconography where images were strictly one-dimensional, the voices sang in unison and the accompaniment of musical instruments was forbidden. However, Orthodoxy was far from austere. Story has it that in 988 AD, Prince Vladimir of Kiev sent his emissaries to Constantinople where they witnessed an Orthodox service at the Aghia Sophia Cathedral. The music, together with the exquisite gold and silver icons, and flickering candlelight led them to report, 'We did not know whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.'
It was this which led Prince Vladimir to choose to be baptised into the Orthodox Church and to Orthodoxy being introduced in Russia.
Over time, influence from Western Europe and from the Roman Catholic Church in neighbouring Poland made itself felt and the single line chant gradually developed into full-blown polyphony. The use of the vernacular, however, and the influence of folk song, with its drones and asymmetric rhythms meant that the sound still remained unmistakably Russian.
Of the fifteen movements in the Vespers, nine are based on ancient chants. For the remainder, Rachmaninov invented his own chant melodies which he called 'conscious counterfeits'. The piece is scored for 4 part choir but the voices split, sometimes into as many as twelve parts, giving a sound that is almost orchestral in its richness and beauty. The piece was composed in 1915 - incredibly it took Rachmaninov just two weeks to complete - and was conceived as a prayer for peace. Its success was immediate, such that, by popular demand, it was given five repeat performances in the first month. For Rachmaninov, it became one his two favourite compositions - the second being his choral symphony 'The Bells' - and he asked that the fifth movement be played at his funeral.
With the 1917 Revolution and the resulting Communist regime came the suppression of religion and the banning of religious music. Rachmaninov's family estate was confiscated and he, his wife and two daughters fled first to Finland and later to Denmark and finally, to the United States where they settled permanently.
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