Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Vespers (Op. 37) -- "Bogoroditsye Devo, Raduisya" -- Sergei Rachmoninoff (1873-1943)

It opens with a fourth (sol do) between the women and the men voices (not counting the difference in register). Pausing on the initial note, the texture begins to diversify. The upper women's voices take the melody with a much repeated mi- mi- mi-- re do- mi- re-- do re-/ mi re do mi re do re-- mi--. In fact, this sequence of solfege is the main theme/motivic material of the entire piece and usually stays with the upper voices. It is period with an antecedent and consequent phrase--the first cadence being a half cadence and the second being an imperfect. The second phrase moves foreword with a sweeping movement like a rushing spirit, while the first hovers like the light of heaven. It is followed by complementary melodic material and then returns, and continues to return in a habitual cycle, like ocean waves lapping in darkness. Initially, all text is spoken in rhythmic unison, and the listener is seduced by the gentle rocking of the chant. Weaving in and out of the listeners ear, it is broken only by the middle section which is composed of the ancient chant (sung by lower voices) paired with an added descant in the soprano and tenor that brings the musical interest to a climax. Part of this climax is acheived through Rachmaninoff's careful use of the higher voices--generally keeping them in the middle to lower part of their range until he brings them out for the culmination of the descant. After the descant, he returns to the original material and the listener given a strong sense of closer through this ternary gesture. Curiously though, since the opening and closing theme (in the more overarching sense and in the more microscopic sense) ends with a mi in the soprano, we are deprived of a perfect authentic cadence until the very end of the movement when after a very long hesitation on the dominant, the soprano finally moves from re down to do.

1 comment:

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Many composers use that trick of denying a true resolution to Do until the very last cadence. It is the equivalent of ending a book chapter on a plot twist, impelling the reader to continue on in the desire for resolution.