Are you qualified to go hear the Dartmouth College Glee Club sing Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (Sunday, May 1, at 1 pm, in Rollins Chapel)? Do you have ears? Bingo, you’re qualified. But in case you’d like to know a little more before you go, here’s an Instant Expert crib sheet written by Mallory Rutigliano ’17, a musician and classical music advocate.
“What am I Going to Hear?”
Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil is 15 movements of pure splendor. It is one of Rachmaninoff’s two religious pieces, similar to his fellow Russian, nearly contemporary composer and inspiration Pyotr Tchaikovsky and you know it must be good because Rachmaninoff requested that the fifth movement, “Nunc Dimitis” be sung at his funeral. The work focuses heavily on chant, since it directly stems from Russian Orthodox Church service text. The piece starts off fairly strong and quickly moves into a haunting series of chants. The work has been described as “dramatic” and the melodies are reminiscent of church service with the influence of highly sophisticated non-religious music. The themes are passionate and moving and feature a number of solo parts throughout, particularly solo tenor.
Glee Club members say what’s special about this work and this performance in this short video by Max von Hippel ’19.
“Why Should I Care?”
Not only is the Vigil a musically historic piece, but it is also representative of an important time in world history. The opus was composed in 1915 to support Russia in the First World War and was first performed in Moscow. This piece of beautiful and creative propaganda—although it was much more than that—is a staple of the Russian Orthodox Church and is based off of the all-night vigil ceremony and text integral to the church. Later, this piece that had been so renowned by the public and the Russian government, alike, was condemned along with all religious music during the 1917 Russian Revolution. This work is imbibed with historical significance and that same revolution caused Rachmaninoff to flee his home country.
“Tell Me Something Crazy/Outrageous About this Event/Composer/Work!”
Rachmaninoff wrote the entire All-Night Vigil, which is considered one of the best choral works written in all of Russian history, in just six weeks. Interestingly, Rachmaninoff, who was a trained and coveted pianist for most of his life (often performing the piano parts to his own works), wrote the Vigil for an a cappella choral group. In fact, Rachmaninoff had such a hand span on the piano that his prowess has been speculated as being a byproduct of a genetic deformity that gave him extra-long fingers. Although he gained acclaim as a pianist early in his life, Rachmaninoff got a rocky start to composing and his first symphony was a flop and denounced by critics in Russia, which led the young Rachmaninoff down a deep depression (exacerbated by romance trouble associated with being engaged to his cousin). Luckily, he made a huge comeback and is one of the most famous composers in the Russian school.
“What Should I Listen/Look Out For?”
Listen for the peppering of solo material throughout the different movements of the piece. There are also shifts in the different vocal instrumentation with the different movements—some are bass heavy while others reach into the soprano stratosphere, while still others employ the entire ensemble and vocal range. Additionally, ten of the fifteen movements are taken from church chants, while five are completely originally written works by Rachmaninoff—try to listen for which are which!
By Mallory Rutigliano ’17
Mallory Rutigliano is a member of the class of 2017. She enjoys playing in the wind ensemble, working with microscopic worms and missing New York pizza. Mallory studies Biology, Psychology and Global Health, and is also involved in the Office of Sustainability.