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Rachmaninoff, Vespers

I wrote:

We're singing the Rachmaninov Vespers at Easter (in Russian). It's been
suggested that the tenor soloist could keep us in tune by quietly
consulting a tuning fork and singing an appropriate intonation or chant
before all or selected movements. Does anyone know if such intonations or
chants would be appropriate, in a Russian Orthodox Easter Vigil, and if so
where I could get hold of the music? Thanks.

Peter Bates Vice-Chair & 1st tenor Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir

Your (edited) replies:

Not only would it be good for intonation, it would absolutely conform to
proper performance practice!

The Musica Russica edition is the edition to use; it should have all the
appropriate chants as an appendix to the work. They also sell a
pronunciation model tape which can be duplicated at will and passed out to

Robert Ross, Artistic Director Voces Novae et Antiquae Philadelphia, PA USA

You're right that performed in a service, the pieces which make up the
Rachmaninoff Vespers (more accurately entitled "All-Night Vigil"),
generally have chants or petitions between them. For brevity and
simplicity's sake you might just sing "Gospodi pomiluj" (Lord have mercy)
on one pitch, where you think you might need it. By the way, if I'm not
mistaken, the language is Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the
Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian (etc.) orthodox churches.

Kate Leff Director, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church Choir San Diego,

*****************************************************************I feel
(without being either Russian or Orthodox myself) that the music from the
Orthodox liturgies, in actual liturgical use, was often introduced by
chanted passages. I have recordings of some of the "set" pieces from the
Divine Liturgy which include such intonations. I think something similar
probably occurred in the Vigil Offices.

John Specht, Queensborough Chorus, Bayside NY, rjohn(a)
There are specific chants that are designated for certain areas of the
Vesper service. The only edition I know that speaks of it is the complete
Vespers published by Musica Russica of New York. It's a very clean, good
edition that explains the chants that each movement is based on. (Not all
of the movements are chant based)

This edition also contains a phonetic chart for Church Slavonic Russian. I
believe they have a website.

Steven Woyen Conductor, The Seminary Choir Trinity Lutheran Seminary 2199
East Main Street Columbus, Ohio, USA 43209-2334

Peter, This is not what you asked for, but it is a method we used
successfully in our performance of the Rachmaninoff.

Prior to the beginning of each movement, the text was read aloud by a
member of the ensemble. The pitch was then given with a hand bell. The
audience enjoyed the approach and it gave my singers a breather between
each movement (we used only 32 singers).

Jerry McCoy Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK 74078 jemccoy(a)
I suggest you consult Elena Sharkova Aron who is now teaching at San Jose
State in California. She is Russian and a terrific choral conductor.

Craig Arnold
I am Russian Orthodox, and unfortunately what I know is just from
experience, so I can't give you a whole lot of concrete information, but I
thought I'd just reply with my inadequate knowledge. I think that practices
vary from church to church, but chant is very widely used in the orthodox
service-- this may be old information to you!! As far as I can observe, I
believe that chant practices also vary per the priest, and congregation. I
mean to say that not every church, or priest, uses the same material.

Larissa Heap University of Michigan School of Music-- Choral Music
Education LSA-- English Language and Literature arloh(a)

Why not just give new pitches to the choir between movements? I've sung and
conducted the Vespers several times and have never encountered an audience
or congregation that was upset by the practice. No one expects a work that
long to be sung without pitch going somewhere. ... I do hope, for your
sake, that you aren't using the grim Boosey and Hawkes editions .... On the
pedantic side, I also hope you are singing the Vespers in Old Church
Slavonic and not Russian! BTW Musica Russica also has superb pronunciation
aids available.

Dr. Peter Nikiforuk Director Menno Singers RAM 1989 Grad

Unfortunately, such intonation would not be appropriate for this piece. In
the ancient Slavic chant tradition (pre-18th century), psalm antiphons, as
a general practice, were often intoned by singing a portion of the opening
psalm verse (to indicate to the assembly the actual psalm text to be sung),
followed immediately by the intonation of the refrain (to teach the
congregation its response). Then the cantor would sing the opening verse in
its entirety, and the congregation would sing the common response.

There are variations on this practice as well, such as the canonarch style,
where the congregation repeats each line after the cantor has sung it. All
in all, intonation, except in certain liturgical moments such as the
singing of the Prokeimenon before the Epistle reading and the subsequent
Alleluia before the Gospel, have been suppressed by the choral tradition
developed in St. Petersburg after Russian great period of Western influence.

Intoning "movements" of the liturgy or any other services, as one hears
with Latin Masses, was never done in the Slavic tradition. The traditional
form of intonation, which applies to the Rachmaninoff, is that the
conductor, after consulting the tuning fork, softly delivers the pitches to
the choir in descending order, transposing an octave below (for male
conductors) as necessary. In other words, the conductors gives the highest
pitch in his voice and ends with the lowest, which usually means
ten-sop-alt-bass. At the opening of the Bogoroditse djevo, therefore, the
conductor should give c-a-f (one f is sufficient for both the altos and
basses -- altos, of course, will sing their pitch an octave higher). Other
movements of the Rachmaninoff are more complex however.

Basically, the conductor should give as few pitches as possible, as long as
every part has been given its tone, and quickly enough so as to have a
sense of the key or tonality of the setting. I usually spend a bit of time
rehearsing pitch giving on this piece, and in performance, it has never
been problem.

Mark Bailey Artistic Director, Yale Russian Chorus, Lecturer in Liturgical
Music, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

First I would suggest contacting Vladamir Morosan at Mussica Russica, and
ask him. He is extremely helpful, and nice.

As far as I know it would be OK in between certain movements - not all!!!
It would be more appropriate to do it in a Liturgy, like Rachmaninov's or
Tchaikovsky's. For example you would not want to do it between #5 and #6, I
remember seeing that somewhere. But after the third and eighth it would be
more than appropriate.

Good Luck, let us all know.

My own comments:

Thanks for all your help.

It turns out that though we, in the choir, are using the Boosey & Hawkes
edition (and yes, it does have some difficulties) our conductor, Ian
Tracey, has the Musica Russica Edition which I've now been able to consult
for the underlying chants. And yes, I believe that the B&H score
transliteration system results in us attempting a Church Slavonic rather
than a modern Russian pronunciation.

We're still looking at exactly what we shall do. In spite of Mark Bailey's
authoritative comments, I feel we'll probably settle on solo singing of at
least part of the chant before some of the movements. This is not so much
to be "authentic" (which it clearly won't be) but to set out "the tune" for
audiences who will not be aware of the traditional chants as presumably
they would have been at the first performances.

The difficulty with all "authentic" performances is that however much the
performers can try and re-create the performances of the past, there is
little that they can do to recreate the ears of the past-whether those
former ears were innocent of modern harmonic expectations, or were full of
now-absent folk and other melodic references. (Sorry. If followed by
"Discuss" that sounds just like an exam question!)

Thanks again for all your help. Tickets are on sale now for the concert on
April 3rd in Liverpool Cathedral, and we shall be delighted to see you all