Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rachmaninoff - Vocalise Opus 34, No. 14

The term vocalise can be traced back to the Italian/French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully as well as other French composers of the Baroque period who wrote songs without words that were known for their value as exercises in vocal technique, as etudes for the voice. Later vocalise were written specifically for teaching purposes.  In the 19th century these exercises for voice were sometimes written with piano accompaniment to further train the singer in execution and style.  The beginning of the 20th century saw composers writing wordless music for soloists as well as choruses. These works treated the voice more as music of expression rather than technical studies.


Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his opus 34 set of Fourteen Songs to various texts with the final song Vocalise being one of his most popular and well known works. The songs of opus 34 were originally written for solo voice and piano, with Vocalise being the final song written in 1915.  The other 13 songs in the set are seldom performed, but Vocalise was an audience favorite from the start. The song has been transcribed for many different instrumental combinations, with individual instruments like the violin or cello playing the vocal part. Rachmaninoff himself transcribed the work for soprano and orchestra and orchestra alone.

Vocalise is one of Rachmaninoff's most beautiful melodies. The soloist sings no words, but in a constant vowel sound. The soloist covers two octaves as the melody begins in a whisper, reaches a climax and ends in a whisper.  As with many of Rachmaninoff's melodies, there is a hue of Russian melancholy about it. The original version is written in the key of C-sharp minor.

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