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Composed: 1912; 1929
Length: c. 6 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 4, 1926, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
The typical concertgoer, familiar with Rachmaninoff's works for piano and orchestra, some of his orchestral compositions, and solo piano pieces, is hardly aware that there are more than 70 songs in the composer's catalog. Interestingly, some of those songs may indeed be familiar, but not in their original form, rather in transcriptions. For example, duo-pianists play versions of "Spring Waters," "It's Lovely Here," and the Vocalise; balletomanes possibly recognize "Spring Waters" as the music for a fleeting and brilliant bit of Bolshoi Ballet super-athleticism; and symphony orchestra audiences sigh appreciatively over the Vocalise.
The latter song, the last of a set of 14 composed in 1912, lends itself extremely well to a lush orchestral incarnation inasmuch as it has no words, being vocalized entirely on "ah." The melody is one of Rachmaninoff's most beautiful. An austere, melancholy outpouring, it moves unerringly from calm soulfulness to a surging emotional pitch, and then returns to a beatific sadness. Whether sung by a single voice or by soaring violins, the Vocalise is what Rachmaninoff's emotionalism is all about.
- Orrin Howard served the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association as Director of Publications and Archives for many years, and he continues to contribute to the program book.