Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 17 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Hildegard of Bingen
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Rachmaninoff’s “Bless the Lord, O My Soul”: A transcendent choral masterpiece

J-P Mauro - published on 11/11/20

This great Russian hymn came just before the Soviet Union suppressed religious music.

When the works of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff come to mind, the first things we think of are monstrously large piano chords and richly emotional orchestrations that represent the pinnacle of Russian Romanticism. So, when we happened upon his 1915 sacred work “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” from his greater work All-Night Vigil, we were fascinated to learn that one of the most talented composers of the 20th century had delved into Christian music. 

Opening with the rumbling low notes of the basso profundo that so frequently mark Russian choral pieces, the hymn launches into an angelic sounding choir led by a strong alto voice. Written in a chant style, this main melodic line acts as a call, while the tenor and sopranos sing in the response. The subtle melismatic movement of the voices pay homage to the polyphonic style of sacred music, pioneered by composers of the Renaissance such as Palestrina and Byrd, while the complex chord patterns bring an unmistakably Romantic color to the chant.

Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil is considered by music historians to be one of the composer’s greatest works, as well as the culmination of the previous two decades of Russian sacred music, which was brought to prominence by the composer Tchaikovsky when he wrote a version of the All-Night Vigil, in 1881. While Rachmaninoff was clearly inspired by this work from Tchaikovsky, the former’s composition is much more complex in terms of chord construction and harmony.

The serenity evoked by this masterful composition is sublime, but it left us lamenting that the course of history prevented Rachmaninoff from exploring religious music more thoroughly. Just three years after Rachmaninoff debuted All-Night Vigil to a receptive Moscow crowd, the Soviet Union prohibited religious music and replaced the Synodal Choir with a non-religious “People’s Choir Academy.” Be that as it may, we were left with this surprising work by a great artist, which will continue to be celebrated for years to come.

Tags:
Sacred Music

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
CELEBRITIES
Cerith Gardiner
Our favorite stories of celebrities who inspire us in daily life
2
communion
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
3
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
4
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
5
As irmãs biológicas que se tornaram freiras no instituto Iesu Communio
Francisco Veneto
The 5 biological sisters who joined the religious life in just tw...
6
CROSS
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
7
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.