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Rachmaninoff; Vocalise

The manuscript of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, for voice and piano, is dated September 21, 1915, though it may have been sketched some years earlier. It was included in his 14 Songs, op. 34, as the last of the collection, even though calling it a “song” strains the definition of the term somewhat. A “Vocalise,” by definition, is a vocal work without text; the singer performs the melody on a sustained vowel sound, almost always “ah.” Though lacking a text, the Vocalise quickly became the most popular item in the set, and one of his most performed compositions, due the loveliness of the vocal melody.

The nature of the melody makes it easily adaptable to instrumental writing. It can be performed, without alteration (except for transposition), by almost any instrument. The accompanying texture, while rich, is carefully written with every element clearly defined, making it adaptable to larger instrumental combinations. Rachmaninov himself created two orchestral versions, one with soprano and one without. Many other composers have also made transcriptions for a variety of ensembles.

So why one more?

This transcription of Vocalise for cello and string orchestra was commissioned by the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra for a concert featuring the string section in a program of shorter works. Kurt Fowler, the THSO’s principal cellist, has played Vocalise many times with piano, and when it was noticed that the piece would fit in well with the program for the rest of the concert, it was decided to ask me to handle the orchestration.

My version differs somewhat from other transcriptions that I’m aware of, in that it is through-composed. The original is in two large sections, both of which are repeated; my version, rather than simply repeating each section, is instead written continuously from beginning to end. This allowed me to orchestrate each section differently on the repeat. Each section begins with full strings the first time through, but on the repeat, the dynamic drops and the texture thins out to a group of solo strings, bringing the full orchestra back in gradually. In other words, my orchestration was tailor-made to Kurt’s interpretation of the piece, which I’d heard him perform several times with my wife accompanying him.

  • OR-V2 orchestra set (includes score and solo part) $75.00


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2 Responses to “Rachmaninoff; Vocalise”

  • M. Meade:

    Would Vocalise (Cello and SO) be available online?

  • admin:

    Are you asking about downloadable parts? At the moment that’s not available–I’m only set up to ship things the old fashioned way.

    Downloads are something I’ve begun looking into. Hopefully it will be possible to offer this option in the not too distant future.

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