Composers Datebook®

Rachmaninoff's Vespers

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 10, 2023


On today's date in 1915, the Moscow Synodal Choir gave the premiere performance of a new choral work by Sergei Rachmaninoff. In Russian, the work was titled Vsenoshchnoe bdeniye, which translates as All-Night Vigil Service or more commonly as Vespers.

This was Rachmaninoff's take on traditional liturgical melodies of the Easter Orthodox church. Rachmaninoff himself was not particularly religious, but by 1915, all Russians, religious or not, perhaps found solace in such music as the staggering casualties of the Russian Imperial troops during World War I became apparent.

Rachmaninoff's Vespers was warmly received in Moscow and repeated five times within a month of its premiere. But in 1917, the Bolshevik revolution transformed Imperial Russia into a non-religious Soviet state. Rachmaninoff's Vespers remained pretty much forgotten until 1965, when Alexander Sveshnikov made the first recording of the work with the USSR State Academic Russian Choir for the Soviet record label Melodiya.

Ironically, that Melodiya LP was never available for sale within the USSR, and was only issued as an export item to the West. It quickly became a best-seller, and Western audiences were astonished by both the emotional power of the work and the low bass voices required to perform it.

Even by Russian standards, the bass parts are VERY low. When shown the manuscript score back in 1915, the work's original conductor shook his head, and said, "Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!"

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943) Vespers (All-Nght Vigil), Op. 37 USSR State Academic Russian Choir; Alexander Sveshnikov, conductor. Pipeline Music custom CD (from

On This Day


  • 1839 - American composer and organist Dudley Buck, in Hartford, Conn.;

  • 1844 - Spanish composer and violinist Pablo de Sarasate, in Pamplona;

  • 1892 - French composer Arthur Honegger, in Le Harve;

  • 1903 - American composer and jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, in Davenport, Iowa;


  • 1832 - Italian-born composer Muzio Clementi, age 80, in Evesham, England;

  • 1870 - Czech-born composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles, age 75, in Leipzig;

  • 1910 - German composer Carl Reinecke, age 85, in Leipzig;

  • 1991 - American composer Elie Siegmeister, age 82, in Manhasset, N.Y.;


  • 1785 - Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1837 - Mercadante: opera "Il Giuramento" (The Oath), in Milan;

  • 1875 - Goldmark: opera "Die Königin von Saba" (The Queen of Sheba), in Vienna at the Court Opera (Hofoper);

  • 1877 - Borodin: Symphony No. 2, in St. Petersburg, by the Russian Musical Society, Eduard Nápravik conducting (Julian date: Feb. 26);

  • 1880 - Paine: Symphony No. 2 ("Spring"), at Sanders Theater in Boston, by the Boston Philharmonic, Bernard Listermann conducting; The following day, the orchestra of the Harvard Musical Association performed the same work downtown at Boston's Musical Hall, with Carl Zerrahn conducting;

  • 1888 - Franck: symphonic poem "Pysché," in Paris;

  • 1912 - Gliere: Symphony No. 3 ("Ilya Murometz") in Moscow (Gregorian date: Mar. 23);

  • 1916 - Granados: "Intermezzo & Epilogue," from "Goyescas," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1922 - Loeffler: "Irish Fantasies" (Nos. 2, 3 & 5 only) for voice and orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, with Pierre Monteux conducting and tenor John McCormack the soloist;

  • 1932 - Wallingford Riegger: "Dichotomy" for orchestra, in Berlin;

  • 1952 - David Diamond: Quintet for clarinet and strings, at Town Hall in New York City, by clarinetist David Oppenheim, Nathan Gordon and Lillian Fuchs (violins), and Aaron Twerdowsky and Bernard Greenhouse (cellos);

  • 1963 - Henze: opera "Il re cervo" (The Stag King), in Kassel at the Staatstheater; This is the 2nd version of Henze's opera "König Hirsch" which was first staged in an abridged version in Berlin on September 24, 1956; The complete original version of the opera was eventually staged in Stuttgart on May 7, 1985;

  • 1964 - John Harbison: "Sinfonia," in Cambridge, Mass., with violinist Rose Mary Harbison and the Bach Society Orchestra of Harvard, Gregory Biss conducting;

  • 1977 - John Harbison: "Diotima" for orchestra, in Boston, with the Boston Symphony, Joseph Silverstein conducting;


  • 1937 - Frank Capra's film "The Lost Horizon" opens at the Four Stars Theater in Los Angeles, featuring a classic film score composed by Dmitri Tiomkin (and conducted by Max Steiner).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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