An Investigation of the Textural Contrasts In Sergei Rachmaninov's "Night Vigil," Opus 37

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jack P. Donovan

Advisor Department



Sergei Rachmaninov's Night Vigil, Opus 37, is a collection of fifteen separate choral compositions written in the winter of 1915 and set in an a cappella format as required by the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. Though composed in the short period of only two weeks, the work is the culmination of Rachmaninov's life-long interest in the Russian Orthodox liturgical tradition. Ten of the canticles are based on traditional liturgical chants, whereas the others are based on melodies written by the composer in a "conscious counterfeit" of the old chant style. Rachmaninov's harmonizations of the liturgical melodies, both traditional and new-composed, make use of a wide variety of vocal combinations requiring a large, complex choral complement for their performance. It is the purpose of this study to examine Night Vigil with regard to the manner in which choral texture is used in making the liturgical settings. In so doing, the study describes the textural changes that occur in the composition and how they are correlative to other aspects of composition, namely, melody, harmony, dynamics, rhythm, text, and coloristic effects. The term "choral texture" is used primarily in reference to the number and types of voices used at a given area of the composition, but also includes the additional factors of registration, spacing, and linear doubling. "Textural change" refers to changes in the number and types of voices used or in the choral register, spacing, or linear doubling. The frequency of textural changes and the variety of textures in Night Vigil reveal that choral texture is used as a major compositional device in Rachmaninov's settings of that portion of the liturgy. Further, the interrelationships of texture with other compositional factors in Night Vigil are largely founded upon a deference to the essential qualities of the Russian Orthodox liturgical choral tradition. The types of vocal combinations found in Night Vigil, as well as the manner of their usage, place that work well within the bounds of the sacred choral style used by the Russian composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Though Night Vigil is an unusual item in Rachmaninov's catalogue of works, his use of a rich diversity of choral sonorities and his elaborative treatment of established modes of expression in the work reflect his romantic, nationalistic, and traditionalist tendencies as a composer.