Last Saturday, I attended a choral concert by the Master Singers of Virginia of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. It was beautiful beyond words.
“Vespers” is actually a misnomer. It was written for the All Night Vigil, which lasts from Vespers (the evening service) through Matins (the night/early morning service) to Prime (the dawn service). Thus, the music begins by echoing the quiet, lilting liturgy of the candlelit evening service, reaching a crescendo of adoration and supplication in the middle of Matins, then calming back down just before a big finish to herald the dawning sun.
The work only lasts for an hour; it’s meant to be interspersed with prayer, Scripture reading, etc. But it’s amazingly beautiful. Rachmaninoff composed it like he would a symphony, so the various vocal sections mirror and complement each other in gorgeous melodic patterns.
And ironically, Rachmaninoff wrote it during the middle of World War I, just after several of his friends had died. War spurred his musical commentary, perhaps.
You can buy CDs of the Master Singers’ performances.