SERGEI RACH­MANI­NOV Vo­calise

Here’s a treat for gui­tarists with a pen­chant for the so­phis­ti­cated, as Brid­get Mermikides tran­scribes a piece that re­quires a bal­ance be­tween cap­tur­ing melody and man­ag­ing com­plex chords.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Brid­get Mermikides ar­ranges and tran­scribes a so­phis­ti­cated piece that re­quires cap­tur­ing melody and play­ing com­plex chords.

Sergei Rach­mani­nov (1873-1943) was a Rus­sian com­poser and vir­tu­oso pi­anist, whose mu­sic is char­ac­terised by rich, widely spaced chords and fe­ro­ciously tech­ni­cal yet highly-ex­pres­sive melodies. This makes him one of the greatest com­posers of the 20th cen­tury but means his work is a chal­lenge to trans­late ad­e­quately to the solo gui­tar. For­tu­nately, with some work, there are pieces that are within our grasp.

Vo­calise (Opus 34 No 14) is one such piece. Com­posed in 1915 for the Rus­sian opera star An­ton­ina Nezh­danova, it is the last in the set of 14 songs for pi­ano and voice and it has in­spired count­less per­for­mances, record­ings and a huge range of solo and en­sem­bles.

Un­usu­ally the vo­cal­ist is in­structed in the score to sing the melody not with lyrics but on a vowel of their own choos­ing. When Nezh­danova com­plained the com­poser replied: “What need is there for words, when you will be able to con­vey ev­ery­thing bet­ter and more ex­pres­sively than any­one could with words by your voice and in­ter­pre­ta­tion?”. In fact, the lack of lyrics on this sump­tu­ous melody might help ex­plain its univer­sal ap­peal, as well as why it is adopted so suc­cess­fully by such a wide range of in­stru­ments. Not only the tra­di­tional ‘clas­si­cal’ in­stru­ments but also elec­tric gui­tar and band (cour­tesy of none other than Slash). It is also a sem­i­nal piece for the theremin in­stru­ment with its ethe­real sound that you’ll recog­nise from early sci-fi movies and, of course, Good Vi­bra­tions by The Beach Boys.

The chal­lenge of this ar­range­ment is to al­low the gui­tar to play the melody smoothly and ex­pres­sively while main­tain­ing a bal­anced chordal sup­port un­der­neath. To achieve this it is im­por­tant to fully un­der­stand and ab­sorb the melody (lis­ten­ing to sev­eral ver­sions as well as mine will help), as well as hav­ing the tech­ni­cal con­trol to ex­e­cute it. This might take some time with the score, my record­ing and the tab cap­tions, but it’s worth all the ef­fort so that you can per­form this beau­ti­ful work by one of the greatest com­posers of the last cen­tury.

THE VO­CAL­IST IS IN­STRUCTED TO SING THE MELODY NOT WITH LYRICS BUT WITH A VOWEL OF THEIR OWN CHOOS­ING

Rach­mani­nov: vir­tu­oso pi­anist and com­poser

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