Vespers for Violin

Missy Mazzoli
Vespers for Violin
Violin with delay and Soundtrack

By definition the word “vespers” is a service of evening prayers in the Divine Office of Western Christian Church. In this instance, I expected Missy Mazzoli’s Vespers for Violin to be liturgical, or more closely related to a Gregorian chant in a harmonic sense. However, that is not exactly the case. Mazzoli begins the piece with prerecorded sounds that can easily change your perspective of what you may hear. Yet, she still makes subtle references to sacred singing when she includes a voice in her soundtrack.

Vespers for Violin has a modern, anxious, and ethereal sound. Mazzoli uses the sounds of a violin, voice, and electronic sounds to express her music. This work is monophonic with the violin as the main voice. As for the tempo, it is so grave that you lose track of the beat. One can imagine the music is written seamlessly without a bar line. Mazzoli also added a delay to the violin to create a sense of longing and dragging emphasizing the slow tempo. The first sounds you hear are that of the track, like a celestial, airy drone. The violin timidly creeps in and gradually grows in sound until you hear the full body of the note. As the sounds of the track begin to change, the violin drops in pitch and is strung along back up in a gliding motion. The sounds that are created are like whales singing under water. Although I do not believe her intention was to emulate the sounds of a whale, Mazzoli refers back to the title Vespers for Violin.

As the work comes near to an end, a sense of sacredness is finaly felt. The vocals may not replicate an authentic Gregorian chant, however, I believe the composer uses vocals to create a connection to the past. As for the form of the music, there is no clear indication of a specific pattern. However, there is a clear beginning, rise, climax, falling, and ending. This is conveyed by the increase and decrease of sound and the instrumentation throughout the piece. Another, connection the past is the minor use of extended technique for the violin in comparison to some other twenty first century music.

In conclusion, Mazzolie’s Vespers for Violin, in my opinion, was a joy to listen to. The legato writing allowed me to feel like I was in a meditative state when I closed my eyes. From the slow glissando of the violin to angel-like singing of the vocals, this piece showcases the slow, yawning sounds of whale. Although the work is twenty-first century, the ties to older compositions are still apparent in her work.

Leroy Medina

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