All-Night Vigil (Rachmaninoff)

For the liturgical service, see All-night vigil
Sergei Rachmaninoff

The All-Night Vigil (Pre-reform Russian: Всенощное бдѣніе, Vsénoshchnoye bdéniye; Modern Russian: Всенощное бдение) is an a cappella choral composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff, his Op. 37, written and premiered on March 23, 1915 in Moscow.

The piece consists of settings of texts taken from the Russian Orthodox All-night vigil ceremony. It has been praised as Rachmaninoff's finest achievement[1] and "the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church".[2] It was one of Rachmaninoff's two favorite compositions[3] along with The Bells, and the composer requested that its fifth movement (Nunc Dimittis) be sung at his funeral.[3]

Note: The title of the work is often mis-translated as simply Vespers. This is both literally and conceptually incorrect as applied to the entire work: only the first six of its fifteen movements set texts from the Russian Orthodox canonical hour of Vespers.


Composition history

Rachmaninoff composed the All-Night Vigil in less than two weeks in January and February 1915.[4] The All-Night Vigil is perhaps notable as one of two liturgical settings (the other being the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) by a composer who had stopped attending church services. As required by the Russian Orthodox Church, Rachmaninoff based ten of the fifteen sections on chant. However, the five original sections (numbers 1, 3, 6, 10, & 11) were so heavily influenced by chant that the composer called them "conscious counterfeits".

Rachmaninoff's work is a culmination of the preceding two decades of interest in Russian sacred music, as initiated by Tchaikovsky's setting of the all-night vigil.[5][6] The similarities between the works, such as the extensive use of traditional chants, demonstrates the extent of Tchaikovsky's influence; however, Rachmaninoff's setting is much more complex in its use of harmony, textual variety and polyphony.[7]

Performance history

The first performance was given in Moscow on March 10, 1915, partly to benefit the Russian war effort. Nikolai Danilin conducted the all-male Moscow Synodal Choir at the premiere. It was received warmly by critics and audiences alike, and was so successful that it was performed five more times within a month.[8] However the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of the Soviet Union led to the government condemnation of religious music,[9] and on 22 July 1918 the Synodal Choir was replaced by a non-religious "People's Choir Academy".[10] It has been written that "no composition represents the end of an era so clearly as this liturgical work".[11]


The Vigil includes three styles of chant: znamenny (in numbers 8, 9, 12, 13 and 14), a more recitational "Greek" style (numbers 2 and 15), and "Kiev" chant — a chant developed in Kiev in the 16th and 17th centuries (numbers 4 and 5). Before writing, Rachmaninoff had studied ancient chant under Stepan Smolensky, to whom he dedicated the piece. It is written for a four-part choir, complete with basso profondo. However, in many parts there is three-, five-, six-, or eight-part harmony; at one point in the seventh movement, the choir is divided into eleven parts. Movements 4 and 9 each contain a brief tenor solo, while movements 2 and 5 feature lengthy solos respectively for alto and tenor. The fifth movement, Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchayeshi), has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C). When Rachmaninoff initially played this passage through to Kastalsky and Danilin in preparation for the first performance, Rachmaninoff recalled that:

Danilin shook his head, saying, "Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!" Nevertheless, he did find them. I knew the voices of my countrymen...[3]


See also: All-night vigil

Note: Numbers 1-6 contain settings from the Russian Orthodox Vespers service (Russian: Вечерня, Vechérnya), numbers 7-14 settings from Matins (Утреня, Útrenya), and number 15 from The First Hour (Первый час, Pérvïy chas).

Seq. Church Slavonic Transliteration English equivalent
Пріидите, поклонимся. Priidite, poklonimsya. Come, Let Us Worship.
Благослови, душе моя, Господа.
Греческаго роспѣва.
Blagoslovi, dushe moya, Gospoda.
Grecheskago rospeva.
Praise the Lord, O My Soul.
Greek Chant.
Блаженъ мужъ. Blazhen muzh. Blessed is the Man.
Свѣте тихій.
Кiевскаго роспѣва.
Svete tikhiy.
Kievskago rospeva.
O Gladsome Light.
Kiev Chant.
Нынѣ отпущаеши.
Кiевскаго роспѣва.
Nïne otpushchayeshi.
Kievskago rospeva.
Now Lettest Thou.
Kiev Chant.
Богородице Дѣво. Bogoroditse Devo. Rejoice, O Virgin.
Слава въ вышнихъ Богу (шестопсалміе). Slava v vïshnikh Bogu (shestopsalmiye). Glory To God in the Highest (Hexapsalmos).
Хвалите имя Господне.
Знаменнаго роспѣва.
Khvalite imya Gospodne.
Znamennago rospeva.
Praise the Name of the Lord.
Znamennïy Chant.
Благословенъ еси, Господи.
Знаменнаго роспѣва.
Blagosloven yesi, Gospodi.
Znamennago rospeva.
Blessed Art Thou, O Lord.
Znamennïy Chant.
Воскресеніе Христово видѣвше. Voskreseniye Khristovo videvshe. Having Beheld the Resurrection.
Величитъ душа моя Господа. Velichit dusha moya Gospoda. My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord.
Великое славословіе.
Знаменнаго роспѣва.
Velikoye slavosloviye.
Znamennago rospeva.
The Great Doxology.
Znamennïy Chant.
Тропарь. Днесь спасеніе.
Знаменнаго роспѣва.
Tropar'. Dnes spaseniye.
Znamennago rospeva.
Troparion. Today Salvation is Come.
Znamennïy Chant.
Тропарь. Воскресъ изъ гроба.
Знаменнаго роспѣва.
Tropar'. Voskres iz groba.
Znamennago rospeva.
Troparion. Thou Didst Rise from the Tomb.
Znamennïy Chant.
Взбранной воеводѣ.
Греческаго роспѣва.
Vzbrannoy voyevode.
Grecheskago rospeva.
To Thee, Victorious Leader.
Greek Chant.


The first recording of the Vigil was made by Alexander Sveshnikov with the State Academic Russian Choir of the USSR for the Soviet Melodiya label in 1965 - exactly half a century after the work's first performance. Because of Soviet anti-religious policies, this record was never available for sale within the USSR, but was only made for the export market and private study. This recording still has a legendary reputation, in part because of its extremely strong low basses, but also because of the solos by Klara Korkan and Konstantin Ognevoi.[12] The recording was first released in the United States in 1973 on the Melodiya-Angel label. The March 1974 edition of Stereo Review noted that Angel's general manager Robert E. Myers had "tracked down the recording" and "had to prevail rather heavily on the Soviet powers that be to make it part of their trade agreement with Angel".[13]

Year Conductor Choir Soloists Label
1965 Aleksandr Sveshnikov State Academic Russian Choir of the USSR Klara Korkan (mezzo-soprano)
Konstantin Ognevoy (tenor)
1967 Karl Linke Johannes-Damascenus-Chor für Ostkirchliche Liturgie Marie-Louise Gilles
Günter Schmitz
1978 Georgi Robev Svetoslav Obretenov Choir Natalia Peneva (alto)
Todor Grigorov-Tres (tenor)
1983 Yevgeny Svetlanov Svetoslav Obretenov Choir Russian Disc
1984 Kenneth Montgomery Groot Omroepkoor Wil Boekel (alto)
Frank Hameleers (tenor)
1986 Valery Polyansky Chamber Choir of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR Irina Arkhipova (mezzo-soprano)
Viktor Rumantsev (tenor)
Yuriy Vishnyakov (basso profundo)
Melodiya/Moscow Studio Archives
1986 Vladislav Chernushenko St. Petersburg Cappella Zhanna Polevtsova (mezzo-soprano)
Sergei Rokozitsa (tenor)
Chant du Monde/IML
1987 Mstislav Rostropovich Choral Arts Society of Washington Maureen Forrester (mezzo-soprano)
Gene Tucker (tenor)
1989 Robert Shaw The Robert Shaw Festival Singers Karl Dent (tenor) Telarc
1990 Matthew Best Corydon Singers Joya Logan (alto)
John Bowen (tenor)
1991 Oleg Shepel Voronezh State Institute of Arts Chamber Choir Yelena Necheporenko (mezzo-soprano)
Aleksandr Zlobin (tenor)
Ruben Sevostyanov (tenor)
Aleksandr Nazarov (bass)
1993 David Hill The Philharmonia Chorus Sarah Fryer (mezzo-soprano)
Peter Butterfield (tenor)
1993 Nikolai Korniev St. Petersburg Chamber Choir Olga Borodina (alto)
Vladimir Mostovoy (tenor)
1994 Robin Gritton Berlin Radio Chorus Tatjana Sotin (alto)
Thomas Kober (tenor)
1994 Tõnu Kaljuste Swedish Radio Choir Malena Ernman (alto)
Per Björslund (tenor)
Nils Högman (tenor)
1994 Georgi Robev Bulgarian National Choir Capriccio
1995 William Hall William Hall Master Chorale Jonathan Mack (tenor)
1997 Aleksey Puzakov Choir of St Nicholas Church Tolmachi Tatiana Gerange (alto)
Dmitriy Borisov (tenor)
Nikolay Sokolov (archpriest)
1998 Stephen Cleobury Choir of King's College, Cambridge Margaret Cameron (alto)
Richard Eteson (Tenor)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Jan Lochmann (bass)
1998 Karen P. Thomas Seattle Pro Musica Yelena Posrednikov (alto)
Stuart Lutzenhiser (tenor)
Misha Myznikov (baritone)
2000 Aleksandr Govorov Accordance (male choir) Dmitriy Popov (tenor)
Vladimir Pasyukov (basso Profundo)
2000 Yevhen Savchuk Ukrainian National Capella "Dumka" Olga Borusene (soprano)
Mykhaylo Tyshchenko (tenor)
Yuri Korinnyk (tenor)
Regis/Brilliant Classics
2000 Howard Arman Leipzig Radio Chorus Klaudia Zeiner (alto)
Mikhail Agafonov (tenor)
Lew Maidarschewski (bass)
Berlin Classics
2000 Torsten Mariegaard Copenhagen Oratorio Choir Lotte Hovman (alto)
Poul Emborg (tenor)
2001 Jaroslav Brych Prague Philharmonic Chorus Praga
2003 Dale Warland Dale Warland Singers Rezound
2004 Eric-Olof Söderström Finnish National Opera Chorus Raissa Palmu (soprano)
Erja Wimeri (contralto)
Eugen Antoni (tenor)
2004 Paul Hillier Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir Iris Oja (alto)
Vladimir Miller (bass)
Mati Turi (tenor)
Tiit Kogerman (tenor)
Harmonia Mundi
2004 Nigel Short Tenebrae Frances Jellard (alto)
Paul Badley (tenor)
Signum U.k.
2005 Thomas Edward Morgan Ars Nova Singers Adam Finkel (tenor)
J.R. Humbert (tenor)
Philip Judge (bass)
Brian du Fresne (chimes)
New Art Recordings
2007 Marcus Creed SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart Hänssler
2008 Victor Popov Academy of Choral Art, Moscow A. Timofeeva (mezzo soprano)
D. Kortchak (tenor)
2012 Sigvards Klava Latvian Radio Choir Ondine
2012 Andrew Clark Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum
2013 Peter Broadbent Joyful Company of Singers Lorna Perry (alto)
Andrew Shepstone (tenor)
Nimbus Records
2015 Charles Bruffy Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale Frank Fleschner (tenor)
Julia Scozzafava (mezzo-soprano)
Paul Davidson, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner (incipits)
Chandos Records


  1. Francis Maes, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002, p. 206
  2. Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil: Vespers
  3. 1 2 3 Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, Sophia Satina, Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music, Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 191
  4. Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, Sophia Satina, Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music, Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 190
  5. Perrie, Maureen; Lieven, Dominic; Suny, Ronald G., eds. (2006). The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume 2, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. p. 115.
  6. Clark, Duncan (2001). "Rachmaninov". Classical Music: The Rough Guide. p. 390.
  7. Harrison, Max (2006). Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings. pp. 197–198.
  8. Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, Sophia Satina, Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music, Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 192
  9. Green, Jonathon; Karolides, Nicholas J. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Censorship. p. 590.
  10. Svetlana Zvereva, tr. Stuart Campbell, Alexander Kastalsky: His Life and Music, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003, p. 204
  11. Francis Maes, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002, p. 206
  12. Rachmaninoff Vespers/Concerto/Rhapsody
  13. Vespers, Op. 37, Records in Review, 1975 edition, Wyeth Press, p. 317

External links

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