Skip to main content

Rachmaninoff Vespers

By May 14, 2020March 19th, 2023No Comments

These are the Rachmaninoff Vespers, otherwise known as the All Night Vigil, conducted by Alexander Sveshnikov Soloists: Klara Korkan and Konstantin Ognevo in 1965.

This is a longer piece than I usually post here, but I would urge you to listen to all of it. It is a magnificent work of art.

In spite of what I wrote above, I have very little to say about this music! It is transcendental in a way in which most music strives to be. Very few pieces of music rise to this level. The one thing that I would point out is that the use of basses in this piece are extraordinary. Extraordinary in that they can sing the notes as written.

Written around the time of World War One, Sergei Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil” is an extraordinary choral music composition.

This music shows a very different side of composer Sergei Rachmaninov. He is best known for his romantic and virtuosic piano concertos.

All Night Vigil is a choral work written for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Rachmaninov had just spent a year touring cities in support of Russian troops, and the sense of spiritual transcendence in the All Night Vigil was the composer’s response to the chaos and suffering around him.

The All Night Vigil has 15 sections, 10 of which were based on chants of the Russian church. But Rachmaninov wrote completely new music for the other five sections.

Rachmaninov left czarist Russia in 1917, as his homeland ended one era of suffering only to begin another. He considered the All Night Vigil one of his finest works, and in his will, asked that it be sung at his funeral and that he be buried in Moscow. That, unfortunately, did not happen.

Sergei Rachmaninov, the composer of this spiritual testament to his homeland, died in 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, then was buried in Westchester County, New York, a long way from home.

Rachmaninoff Vespers Text and Translations
No. 1 Priidite, poklonimsia

The Vigil opens with a proclamation of “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life – creating an Undivided Trinity,”

followed by a majestic choral call to worship, Pridite, poklonimsia (Psalm 95:6). The multilayered melody is of Rachmaninoff’s invention,

but its undulating, step-wise movement and unsymmetric, text-related structure at once establish its kinship with the ancient

Znamenny Chant.

Amen. Come, let us worship

God, our King.

Come, let us worship and fall down

before Christ, our King and our God.

Come, let us worship and fall down

before the very Christ, our King and our God.

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him.

No. 2 Blagoslovi, dushe moya, Ghospoda

Vespers begins, as it does every day, with Psalm 104: Blogoslovi, dushe moya, Ghospoda,

which hymns the wonders of God’s creation. The solo voice personalizes this song of praise, while the choral voices

depict two contrasting realms – the earthly and the heavenly.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

blessed art Thou, O Lord.

O Lord my God, Thou art very great.Blessed art Thou, O Lord.

Thou art clothed with honor and majesty.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord.

The waters stand upon the mountains.

Marvelous are Thy works, O Lord.

The waters flow between the hills.

Marvelous are Thy works, O Lord.

In wisdom hast Thou made all things.

Glory to Thee, O Lord, who hast created all!

—Psalm 103[104]:1-2, 6, 24

No. 3 Blazhen muzh

The recitation of psalms is an essential element of every Orthodox service; on Saturdays verses from Psalms 1, 2 and 3,

Blazhen muzh, are always sung. Significantly, they speak of righteousness within a world in which evil (“the council of the wicked”)

already exists. The three-fold alleluia refrains are reminiscent of those once sung by the entire congregation.

Blessed is the man,

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.


Serve the Lord with fear

and rejoice in Him with trembling.


Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.


Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God!


Salvation belongs to the Lord,

and Thy blessing be upon Thy people.


Glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O God! (3x)

—Psalm 1:1, 6; 2:11, 12; 3:8, 9

No. 4 Svete tihiy

Next comes the “hymn of light” – Svete tihiy, an ancient Christian hymn that dates at least to the third century.

The hymn originally accompanied the entrance of the clergy and the lighting of the lamp at sunset.

The simple four-note motive of the Kievan chant is transmuted into a shimmering musical evocation of the Light Eternal.

A solo voice lifts up a song of praise to the Trinity.

Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal One—

the Heavenly Father, holy and blessed—

O Jesus Christ!

Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,

and behold the light of evening,

we praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—God.

Thou art worthy at every moment

to be praised in hymns by reverent voices.

O Son of God, Thou art the Giver of Life;

therefore all the world glorifies Thee.

No. 5 Nïne otpushchayeshi

Having encountered the Savior, the Light of the world, the Church sings in the words of St. Symeon,

Nïne otpushchayeshi (Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace).

The soloist personifies the venerable elder against a lullaby-like motif in the choral parts.

It is understandable why Rachmaninoff wished for this hymn to be sung at his funeral.

Lord, now lettest Thou

Thy servant depart

in peace, according to Thy word.

For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation,

which Thou hast prepared

before the face of all people:

a light to enlighten the Gentiles,

and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

—St. Luke 2:29-32

No. 6 Bogoroditse Devo

After giving due praise to God, the Orthodox Church always pays homage to the Virgin. Bogoroditse Devo,

perhaps the most widely known hymn from Rachmaninoff’s cycle, captures both the gentle simplicity of the

angelic greeting and the awe-struck glorification of her response to God.

Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God,

Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee.

Blessed art Thee among women,

and blessed is the Fruit of Thy womb,

for Thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.

No. 7 Slava v vïshnih Bogu

At this point the vesperal portion of the All-Night Vigil draws to a close. Matins begins with the invitatory verses

“Glory to God in the highest…” Slava v vïshnih Bogu… (Luke 2:14) and “O Lord, open Thou my lips…”

Ghospodi, ustne moi otverzeshi… (Ps. 51:15), and the ringing of bells, which Rachmaninoff masterfully

depicts in layering and juxtaposing the choral voices.

Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will among men. (3x)

O Lord, open Thou my lips,

and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise. (2x)

—St. Luke 2:14; Ps. 51:15

No. 8 Hvalite imia Ghospodne

One of the musical high points of the Vigil is Hvalite imia Ghospodne (Ps. 135-136), the hymn of “many mercies.”

All the lights in the church are turned on, the doors are opened, and the clergy in full vestments proceed to the center

of the church to stand with the people. Musically, two layers are evident: the virile, earthy Znamenny chant melody

sung by the altos and basses and above it, the sopranos and tenors, wafting like choirs of cherubim and seraphim.

Praise the name of the Lord. Alleluia.

Praise the Lord, O you His servants. Alleluia.

Blessed be the Lord from Zion,

He who dwells in Jerusalem. Alleluia.

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,


For His mercy endures forever. Alleluia.

O give thanks unto the God of Heaven. Alleluia.

for His mercy endures forever. Alleluia.

—Psalm 135:1, 21; 136:1, 26

No. 9 Blagosloven yesi, Ghospodi

The dramatic events of the Resurrection now unfold in a set of narrative hymns, each introduced by the piously

whispered refrain: Blagosloven yesi, Ghospodi. Contrasts in the vocal scoring depict the cosmic drama occurring

simultaneously in the heavenly realm (“The angelic council was amazed…”) and on earth among the myrrh-bearing women,

as they journey early in the morning to anoint Christ’s body and instead encounter an angelic messenger.

As the joyous message is reinforced again and again, the murmuring crowd of faithful emerges and joins in a

universal hymn of praise “Alleuia.”

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,

teach me Thy statutes.

The angelic host was filled with awe,

when it saw Thee among the dead.

By destroying the power of death, O Savior,

Thou didst raise Adam,

and save all men from hell!

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,

teach me Thy statutes.

“Why do you women

mingle myrrh with your tears?”

cried the radiant angel in the tomb to the myrrhbearers.

Behold the tomb and understand!

The Savior is risen from the dead!”

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,

teach me Thy statutes.

Very early in the morning

the myrrhbearers ran with sorrow to Thy tomb,

but an Angel came to them and said:

“The time for sorrow has come to an end!

Do not weep; announce the resurrection to the apostles!”

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,

teach me Thy statutes.

The myrrhbearers were sorrowful

as they neared Thy tomb,

but the Angel said to them:

“Why do you number the living among the dead?

Since He is God, He is risen from the tomb!”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

We worship the Father, and His Son, and the Holy Spirit:

the Holy Trinity, one in essence!

We cry with the Seraphim:

“Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O Lord!”

Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Since Thou didst give birth to the Giver of Life, O Virgin,

Thou didst deliver Adam from his sin!

Thou gavest joy to Eve instead of sadness!

The God-man who was born of Thee

has restored to life those who had fallen from it!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Glory to Thee, O God! (3x)

No. 10 Voskreseniye Hristovo videvshe

The faithful’s response to the Resurrection continues in the next hymn, Voskreseniye Hristovo videvshe.

Some of the most austere and powerful music occurs in this section, as the text recalls the terrible sacrifice on the

cross that preceded the ultimate triumph over death.

Having beheld the resurrection of Christ,

let us worship the holy Lord Jesus,

the only Sinless One.

We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ,

and we hymn and glorify Thy holy resurrection,

for Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee;

we call on Thy name.

Come, all you faithful,

let us venerate Christ’s holy resurrection.

For, behold, through the cross

joy has come into all the world.

Ever blessing the Lord,

let us praise His resurrection,

for by enduring the cross for us,

He has destroyed death by death.

No. 11 Velichit dusha moya Ghospoda

By composing a heavy chant-like melody that mainly resides in the basses, Rachmaninoff treats the Canticle of Mary,

Velichit dusha moya Ghospoda, as an epic, prophetic utterance, which is taken up by all.

Contrasted with this is the refrain “Chestneyshuyu Heruvim…” in which Mary’s high rank in the heavenly hierarchy is exalted.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.


More honorable than the Cherubim

and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,

without corruption Thou gavest birth to God the Word,

true Theotokos, we magnify Thee.

For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.


For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is His name, and His mercy is on those

who fear Him from generation to generation….


He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted those of low degree;

He has filled the hungry with

good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.


He has helped His servant Israel, remembering His mercy,

as He spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his posterity forever.


—St. Luke, 1:46–55No. 12 Slava v vïshnih Bogu (The Great Doxology)

In terms of textual depth and musical complexity, the Great Doxology Slava v vïshnih Bogu stands out as the main

hymn of the entire All-Night Vigil. The text is carried by a simple Znamenny Chant melody, which Rachmaninoff masterfully

distributes to different voices. Every Christian theme, from glorification and thanksgiving to repentance and supplication,

is contained in the text of this ancient fourth-century hymn; and Rachmaninoff’s music at every turn seems to

resonate appropriately. As the hymn drives towards its culmination in the closing “Thrice-holy,” Rachmaninoff’s treatment

of the chorus becomes truly orchestral, again evoking images of bells.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,

Good will toward men.

We praise Thee, we bless Thee,

we worship Thee, we glorify Thee,

we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.

O Lord, Heavenly King,

God the Father almighty.

O Lord, the only begotten Son,

Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,

who takest away the sin of the world have mercy on us.

Thou who takest away the sin of the world, hear our prayer.

Thou who sits at the right hand of the Father,

have mercy on us.

For Thou alone art holy,

Thou alone art the Lord, Jesus Christ,

to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Every day I will bless Thee

and praise Thy name forever and ever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord,

to keep us this day without sin.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, God of our fathers,

and praised and glorified is Thy name forever. Amen.

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us,

as we have set our hope on Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,

teach me Thy statutes. (3x)

Lord, Thou has been our refuge from generation to generation. I said: Lord, have mercy on me,

heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.

Lord, I flee to Thee,

teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God;

for with Thee is the fountain of life,

and in Thy light we shall see light.

Continue Thy mercy on those who know Thee.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,

have mercy on us. (3x)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

No. 13 Dnes’ spaseniye miru bïst

After the musical intensity of the Doxology, these two hymns serve as a point of repose, inviting one to meditate upon

the exalted mystery of the Resurrection. The two chant themes are quite similar, and quoted in their entirety, providing

two of the most serene sections of the Vigil. The writing in No. 14 becomes increasing romantic, straying just a bit

from the harmonic language present throughout the other movements.

Today salvation has come to the world.

Let us sing to Him who rose from the dead,

the Author of our life.

Having destroyed death by death,

He has given us the victory and great mercy.

No. 14 Voskres iz groba i uzï

Thou didst rise from the tomb,

bursting the bonds of Hades.

Thou didst destroy the condemnation of death, O Lord,

releasing all from the snares of the enemy.

Thou didst show Thyself to Thine Apostles,

and didst send them forth to proclaim Thee;

and through them didst grant Thy peace to the world,

O Thou Who art plenteous in mercy!

No. 15 Vzbrannoy voyevode

At the end of the Matins service, it is a Russian custom to sing a hymn from the feast of Annunciation,

Vzbrannoy voyevode, again in honor of the Mother of God. Rachmaninoff uses this triumphant hymn of

victory to bring his All-Night Vigil to a resounding close.

To Thee, the victorious Leader of triumphant hosts,

we Thy servants, delivered from evil,

offer hymns of thanksgiving,

O Theotokos!

Since Thou dost possess invincible might,

set us free from all calamities,

so that we may cry to Thee:

“Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!”

Transliterations and translations copyright Musica Russica, 2005.

Special thanks to Dr. Vladimir Morosan.

Taken from

April 1 (Old Style, March 20] 1873 – March 28, 1943)

One of the last great pianist–composers in a grand tradition stretching back to Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Brahms, Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff pushed the values of the Romantic era deep into the 20th century. He earned most of his music a central place in the standard repertoire that has never wavered, thanks to his clear sense of instrumental drama and, in author Michael Kennedy’s words, “a gift for long and broad melodies imbued with a resigned melancholy that is never long absent.” The Russian, born in 1873, took up the piano at age 4 and graduated from Moscow Conservatory in 1892 (as part of a starry class that also included Josef Lhevinne and Alexander Scriabin). Rachmaninoff’s youthful collection of solo piano pieces titled Morceaux de fantaisie included the darkly dramatic Prelude in C-sharp minor that would become a worldwide hit, though its huge success was bittersweet for the composer; that prelude tended to overshadow much of his early music, and a lack of copyright agreements between Russia and the West meant that Rachmaninoff earned little from its ubiquity across Europe and the U.S. The disastrous 1897 premiere of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 helped lead to a three-year depression and writer’s block. The prize-winning reception, in 1901, for his melody-rich Piano Concerto No. 2 — which was dedicated to the hypnotherapist who helped him recover — paved the road to Rachmaninoff’s success, with the composer at the piano for its premiere. Rachmaninoff’s early body of work included a successful Symphony No. 2 and two piano trios, the beautiful Trios élégiaque, which deepened the post–Tchaikovsky tradition; he also composed deeply Russian choral works, many songs and three operas, as well as major sets of variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli for solo piano, plus two books of Etudes-Tableaux. Disturbed by political turmoil in Russia, Rachmaninoff began to work in the West in the early 1900s. He first toured America in 1909-10, performing his Third Piano Concerto in New York under Gustav Mahler. Rachmaninoff emigrated after the Russian Revolution of 1917, eventually settling in the U.S., where he was in demand as both a conductor and a pianist.

In his book The Great Pianists, critic Harold Schonberg depicted Rachmaninoff as one of the purest, most complete pianists who ever lived. He was a towering virtuoso — with vast hands and a near-photographic memory — who blended modernist rigor with Romantic poetry. “At any Rachmaninoff concert, one noted the sharp rhythmic thrusts, the virility and the sense of sonority the man had,” Schonberg wrote. “And, above all, a musical elegance in which phrases were shaped with exquisite finish. When he played a Liszt transcription of a Schubert song, one immediately realized how unimaginative and unmusical most singers were.” Rachmaninoff left many records of his playing — piano rolls, acoustic discs, electrical recordings. He recorded hit versions of his four piano concertos with the Philadelphia Orchestra (under Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy), along with conducting the orchestra himself in his Third Symphony, great tone poem Isle of the Dead and popular Vocalise. He also worked with violin star Fritz Kreisler, leaving discs of Beethoven, Schubert, Grieg. In addition to solo transcriptions of Bach and Handel, Rachmaninoff’s recorded legacy ranges from Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann to Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Scriabin. He also recorded much Chopin, including a famous version of the “Funeral March” Sonata. One critic, bowled over by Rachmaninoff’s way with that sonata, wrote in 1930: “The logic of the thing was impervious; the plan was invulnerable; the proclamation was imperial. There was nothing left for us but to thank our lucky stars that we had lived when Rachmaninoff did and heard him, out of the divine might of his genius, re-create a masterpiece.” Unfortunately, the composer only recorded a limited selection of his shorter solo piano works and never documented his way with his two piano sonatas and sets of variations. Yet on the concert stage, the pianist was a great exponent of his own works; in 1936, The New York Times hailed a performance of Rachmaninoff’s new Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini at Carnegie Hall with Stokowski and the Philly Orchestra: “To hear Mr. Rachmaninoff interpret the piano part is to listen to an amazing exhibition of imagination and commanding musicianship.” He built a new home in Switzerland in the early 1930s, but he returned to the U.S. permanently as war blighted Europe. Rachmaninoff’s final performance, a few weeks before his death in 1943, featured Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata.