The All-Night Vigil (Russian: Всенощное бдение, Vsenoshchnoe bdenie), Opus 37, is an a cappellachoral composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff, written and premiered in 1915. It consists of settings of texts taken from the Russian OrthodoxAll-night vigil ceremony. It has been praised as Rachmaninoff's finest achievement and "the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church". It was one of Rachmaninoff's two favorite compositions along with The Bells, and the composer requested that one of its movements (the fifth) be sung at his funeral. The title of the work is often translated as simply Vespers, which 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.
The All-Night Vigil was written in less than two weeks in January and February 1915, and was first performed in Moscow in the March of that year, partly to benefit the Russianwar 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. However the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of the Soviet Union led to a ban on performances of all religious music, and on 22 July 1918 the Synodal Choir was replaced by a nonreligious "People's Choir Academy". It has been written that "no composition represents the end of an era so clearly as this liturgical work".
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".
The Vigil includes three styles of chant: znamenny (in numbers 8, 9, 12, 13 & 14), a more recitational 'Greek' style (numbers 2 & 15), and 'Kiev' chant - the Ukrainian adaptation of znamenny style (numbers 4 & 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 for alto and tenor, respectively. 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...