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Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye 'All-Night Vigil', Op 59
1912; first performed by the Synod Choir under Nikolay Golovanov in Moscow on 18 November 1912
author of text

'Grechaninov: Vespers' (CDH55352)
Grechaninov: Vespers
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55352  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 01: Blagoslovi, dushe moya 'Bless the Lord, O my soul'
Track 4 on CDH55352 [6'15] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 02: Blazhen muzh 'Blessed is the man'
Track 5 on CDH55352 [5'16] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 03: Svete tihiy 'Gladsome light'
Track 6 on CDH55352 [3'34] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 04: Bogoroditse Devo 'Rejoice, O virgin'
Track 7 on CDH55352 [1'20] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 05: Hvalite imia Ghospodne 'Praise the name of the Lord'
Track 8 on CDH55352 [6'49] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 06: Blagosloven yesi, Ghospodi 'Blessed art thou, O Lord'
Track 9 on CDH55352 [5'25] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 07: Ot yunosti moyeya 'From my youth'
Track 10 on CDH55352 [3'48] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 08: Voskreseniye Hristovo videvshe 'Having beheld the resurrection of Christ'
Track 11 on CDH55352 [3'41] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 09: Slava v vïshnih Bogu 'Glory be to God'
Track 12 on CDH55352 [9'10] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 10: Vzbrannoy voyevode 'To thee, victorious leader'
Track 13 on CDH55352 [1'54] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye 'All-Night Vigil', Op 59
The ‘All-Night Vigil’ is perhaps the most recent of the musical genres of the Orthodox divine service. Its history can be traced back little more than a hundred years (although individual canticles had been set to music many times before). It was Tchaikovsky who introduced the ‘Vigil’ as a choral cycle in 1881, and the form which he created became a model for composers of the following generations—for example Kastalsky, Nikolsky, Ippolitov-Ivanov and Panchenko. Undoubtably the best-known setting of the ‘Vigil’ is that by Rachmaninov, composed in 1915. An immediate precursor of that masterpiece is Grechaninov’s.

Grechaninov’s Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye was written during 1912 and first performed in Moscow on 18 November 1912 by the famous Synod Choir under the direction of Nikolay Golovanov. The premiere was not wholly successful. It scored only a moderate success and did not find a home for itself in the repertoire of the Synod Choir (apart from the premiere, the chorus sang it only once in December that year), nor was it included in the repertoires of other famous choirs of the pre-Revolutionary period. Censorship prevented its performance in the Soviet period, and even now Russian choirs do not sing it. Nevertheless this is undoubtedly vivid, bold music intended for concert as well as liturgical performance.

The ‘Vigil’ is written on a grand scale in a style that is essentially epic. The central movements in the cycle are psalms of ‘glorification’: Blagoslovi, dushe moya (Bless the Lord, O my soul), Blazhen muzh (Blessed is the man) for double chorus, and the monumental and the heroic-sounding Hvalite imia Ghospodne (Praise the name of the Lord). The cycle concludes with a remarkably colourful ‘bell’ finale to the text of the canticle glorifying the mother of God, Vzbrannoy voyevode (To thee, victorious leader). Grechaninov does not quote literally a single traditional chant, but freely combines elements (popevki) of them. Thus, in Bless the Lord, O my soul we hear the intonations of Greek chant; in Blessed is the man we hear chant from the Kiev Pechersky Monastery; in Ot yunosti moyeya (From my youth) and Voskreseniye Hristovo videvshe (Having beheld the resurrection of Christ), elements of znamennïy chant.

Grechaninov’s ‘Vigil’ is exclusively and absolutely major in tone with barely any departures into minor keys. Even the major keys are ‘noble’, brilliant ones: E major, B major, F sharp major, C sharp major. For the most part the texture is rich and intensive with numerous divisi in the choral parts, often for two choruses. The work, of course, relied on the vocal abilities of the Synod Choir with its resonant boy sopranos and low basses. As we have remarked already, the character of the work inclines us to suppose that it was intended for concert performance, but we cannot rule out the fact that in the course of composition the composer imagined hearing his ‘All-Night Vigil’ sung during the service at the ancient Uspensky Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, for it was there that the Synod Choir sang for the services on Sundays and festival days. In any case, Grechaninov’s ‘Vigil’ has a vividly expressed ‘heroic’ and ‘archaic’ colouring. A certain contrast is provided by the chant Bogoroditse Devo (Rejoice, O virgin), written in the form of a lyrical miniature with a soft, swaying motion (the form here recalls the corresponding part of Rachmaninov’s setting), and also by the tropars for the Resurrection, Blagosloven yesi, Ghospodi (Blessed art thou, O Lord). This section imitates the so-called ‘ordinary’ chant, and includes a particularly expressive and beautiful alternation of the quartet of children’s voices (sopranos and altos) in the stanzas, with tutti in the pripevki (refrains); the deliberate simplicity of the harmony is elegantly set off against cadences in the folk manner. The grandest part of the cycle is the Slava v vïshnih Bogu (Glory be to God), where choral recitative alternates with solo fragments in the style of liturgical reading. The movement towards the climax at the words ‘vo svete Tvoyem uzrim svet’ (In thy light shall we see light) is constructed in a remarkable way; the melody of the old Russian fita (‘jubilation’) resounds triumphantly. Of great interest and novelty in the context of Russian sacred music of the early twentieth century are parts of the Hvalite imia Ghospodne and Vzbrannoy voyevode, in which the imitation of bells and the resonance so typical of the entire work are expressed with a grandiose sweep (the Hvalite also stands out for its characteristic use of fourths in the melody and harmony that recalls the style of Borodin, especially the choruses in the Prologue to Prince Igor).

It is interesting to compare Grechaninov’s ‘All-Night Vigil’ with Rachmaninov’s, written three years later and performed in Moscow by the same Synod Choir. In terms of the overall form of the cycle the artistic treatment of the two works is quite different. We do not know whether Rachmaninov heard Grechaninov’s setting. Most likely he may have glanced through the score, and, of course, he knew other sacred works by Grechaninov, especially those in the repertoire of the Synod Choir. Grechaninov, though, was present at one of the early performances of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vigil’, and summed up the style with the words ‘true church music’. In any case, these two ‘All-Night Vigils’, alongside two more large-scale choral works for the Orthodox Church, Strastnaya Sed’mitsa by Grechaninov (1912) and the Bratskoye pominoveniye (Prayer in memory of our dead brothers) by Kastalsky (1916) are, as it were, a summing-up of the brilliant development of Russian church music from the 1880s to Russia’s watershed year, 1917.

from notes by Marina Rakhmanova © 1999
English: Philip Taylor

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