Musical culture of Ukraine

Musical culture of Ukraine

A historical outline presenting the formation of the musical culture of Ukraine from the time of Kyivan Rus to the present day.

A fragment of an icon by an unknown author from the late 17th century from an Orthodox church in Sytykhiv near Lviv, depicting choristers reading notes, including juveniles – perhaps performing a “partes” concert, as discussed below.

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We know little about the culture of our neighbors. Especially the East, the one closest to us, which once co-founded the Jagiellonian Republic, is little known to us. In this short sketch, I will try to introduce the musical culture of Ukraine, a country that has been building its state independence again since 1991.

Ukraine’s history is complicated. Ukraine has enjoyed independence in several periods, repeatedly losing its autonomy to neighboring states. The beginnings of Ukraine’s statehood were during the time of Kyivan Rus, a state that existed since the 9th century, which was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in the mid-13th century. Its central and southern parts with Kyiv were subjugated by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later, as a result of the Polish-Lithuanian Union (1569) – incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The northern districts with Moscow came under direct dependence of the Mongol khans for more than two centuries. And already at this point in history, the divergence of the historical paths of Ukraine and Russia should be seen. For the next century, since the Mongol aggression, only the westernmost part of Rus – Halych-Volyn Rus, incorporated into the Polish Crown in the mid-14th century by Casimir the Great, maintained its independence.

The mid-17th century saw the separation of Ukraine between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia as a result of the Khmelnytsky uprising. Since then, some independence was marked by the Hetmanate established by Khmelnytsky, subordinated to Russia. This period lasted more than a century – until the Hetmanate was expunged in 1764 and the Zaporizhzhya Sicha was crushed by Catherine II in 1775. The partition of the Commonwealth at the end of the 18th century split political influence in Ukraine between Austria and Russia and drew a border on the Zbruch River, which shaped the distinctiveness of eastern and western Ukraine for more than 150 years. Another glimpse of Ukrainian statehood came during the Ukrainian People’s Republic at the turn of the second and third decades of the 20th century. However, this formation failed to maintain its independence and collapsed under the weight of Soviet forces in 1920. The most recent history of Ukraine began with the declaration of independence in 1991.It is still necessary to mention the name itself, for Ukraine as a name designating territory began to appear in wider use from the 15th century and gradually displaced the name Ruthenia, assimilated in the meantime by the Duchy of Moscow.

Recalling these few facts is important for the simple reason that it defines the political and cultural influences to which Ukraine has been subjected in its history. The first clear progress in civilization was initiated by the adoption of Christianity in 988. The choice of Byzantium as the source of this new religion and philosophy marked the cultural foundation of Ukraine, as well as that of other countries and peoples, the heirs of Kyivan Rus. The adoption of the Eastern rite of Christianity with its Slavonic language version, created by Sts. Cyril and Methodius, gave rise to its own tradition of religious chant – a one-voice chant called znamia (from the word “znamia” – sign, neuma), based on Greek-Bulgarian models. The practice of one-voice chant persisted for quite a long time. The earliest books (usually called Irmologions) in which these religious texts were collected date back to the 11th century and testify to the rich musical life of the time. The musical signs of these books were placed above the text and indicated only the direction of the melody (from the Western tradition we know this notation as “neumatic”); many examples have not been deciphered to this day. The centers of cultivation of this musical tradition were monasteries, where monks carefully preserved and developed it in a yearly ritual cycle. The most famous and important monastery was the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv, founded in the 11th century on a lofty hill above the Dnipro River during the reign of Prince Yaroslav the Wise. This new religious musical practice was spread by teachers called “domestics.” At first they were Greeks from Byzantium, then local musicians wrote their names in history – Stepan from Kyiv, Dmytro from Peremysl, Luka from Volodymyr Volynsky. There was also secular instrumental music in Rus, performed by so-called skomorochs, itinerant actors, singers and jugglers. They performed various dances and overtures on geese, trumpets, pipes and drums, remaining at the service of the princely courts of the time. We find them on the iconography of the time.

In the next stage of the formation of Ukraine’s musical culture, the influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the clash of two traditions of Christianity – Eastern and Western – were important. With the annexation of Halych-Volyn Rus to Poland in the mid-14th century, and then through a series of union treaties between Poland and Lithuania from the Union of Krewa (1385) to the Union of Lublin (1569), Western Christianity gradually penetrated Ukraine. These occidental influences brought in musical life the emergence of polyphony and the adaptation of Western compositional techniques. A major role was played by “Orthodox church confraternities”, which were religious and cultural-educational organizations of the Ruthenian bourgeoisie, established at Orthodox parishes from the 15th to 17th centuries. The oldest such organization was established in Lviv in 1453, followed by others in Lutsk, Ostrog, Peremysl, Ternopil and Kyiv (1615), among others. Initially charitable, in the 16th century these brotherhoods gained political strength, conducting active cultural and educational activities, as well as representing the Orthodox bourgeoisie before the Polish authorities. They defended the Orthodox tradition against the expansion of the Latin Church by initiating and developing choral activity, thus aiming to prevent the faithful from drifting away to the Latin, more musically developed and rich rite.

In the first half of the 16th century, we encounter examples of simple polyphony in the form of three-voice “strok chants” (strok – ribbon, row). These were relatively simple compositions resembling in their form the works of the 13th and 14th centuries of Western music. But already with the beginning of the 17th century, a more developed form of polyphony appeared in Ukraine in the form of “partes singing” (from the Latin word “partes” – parts, choral voices), i.e. the practice of choral singing from choral voices collected in separate notebooks, containing only one voice (part). These compositions reached up to 8 voices and were already written in a 5-line system, known as “Kyiv notation.” The oldest surviving collection of these compositions is Irmologion from Suprasl (created in 1594-1601). A very important phenomenon in the intellectual and cultural life of Ukraine was the establishment in 1632 – by combining the school of the Kiev Orthodox Brotherhood and the school of the Pechersk Lavra – the Kyiv-Mohyla College, which became a center for the development of musical culture as well. The college owes its name to its founder Petro Mohyla, a Kyiv metropolitan, a prominent activist in the fields of religion, culture and education. How Polish and Ukrainian fortunes flew by can be shown by the example of the Mohyla family. Petro Mohyla’s cousin Raina Mohylanka was the mother of Jeremy Wisniowiecki, who converted from the Orthodox Church to the Catholic rite in 1632.

The next turning point in Ukrainian history was the Khmelnytsky uprising, which, as noted above, led to the subjugation of left-bank Ukraine to Russia (roughly along the Dnipro River). A consequence of this was also a large migration from Kyiv to Moscow of musicians and scholars who brought Occidental traditions, including the Western understanding of polyphony in music. From the mid-17th century to the first decades of the 18th century, there was an intensive penetration into Russia of Ukrainian traditions of Orthodox chant, developed in confrontation with the musical culture of the Latin West. This process would be reinforced by the printing of the first Irmołogion (collection of Orthodox church songs) in the history of Ukraine in 1707 in Lviv. Let the success enjoyed by Ukrainian musicians be evidenced, for example, by the fact that Josyp Zahvoysky of the Pechersk Lavra was sought by the Muscovite prince Fedor Volkonsky, and permission for his departure from Kyiv was made conditional on his will by Khmelnytsky himself.

Associated with this period is the figure of Mykola Dyletsky (the dates of his birth and death are uncertain – the years 1630 – 1690 are assumed), the first important and at the same time the most outstanding Ukrainian composer of the time, who with his activity significantly influenced the state of musical life in Ukraine. He is the most outstanding Ukrainian composer of the time. He studied at the Jesuit Academy in Vilnius. He also spent time in Krakow, Smolensk, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. His most important work, “Musical Grammar” (1675), contains the principles of “partes singing”, it also contains the names and works of Polish composers, including M. Mielczewski. Dyletsky is the author of compositions based on liturgical texts, intended for 3 to 8 voices, using the polychoral technique of the Venetian school. Few works from the late 17th and early 18th centuries have survived, and we know the names of the composers only from directories. Thus, for example, the “Register of Notebooks” of the Lviv Orthodox Brotherhood from 1697 mentions Dyletsky, Havalevych, Zavadovsky, Koladchyn, Chernushyn, Byszovsky, Pykulytsky, Shavarovsky, Yazhevsky. The register accurately describes the composition of the choral performers in each work, stretching from 3 to as many as 18 voices.

Another form of music-making – one might say more secular, although still using religious themes – were songs called “cantos.” They derive from the tradition of the scomorochs, but they are also a manifestation of the secularization of public life and the increasing importance of the bourgeoisie, noticed in Western Europe as early as the 13th century. We also encounter this process in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in Ukraine from the late 16th through the 17th to the 18th centuries. The centers where this tradition developed the most were the already mentioned Orthodox brotherhoods and the schools organized around them. Here it is essential to mention Kyiv’s Mohyla College, transformed into an academy by Ivan Mazepa in 1694, where musical arts, especially singing, and theatrical arts in the form of, for example, vertep, or nativity plays, were especially cultivated. In this most important college of the Slavic East, these religious-folk canticles, along with their more religious version – psalms – became very widespread among students. Mostly anonymous, these songs were influenced by the Partes concert on the one hand and borrowed folk motifs to also influence the Partes singing style on the other. The canticles were written down in collections called “Bohohlasnykhs” as early as the 17th and 18th centuries, with the oldest printed version dating back to 1790 and published at the then already Unitarian monastery in Pochaiv in Volhynia.

How politics and culture intertwine in an interesting way can be traced to the fate of the Razumovsky family (the Latin transliteration of the Russian pronunciation of the Ukrainian Cossack surname Rozum – Rozumovsky in Ukrainian). The elder son of the Cossack Hryhoriy Rozum, Oleksiy, in a wave of migration of Ukrainian musicians, found his way to the Court Singing Chapel in St. Petersburg in 1731. It was a common practice at the time to recruit boys with musical and vocal talents from Ukraine (in the terminology of Russia at the time – Malorossiya) into St. Petersburg’s imperial choirs. Oleksiy’s career was linked precisely to his musical abilities and excellent singing, with which he also impressed Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. He became her favorite in St. Petersburg, even secretly marrying her in 1742. Elisabeth, already as Tsarina, elevated to the dignity of Hetman of Ukraine his brother Kyrylo, who again at the time was a favorite of Princess Anhalt-Zerbst, later Catherine II. It was Kyrylo Razumovsky’s son Andrei who would become Beethoven’s patron in Vienna in the future, and it was to him that the great classicist dedicated several quartets, as well as the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. Kyrylo Razumovsky, having received the title of Hetman of Ukraine in 1750, founded a musical theater in Hlukhiv, maintained a 40-member singing band, and organized a very active musical life. His library numbered more than 2,300 compositions, including operas and chamber music pieces. Despite his close ties with imperial St. Petersburg, Razumovsky made attempts to regain greater autonomy for Ukraine, lost after Mazepa’s defeat in 1709. However, Catherine II did not allow this and in 1764 Razumovsky resigned his office, being the last Hetman of Ukraine.

Still by order of Tsarina Anna, behind which Oleksiy Razumovsky was probably also behind, a singing school was established in Gluchow in 1738 to train boys singing soprano and alto for the Court Chapel in St. Petersburg. Dmytro Bortniansky was born in Hlukhiv in 1751, and one can only speculate how his future fate was influenced by the musical life of his hometown. At the age of 7, he was sent to the Court Singing Chapel in St. Petersburg. From 1769-79, he honed his musical talent in Italy, so that when he returned to Russia from 1796 until his death in 1825, he was Director of the Imperial Court Singing Chapel. No composer in Russia before or after him received so many honors from the ruling court. Bortniansky perfectly adapted the Italian musical style to a cappella choral music. He wrote dozens of choral concertos, liturgies, many smaller works for choir, as well as operas and instrumental music written in the Italian style. To this day, there is a dispute between Russian and Ukrainian musicologists over whether Bortniansky should be assigned to Russian or Ukrainian culture. Defenders of the first view claim that Bortniansky never returned to Ukraine, spending his entire life in Russia, not counting a trip to Italy, where he was educated at the expense of the Russian court. He is also the most outstanding composer of the time active in Russia. Ukrainian musicologists emphasize Bortniansky’s origins, finding echoes of Ukrainian songs in his compositions, claiming that although he did not return to his homeland, he was in the company of Ukrainian singers, constantly supplying the ensemble. We will not be mistaken when we say that Bortniansky played a very significant role in both cultures. Criticized by later Russian composers, his “sweet” style exhibits a certain Ukrainian melodic “softness” in addition to clear Italian influences. His works found their way into many choirs in Ukraine, including Galicia, where they were performed as works of their own tradition. Bortniansky is also connected to Poland in some way. His family originates from the village of Bartne in Lemkivshchyna (Ukrainian: Bortne), where the composer’s great-grandfather received a royal charter and a grant of land. It wasn’t until the composer’s father Stepan settled in Hlukhiv in the 1840s that the further history is known.

When talking about Ukrainian music of the second half of the 18th century, Maxim Berezovsky (1745-1777) and Artem Luka Vedel (1767-1808) are mentioned in the same breath alongside Bortniansky. Maxim Berezovsky, like Bortniansky, was born in Hlukhiv and entered the St. Petersburg Court Singing Chapel in 1758. Like Bortniansky, he also traveled to Italy to study. Unfortunately, upon his return to the country, he failed to gain a significant position. Disappointed by the lack of job opportunities, also caused by material troubles, he took his own life in 1777. Such an opinion persisted for a long time – today there are also suggestions from historians that it was not a suicide, but death due to illness. Few of Berezovsky’s compositions have survived. Among them, compositions for a cappella chorus stand out, especially the choral concerto Do not spurn me in my old age. In addition, we can find in Berezovsky’s oeuvre an opera composed in Italy, as well as instrumental music written in the Italian style. Russian historiography, as in the case of Bortniansky, attributes Berezovsky to Russian culture.

Not much more fortunate was Artem Lukych Vedel, a Kyiv-born student of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. An important event in his life turned out to be his meeting with Tsarist army general Levanidov in 1794, who invited him to lead a corps choir. This choir soon became one of the best in Kyiv. In April 1796, General Levanidov was transferred to Kharkiv and took Vedel with him along with the best singers and musicians. This good fortune of the composer was interrupted by the death of Catherine II in November 1796. General Levanidov was a favorite of Catherine II, and the orders of Paul I, Catherine II’s successor, forbidding free musical activity in the army, obviously harmed Vedel’s further career. The composer, who had reached the rank of captain, resigned and took a position as a music teacher at the Kharkiv College. Subsequent stiffening of tsarist cultural policy forced Vedel to return to Kyiv. Suspected of freethought, on the basis of an unexplained plot, he was declared mentally ill and, at the age of 32, placed in an asylum, where he remained for nine years until his death. Vedel’s outstanding talent is evidenced by his choral concertos and other compositions for choir. The vocal parts are characterized by instrumental virtuosity, giving an idea of the high level of performance of the time. Vedel’s music combines the tradition of polyphonic choral singing popular in Ukraine at the time with local influences in the form of, for example, melismatic phrases and melodic features of Ukrainian songs.

The recruitment of Ukrainian singers for the St. Petersburg band continued also in the 19th century. Mikhail Glinka, who in 1838 made a long trip across Ukraine, looking for musicians for the imperial capital, was also involved in this practice. From this recruitment, Semen Kulak-Artemovsky (1813-1873) made his way to St. Petersburg. He sang first in the Court Chapel, then was a soloist at the Imperial Opera House in St. Petersburg, and later at the Grand Theater in Moscow. He also dabbled in composing, creating the first opera in Ukrainian, Zaporozhets beyond the Danube (1862). It combines the style of Italian bel canto with Ukrainian motifs, and in content is a comedy recounting the family adventures of a Cossack named Ivan, who, fleeing from his wife, disguises himself as a Turk. The opera is still popular in Ukraine today, and I think it deserves attention beyond its borders as well.

The 19th century discovered folk music. Alongside professional music, the music of simple folk, isolated from novelties and strongly attached to their tradition, dating back even to pre-Christian times, had existed in Ukraine since ancient times. In Ukrainian folk music, this archaic nature was preserved in ritual songs associated with seasonal work, such as harvesting songs, and mournful “holosinnya” (laments). It was mostly vocal music, but also instrumental and vocal-instrumental. Often limited to a small ambitus, it is nevertheless characterized by a great diversity, depending on the region. Stylistically, it can be divided into music of mountainous regions (especially Hutsul) and plain regions (e.g. Polesie). The political division of Ukraine into eastern and western is also reflected in this music. The music of western Ukraine is distinguished by its greater archaic character (narrow range of melodies), while the music of eastern Ukraine has more developed melodies, although even here one encounters songs of limited ambitus. This archaic folk music, as in other regions of Europe, was influenced by urban folklore (e.g., the cantos described above) with its simplified version of professional music, creating distinctive stylistic blends in different regions.

Speaking of folk music, one cannot fail to mention a musical practice typical only of Ukraine, namely the tradition of kobzars, folk rhapsodies. Since the 16th century, in melorecitative musical forms – dumas – they told of the hard Cossacks’ plight, of the tragedies of war, but also of the heroes of the Cossack times, accompanying themselves on the bagpipe, bandura, or hurdy-gurdy. With the disappearance of the Cossacks in the 19th century, the bagpipers mixed with the beggar-lyrics, thus continuing this rhapsodic tradition, which in various forms has survived to our time despite Bolshevik-Communist repression.

From folk music, we naturally move on to the Ukrainian national revival, with which the figure of Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) is most associated. It is in his poetic work that the echoes of Ukrainian history, especially the history of the Cossacks, resonate in the published volume not coincidentally called Kobzar. Like Shevchenko’s poetry in literature, the work of the congenial composer Mykola Lysenko (1842-1912) is so important. Lysenko is even considered the founder of the national school in Ukrainian music. This pianist, choral conductor, folklorist, educator, and social activist studied composition and piano in Leipzig and studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg. Since 1869, Lysenko lived and worked in Kyiv. He was very active in the organization of Ukrainian musical life, which was not easy given the Emsky decree of 1876, in which Tsar Alexander II forbade the publication and distribution of books in Ukrainian, the use of the Ukrainian language in theatrical performances, and even the printing of musical works with Ukrainian lyrics. In 1904, Lysenko founded the Music and Drama School, which trained an entire generation of Ukrainian musicians. In addition, he was also the founder and conductor of choirs, for which he composed a great deal of music. He devoted a great deal of attention to Ukrainian folklore, which he studied throughout his life and of which he was an excellent theorist, publishing, for example, “Characteristics of Ukrainian Dumas and Songs Performed by the Veresay Kobzar.” In his work, he also succumbed to strong inspiration from Ukrainian folk music. He often arranged folk songs for choir or solo voice with piano. Echoes of Ukrainian musical folklore can also be found in Lysenko’s instrumental works (string quartet, trio), especially in his operas treating Ukrainian customs (Christmas Eve Night, Topelitsa), or in the first Ukrainian historical opera based on Gogol’s novel, Taras Bulba, which still seems to be the most important Ukrainian operatic work. Lysenko’s followers were Kyrylo Stetsenko (1882-1922) and Mykola Leontovych (1877-1921) – they became particularly famous for their choral works, which are still very popular in Ukraine today.

No composer of Lysenko’s caliber was born in western Ukraine in the 19th century. However, we have here an interesting course of events, related to Bortniansky and indirectly to Andrey Razumovsky, who to some extent influenced the shape of the musical culture of the time. An important role in the first decades of the 19th century was played by the incumbent Greek Catholic bishop of Peremysl, Ivan Snihursky (1784-1847). He had previously received his education in Vienna, and here he also became pastor of St. Barbara’s Greek Catholic parish in 1808. It was at this time that the chapel of the Russian messenger, where Prince Andrei Razumovsky resided, was closed. The choir of this chapel, made up exclusively of singers from Transnistrian Ukraine, requested permission from St. Barbara’s Church to sing mass, and so Bortniansky’s music resounded in this Greek Catholic church. Ivan Snihursky took an active part in maintaining this ensemble, and when he was appointed bishop of Peremysl in 1818, he also founded a choir there, which soon gained great fame under the direction of Czech conductor Aloysius Nanke. The choir’s basic repertoire consisted of works by Bortniansky and Berezovsky, so the Ukrainian community of Galicia could also learn about the great choral achievements of their masters. Later composers Mykhailo Verbytsky (1815-1870) – author of the Ukrainian anthem – and Ivan Lavrivsky (1822-1873) sang in this choir as boys. They, along with Isidore Vorobkevych (1836-1903) and Viktor Matiuk (1852-1912), created the Ukrainian composer “school of Peremysl”, very actively organizing musical life in Peremysl and Lviv. These composers mostly wrote vocal works for solo voice or choir, but also composed music for sungography, usually based on folk themes. Their works are by no means innovative, although there are some successful compositions that are still in the repertoire of choirs and singers in Ukraine today. However, it was not until the emergence of Stanislav Ludkevych (1879-1979) and Vasyl Barvinsky (1888-1963) in Lviv that the situation radically changed. Ludkevych studied in Vienna with Zemlinsky, and Barvinsky studied in Prague with Novák. Both rendered great service to the Ukrainian musical community in Galicia – Ludkevych being one of the organizers of the Lysenko Higher Musical Institute (1910), and Barvinsky as its longtime director. Unfortunately, Barvinsky did not escape the fate of many Ukrainian artists and intellectuals and spent 10 years in the Mordovia concentration camp after World War II. His work deserves special attention – he was a master of miniatures and the creator of many interesting compositions for chamber ensembles.

A real breakthrough in Ukrainian music came with the appearance of Borys Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968). A composer, conductor and pedagogue, he graduated from law at Kiev University in 1918. At the same time, he studied composition with Reinhold Glier at the Kyiv Conservatory of Music, where he received his diploma in 1919, later becoming a longtime lecturer at the university and educator of an entire generation of composers. Lyatoshynsky is even considered the father of the Ukrainian modern school of composition – he taught, among others, Valentin Silvestrov, Leonid Hrabovsky and Yevhen Stankovych, composers who in the following years decided the face of Ukrainian modern music. He composed five symphonies, as many symphonic poems, chamber works, choral works, song cycles and three operas. While the “musical revolution” was taking place around the world, especially in the first decades after World War I, he was initiating a modernist musical movement in Ukraine with a series of works that originally reflected his admiration for expressionism. Unfortunately, this movement was being created at a time when socialist realism was also becoming an aesthetic dogma. Lyatoshynsky’s gravitation to the New Viennese school (i.e., the works of Schönberg, Webern and especially Berg) was completely unacceptable to Soviet musicologists and theorists (in 1948 and 1952 he was severely criticized for “formalism” especially in his Second Symphony). At the same time, it was a very important source of inspiration for the composer, which he gradually moved away from in the following years, while nevertheless maintaining the high quality of the music he composed. A whole series of chamber works, as well as the opera The Golden Diadem, perfectly illustrate his ability to unite and change different musical structures – the diatonic space of folklore and the busy complex atonal language of expressionism. The rapid transformation of music in the first half of the 20th century fostered the birth of many outstanding musical talents. Among them, Borys Lyatoshynsky holds a place in Ukrainian music similar to that held by Szymanowski, Kodaly, Bartók, Nielsen and Enescu in their national cultures. In addition to Lyatoshynsky, we should mention, also active in Kyiv at the time, Levko Revutsky (1889-1977), author of, among other works, Symphony No. 2, using popular folk song themes, and Viktor Kosenko (1896-1938), who became particularly famous for his works for piano.

Here we come to the present day. Today Ukrainian music is most significantly represented by Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937). His work is gaining wider recognition and popularity. Today he is the best-known and internationally recognized contemporary Ukrainian composer. The ECM label has released a number of CDs of his music – following an earlier broad introduction of Pärt and Kanchelli. Silvestrov, a student of Lyatoshynsky, was a central figure in Kyiv’s musical avant-garde in the 1960s. In his first period, he took over the twelve-tone technique from Schönberg and Webern. Works written with this technique were the cause of bitter disputes during their premieres, due to which Silvestrov, like other composers of the Kyiv avant-garde, remained “on censorship” for a long time. In the early 1970s, his work took a radical turn toward diatonicism, and it was then that Silvestrov, referring to genres and styles from the 17th to 19th centuries, found a very personal form of expression. He is the author of, among others, nine symphonies, Metamusic for piano and orchestra, Widmung (Dedication) for violin and orchestra, and many chamber works, including four very interesting string quartets.

In addition to Silvestrov, Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020) and Yevhen Stankovych (b.1942) stand out on the Ukrainian scene. Myroslav Skoryk in 1965 wrote music based on Hutsul folklore for Parajanov’s film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which earned him a letter of praise from Dmitri Shostakovich, marking an important moment in the composer’s career. From the very beginning, Skoryk’s music was a play of tradition, including folklore, with more contemporary compositional techniques. Of his output, the most noteworthy are: Hutsul Triptych (1965), Carpathian Concerto (1972), concertos for cello, violin, piano and chamber works. Several years ago, at the Grand Theater – National Opera in Warsaw, the Lviv Opera company presented Skoryk’s opera Moses, which was very well received by audiences.

Yevhen Stankovych, one of Lyatoshynsky’s last disciples, is a composer of dramatic flair ii epic momentum. Even chamber works under his pen take on a decidedly non-chamber character, such as his Chamber Symphony No. 3 for flute and string orchestra (the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers ranked it among the 10 most outstanding works of 1985). The folk-opera Fern Flower (1979), the ballet Olga (1982), the powerful Dictum (1987) in 11 movements for chamber orchestra, and a number of works dedicated to the Chernobyl tragedy, such as Black Elegy (1991) and Poem of Sorrows (1993) or the symphonic Panachyda dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Great Famine of 1933 (1992) – clearly outline the composer’s circle of creative interests.

Oleh Bezborodko during the 8th Days of Ukrainian Music

The rich musical life of Ukraine today is co-created by other composers as well. Among them, the following particularly stand out: Lesia Dychko (b.1939), Igor Shcherbakov (b.1955), Karmella Cepkolenko (b.1955), Yuri Laniuk (b.1957), Alexander Shchetinsky (b.1960), Alexander Kozarenko (1963-2023), Bohdana Frolak (b.1968). The younger generation of composers also promises to be interesting: Oleh Bezborodko (b.1973), Zoltan Almashi (b.1975) and Oleksandr Shymko (b.1977).

Zoltan Almashi during the 8th Days of Ukrainian Music

Bohdana Frolak during the 8th Days of Ukrainian Music

The landscape of Ukrainian musical life is marked by music conservatories and academies in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Lviv. There are about 20 symphony orchestras, six opera and ballet theaters in Ukraine, and several festivals of contemporary music form the further path of Ukrainian musical culture. Finally, it is still worth mentioning how many outstanding musicians and composers were born in Ukraine, including Juliusz Zarębski, Karol Szymanowski, Vladimir Horowitz (his sister Regina was a piano professor at the Kharkiv Conservatory until her death in 1984), Emanuel Feurmann, Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan and Oleh Krysa.

Roman Rewakowicz, 2004

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