Mykola Pavlovych Dyletsky was born perhaps as early as 1630 in Kyiv and lived until after 1680, and perhaps until as late as the 1720s. He composed choral and liturgical music, specializing in multiple voices. He was also a theoretician and academic who devised theories of music and rules of composition. Diletsky’s fame rests chiefly on his two-part treatise, Grammatika musikiyskago peniya (A Grammar of Music[al Singing]), the first part of which teaches the rudiments of music theory, and the second composition of a-cappella concertos, a genre that came to Russia through Ukraine and of which Diletsky was a pioneer. The Grammatika contains the first known description of the circle of fifths. According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, Dyletsky ‘introduced sopranos to church choirs.’
Maksym Sozontovych Berezovsky (c. 1745-1777) was one of the creators of the Ukrainian choral style in sacred music, and the first representative of the early Classicist style in Ukrainian music. He studied at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and became a choirboy in the court in Saint Petersburg, where he studied under Francesco Zoppis. From 1759 to 1760 he performed as soloist with the Italian opera company in Oranienbaum near Saint Petersburg. From 1765 to 1774 he studied in Bologna, Italy, under Giovanni Battista Martini, and in 1771 gained the title of maestro di musica and became a member of the Bologna Philharmonic Academy. His works include opera, a sonata for violin and harpsichord, concertos and liturgical chants. Much of not most of Berezovsky’s work has been lost, and the discovery of his Symphony No. 11 (the first symphonic work by a composer from the Russian Empire) indicated an even greater volume of his compositions has disappeared than previously thought. Berezovsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1775 and committed suicide there as a consequence of palace intrigues.
Dmytro Stepanovych Bortniansky (1751-1825) was born in the Ukrainian city of Hlukhiv, then a part of the autonomous Cossack Hetmanate within the Russian Empire. His talent was noticed at the age of seven in the local church choir, and he was sent to St. Petersburg to sing in the Imperial Chapel Choir. There he studied under its director, the Italian master Baldassare Galuppi, who took the boy with him when he left for Italy in 1769. In Italy, Bortniansky composed operas as well as sacred works in Latin and German, both a capella and orchestral. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1779 and composed four more operas (all in French) and a number of instrumental works and liturgical music for the Orthodox Church combining styles from eastern and western Europe. In 1796, he became the first director of the Imperial Chapel Choir not to be imported from outside the Russian Empire. He held his choir, which consisted mostly of Ukrainians, to a new standard of excellence that endured after his death. The vast volume of Bortniansky’s work inspired Ukrainian composers of the 19th century.
Artem Lukianovych Vedel (c. 1767-1808) is considered – together with Maksym Berezovsky and Dmytro Bortniansky – to be one of the ‘Big Three’ Ukrainian composers of the period. Vedel studied at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy until 1787, when he was sent to Moscow to conduct the choir of a governor-general. In 1792 he asked to be relieved of his duties and returned to Kyiv, where he was to conduct a military choir under the command of General Andrei Levanidov. In 1796, Vedel accompanied Levanidov to Kharkiv to conduct the Kharkiv College choir, but Tsar Paul I decreed that the performance in churches of any form of music other than that for the Divine Liturgy was to be prohibited. This ban on choral music inhibited Vedel and the development of music in Ukraine. In 1798, Paul I removed Gen. Levanidov from his post, and Vedel was left without a benefactor. He returned to Kyiv and briefly joined the Kyivan Cave Monastery to try to continue his work. But he left the monastery, disappointed with the lack of spirituality in monastic life, and was soon banished to a mental asylum after church authorities accused him of scribbling something irreverent in the margins of a religious book. Vedel’s creative work came to an end, and he died within a few years. His works were banned for over a century after his death. Vedel is considered the chief representative of the Cossack baroque style in Ukrainian music. His legacy consists entirely of church choral music.
Hryhorii Savych Skovoroda (1722-1794) was a philosopher, poet, teacher and composer of Cossack background. He received his education at Kyiv Mohyla Academy but did not graduate, living the life of an itinerant beggar. In 1741, his uncle arranged for him to be taken from Kyiv to sing in the imperial choir in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He returned to Kyiv in 1744, then spent the period from 1745-1750 in the Kingdom of Hungary and perhaps other parts of Europe. He returned to Ukraine in 1750 and taught poetics in Pereyaslav. He is best known for his writings, particularly great philosophical works, but he also composed liturgical music and songs that became the basis for Ukrainian folk music. Many of his philosophical songs – known as Skovorodskie psalmy – were part of the repertoire of blind travelling folk musicians known as kobzars.