19th-20th Century (Non-Soviet)
The following composers either transcended the turn of the 20th century but did not live long enough to produce works during the Soviet period, or—in the case of two (Bortkiewicz and Haivoronsky)—lived and composed abroad after the advent of Soviet power in Ukraine.
Mykola Vitaliyovych Lysenko (1842-1912) is generally considered the founder of the national movement in Ukrainian music. He consciously developed music on the basis of Ukrainian cultural tradition and folk themes, putting him at odds with Russian imperial policy during his lifetime. His interest in Ukrainian peasant folk music began in childhood, developed through his university years, and achieved refinement after he received a scholarship from the Russian Musical Society (RMO) to study music at the Leipzig Conservatory. However, after returning to Kyiv he pursued a ‘Ukrainophile’ approach to composition, leading to clashes with the RMO’s interest in promoting ‘Great Russian’ culture. Lysenko reacted by breaking off relations with the RMO permanently and never composing any music set to the Russian language from then on. Because the use of Ukrainian in print form was banned by Russian imperial decree, Lysenko published his scores abroad. His performances within the Russian Empire required authorization from the imperial censor.
In the 1870s, Lysenko took orchestration lessons in Saint Petersburg from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but his fervent Ukrainian nationalism and contempt for Great Russian autocracy hampered his career. Piotr Tchaikovsky wanted to stage Lysenko’s opera Taras Bulba in Moscow, but Lysenko’s insistence on it being performed in Ukrainian, not Russian, prevented the performance from taking place there. In 1904, Lysenko opened his own music and drama school in Kyiv, and began to develop a network of patriotic Ukrainians. He supported the 1905 revolution and was imprisoned briefly in 1907. In 1908 he headed the Ukrainian Club, an association of Ukrainian national public figures in Kyiv.
Lysenko’s compositions feature vocal and choral works, piano and chamber music, and operas. He arranged about 500 folk songs in his lifetime, including both solos and choruses with piano accompaniment, and a-capella choruses. He concentrated on the tonal and harmonic peculiarities of Ukrainian folk music. Lysenko also composed more than 120 art songs, including many vocal solos with piano accompaniment to the verses of Ivan Franko, Lesia Ukrainka, Oleksander Oles, Heinrich Heine, Adam Mickiewicz and others. The Ukrainian Art Song Project released a six-CD compilation of these in Canada in 2010. The verse of Taras Shevchenko features prominently in Lysenko’s works – including in solo art songs, choral works, and cantatas for choir and orchestra. Shevchenko’s collection Kobzar (‘Bard’) particularly fascinated Lysenko, who composed music for 82 of its texts.
The influence of Frederic Chopin can be detected in some of Lysenko’s many compositions for the piano. These works include nocturnes, waltzes, polonaises, two rhapsodies, a sonata, a suite, a scherzo and a rondo. Many of these works feature melodies and rhythms of Ukrainian folk songs. Lysenko also wrote many works for violin and piano as well as a trio for two violins and viola and a string quartet. He also wrote a symphony (unfinished) and a symphonic fantasia.
Lysenko’s influence on the development of distinctly Ukrainian national music and culture cannot be overestimated. His musical-ethnographic studies in the 1870s showed how Ukrainian melodies differed from analogous Russian works in their use and treatment of chromaticism – the compositional technique of interspersing diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale – which gained expanded use in the works of Richard Wagner, particularly the opera Tristan und Isolde. This observation of Lysenko’s was censored out of Soviet editions of his articles. He was a prolific composer who laid the foundation for Ukrainian musical culture’s expansion, and influenced innumerable Ukrainian composers, among them Kyrylo Stetsenko, Mykola Leontovych, Yakiv Stepovy, Oleksandr Koshetz, Stanyslav Lyudkevych, Levko Revutsky and Mykhailo Verykivsky.
Overture from the opera Taras Bulba
Ukrainian Suite: No. 1 (Prelude)
The Separation Waltz
Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877-1921) was a choral conductor and teacher who identified with the Ukrainian national school of music pioneered by Mykola Lysenko. Leontovych’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all village priests, and Leontovych initially followed in their footsteps, receiving his education at the Kamianets-Podilsky Theological Seminary. But he began writing choral compositions and studying music at the seminary, and he eventually broke with family tradition to pursue music instead of the priesthood. He had already demonstrated unusual aptitude in a number of musical instruments and as a singer, and had assumed the directorship of the seminary choir. Leontovych’s family was musically inclined to begin with: his father was proficient in several instruments, his mother was a singer, and his brother and three sisters all went on to pursue careers in music as either musicians or singers.
Leontovych was not affluent, and his family endured financial hardship. He took a number of jobs at various institutions of learning, composing folk songs and arrangements and organizing an amateur orchestra. After the October Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918, Leontovych relocated without his family to Kyiv, where he was active as both a conductor and composer. At the beginning of 1919, the rest of his family also relocated to Kyiv. During this period, Leontovych also began teaching choir conducting alongside Hryhoriy Veryovka at the Kyiv Conservatory, and also taught at the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama. Leontovych was one of the organizers of the first Ukrainian State Orchestra. He participated in the founding of the Ukrainian Republic Capella, of which he was the commissioner.
Leontovych is best known in the West for having composed the choral work Shchekdryk, which was translated into English in the 1930s by an employee of NBC radio in America to be the ‘Carol of the Bells,’ a popular Christmas carol. Leontovych in fact specialized in a-capella choral music, ranging from original compositions, to church music, to elaborate arrangements of folk music. He is considered a martyr in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, where he is also remembered for his liturgy, the first liturgy composed in the modern Ukrainian vernacular. He was assassinated by a Soviet agent in 1921.
Shchedryk, the original Ukrainian version of Carol of the Bells
David Nowakowsky (1848-1921) was a choirmaster and music teacher who integrated traditional Jewish liturgical modes with western harmonies and styles, enlivening music for the synagogue. Born in Malyn, Ukraine, he ran away from home at age 8, and a few years later joined a choir in Berdychiv, where he studied organ and music theory at the conservatory. In 1869, Nowakowsky became assistant conductor to Nissim Blumenthal at the newly built Brody Synagogue in Odessa, and assisted with the instruction of the choir. Blumenthal had used western songs and the German language in conjunction with traditional Jewish choruses. Nowakowsky followed this concept but used Hebrew instead. As his innovations became more widely known, non-Jews began visiting the synagogue just to listen to his music
In 1891 Pinchas Minkowsky replaced Blumenthal and was highly impressed by Nowakowsky, writing in his autobiography that Nowakowsky ‘never resorted to “lemonade music,” with cadenzas from Italian opera, as they do in America.’ Nowakowsky later became a Professor of Theory and Harmony at the People’s Conservatory of Odessa. Minkowsky fled Odessa in 1881 as the situation worsened for the Jewish population and anti-Jewish pogroms were starting. Minkowsky made his way to the US in 1905, but Nowakowsky remained behind and died a poor man in July 1921, none of his major works having been published. Bolshevik atrocities proved even worse than the pogroms of the Russian Empire, and Nowakowsky’s daughter Rosa smuggled his works to Berlin as the Brody Synagogue was forced to close. In 1937, after Nowakowsky’s name had been included on a Nazi list of banned composers, his granddaughter Sophia smuggled thousands of his papers to Strasbourg. Finally, Nowakowsky’s great grandson Alexandre won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York in 1952, and the Nowakowsky collection a permanent home in the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music in New York in 1955.
Resignation Romance in C Minor for Violin and Piano
Yakiv Stepanovych Stepovyi (1883-1921) was born Yakiv Stepanovych Yakymenko and chose Yakiv Stepovyi as a pseudonym. Stepovyi was born in Kharkiv and graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1914, in the same class as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He was recruited into the Russian Army in WWI as a secretary on a hospital train, received discharge in 1917 and settled in Kyiv, where he worked at the Kyiv Conservatory. A representative of the 20th-century Ukrainian musical intelligentsia, Stepovyi became a founder of the national school of composition in the tradition of Mykola Lysenko. He fell ill from typhus and died suddenly after a concert tour in 1921.
1. Evening Star; 2. A Narrow Pathway; 3. Ribbon to Ribbon
Kyrylo Hryhorovych Stetsenko (1882-1922) was a conductor, critic and instructor who composed choral music, plays and other works for the theater. He continued the national focus in Ukrainian music started by Mykola Lysenko. Born in Kvitkiv to an icon painter and the daughter of a church deacon, Kyrylo was the 8th of 11 children. He first became exposed to music as a singer in the Saint Sophia Church School choir. He lived with is uncle in Kyiv during the school term but was forced to work during holidays to provide money for his poor family. Yet after 3 years at the school, when he was only 13, he was already conducting the choir, and was learning the harmonium and piano. He was only 13 when he wrote his first choral composition. He finished school in 1897 and entered the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, where he composed many of his most important works.
Stetsenko befriended Mykola Lysenko, and became a member of Lysenko’s choir. Lysenko would introduce Stetsenko to his circle of intellectuals by saying: ‘This is who will replace me after my death.’ Completing his studies in 1903, Kyrylo Stetsenko decided to forego the priesthood in the short term and instead work as a music teacher, critic, conductor and composer. Having become involved in Ukrainian-language publishing, in violation of Russian imperial law, he was exiled to the Donbas region from 1907-10. Returning from exile in 1911, he published his own choral arrangement of the Ukrainian national anthem without the approval of the Russian censor. When the printer took the blame, refusing to implicate Stetsenko, he was sentenced to death, while Stetsenko was exiled. Later that year, Stetsenko followed the advice of his uncle to enter the clergy: with the priesthood came financial security. But he served in a remote village in southwestern Ukraine, far from the vital culture of Kyiv. It was in this self-imposed exile that Stetsenko sat out the turmoil of World War One. When the Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared in 1917, Stetsenko became head of the music department of the Ministry of Education and created two national choirs: one led by composer Oleksandr Koshetz, which toured Europe and North America to promote Ukraine as an independent nation, and the other led by Stetsenko, which toured Ukraine to promote national unity.
The Bolsheviks disbanded Stetsenko’s choir when they took over Ukraine in 1920, while the Koshetz choir was stranded abroad. Stetsenko left Kyiv to work in a parish in the village of Vepryk, south of Kyiv, where the sole language was Ukrainian, and where he founded a choir and theater. In 1921, he became one of the founders of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. As political repressions were renewed against Ukrainians, famine and disease began to spread, later affecting Kyrylo Stetsenko in the spring of 1922. He died of typhus while tending to the sick during an outbreak of the disease.
Stetsenko composed over 30 solo vocal works to lyrics by Ukrainian poets Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Lesya Ukrainka, Oleksandr Oles and others. He wrote 42 art songs, over 100 sacred and secular choral pieces, including two liturgies and a requiem, and music to a dozen stage works. Stetsenko’s greatest and best-known works were written a few months before he died. His last work was the panakhyda written in memory of his teacher and friend Mykola Lysenko.
Sergei Eduardovich Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) was born in Kharkiv to a family of Polish aristocrats and spent most of his childhood on the family estate of Artemivka, near Kharkiv. He received his musical training at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in Saint Petersburg, and in 1900 left Saint Petersburg for Leipzig, Germany, where he became a student of Alfred Reisenauer and Salomon Jadassohn, both pupils of Franz Liszt. In 1902, Bortkiewicz graduated from Leipzig Conservatory with the Schumann Prize, and two years later he settled in Berlin.
Bortkiewicz’s life was marked by financial hardship and near-constant attempts to evade tyranny and war. During WWI, he was put under house arrest in Germany as a subject of the Russian Empire. He returned to Kharkiv, but communists occupied his family estate after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, forcing him and his family to flee. They were able to return home briefly during the Russian Civil War, when the White Army forced the Reds out. But in 1919, while on a trip to Crimea, Kharkiv fell to the Red Army, and Bortkiewicz ended up in the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, where his mother and brother-in-law contracted typhus and died. Bortkiewicz and his wife escaped aboard the steamer Konstantin and made it to Istanbul without any money.
In Istanbul, Bortkiewicz began giving concerts and teaching again, and became renowned throughout a number of embassies. The Yugoslavian ambassador’s wife, Natalie Chaponitsch, to whom he dedicated his Trois Morceaux, Op. 24 (1922), organized musical gatherings for Bortkiewicz within the embassy and secured visas to Yugoslavia for him and his wife. From Belgrade, Bortkiewicz and his wife made it to Sofia, Bulgaria, where they obtained Austrian visas, eventually reaching Austria in July 1922. In 1925, Bortkiewicz obtained Austrian citizenship, and three years later he settled in Berlin again. In 1933, he faced Nazi persecution as a Ukrainian and returned to Vienna in 1935, where he remained for the rest of his life. However, WWII brought tremendous hardship on Bortkiewicz and his wife, and in a letter to a friend in 1945, he wrote: ‘I’m writing to you from my bathroom, into which we have crawled because it is small and can be warmed on and off with a gas light. The other rooms cannot be used, and I cannot touch my piano. This is now! What awaits us further? Life is becoming more and more unpleasant, merciless. I teach at the Conservatory with the heat at 4 degrees, soon even less!’ Most of his printed compositions were destroyed during the bombing of Germany, and he lost his income. Finally, after the war, Bortkiewicz was appointed the director of a master class at the Vienna City Conservatory, restoring to him some degree of financial security. He retired in 1948 and received a pension, but was very active in the last few years of his life. His wife outlived him by two years, dying childless in 1960.
Bortkiewicz ignored the contemporary musical trends of the 20th century and never considered himself a ‘modernist.’ His piano style was strongly influenced by Liszt and Chopin, and to some extent by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, early Scriabin and Wagner. But Bortkiewicz had his own style, which can be described as ‘lyrical and nostalgic.’ Several of his works have been recorded by high-level artists, including his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins conducting (Hyperion); Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 16, performed by Marjorie Mitchell (piano) and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, William Strickland conducting (American Decca – Brunswick UK); Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 16, performed by Stephen Coombs (piano) and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jerzy Maksymiuk conducting (Hyperion); Pieces for Violin and Piano, performed by Christian Persinaru (violin) and Nils Franke (piano) (Apex); Complete Piano Works, Jouni Somero (FC-Records, in 9 volumes); Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3, performed by Stefan Doniga (piano) and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, David Porcelijn conducting (Netherlands Muziek Instituut); and others.
Impressions, Op. 4
Violin Concerto, Op. 22
Symphony No. 2, Op. 55
Mykhailo [Michael] Orest Haivoronsky (1892-1949) was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine and spent his childhood immersed in music. His mother sang and his father played the flute. Mykhailo’s music studies began when he was 8 years old, and he began working with men’s choirs and seminary orchestras in his teens. In 1910 he produced his first compositions.
Graduating from a seminary in 1912, Haivoronsky studied music at the Lysenko Higher Musical Institute and conducted the choir at a large concert in Lviv dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s birth. With the outbreak of WWI, Haivoronsky joined the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and participated in numerous battles in the Carpathian Mountains. He became the band leader of the military unit and an inspector (‘visitator’) of military orchestras in the Ukrainian Galician Army.
Haivoronsky fought in the national liberation movement in western Ukraine after WWI, when Austria-Hungary had collapsed. In 1923, with the Republic of Poland having established power over western Ukraine and hopes for an independent Ukrainian state fading fast, Haivoronsky emigrated to America and settled in New York, where he founded the Conservatory of Music. He taught at Columbia University, organized a Ukrainian orchestra that he directed until 1936, and coordinated choirs from several neighboring churches for the performance his own works (1932-36).