19th-20th Century (Transitional)


The following composers are characterized by having composed a substantial volume of music both prior and subsequent to the advent of Soviet power in Ukraine, and who adapted to the ideological requirements of the new state with varying degrees of success.

Filaret Kolessa

Filaret Kolessa

Filaret Kolessa

Filaret Mykhailovych Kolessa (1871-1947) was a musicologist, folklorist and composer from Lviv, Ukraine. He graduated from Lviv University in 1896 and received a doctorate at Vienna University, where he studied under Anton Bruckner. He taught at several gymnasia (secondary schools in the Austro-Hungarian educational system) in Galicia (western Ukraine before becoming a professor at Lviv University in 1939, shortly before the Soviet annexation of Galicia that followed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. In 1940, the year of the annexation, he became the director of the Lviv branch of the Institute of Fine Arts, Folklore, Land Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR and the Ukrainian State Museum of Ethnography and Crafts. He was the father of composer and conductor Mykola Kolessa (1903-2006).

Participants in the Congress of Ukrainian Writers on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ukrainian author Ivan Kotlyarevsky's 'Eneïda.' Filaret Kolessa is standing in the back row, 2nd from left.

Participants in the Congress of Ukrainian Writers on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ukrainian author Ivan Kotlyarevsky’s ‘Eneïda.’ Filaret Kolessa is standing in the back row, 2nd from left.

He is perhaps most famous for his published works dealing with the origin of Ukrainian ‘dumas,’ epic sung poems, and his writings include A Survey of Ukrainian-Rus Folk Poetry (1905), The Rhythmics of Ukrainian Folk Songs (1906-07), Melodies of Ukrainian Folk Dumas—Vol. I (1910) and Vol. II (1913), Variants of the Melodies of Ukrainian Folk Dumas: Their Characterization and Grouping (1913), On the Genesis of Ukrainian Folk Dumas (1920-22), Folk Songs from the Galician Lemko Region (1929) and The Ukrainian Oral Literature (1938). His best known musical compositions include choral works and folk melody arrangements.

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Reinhold Glière

Reinhold Glière

Reinhold Glière

Reinhold Moritzovych Glière (1874-1956) was born in Kyiv, the son of the Saxon German instrument maker Moritz Glier and Józefa Korczak, the Polish daughter of his master in Warsaw, and was baptized in the Protestant Lutheran Church in Kyiv. He entered the Kyiv School of Music in 1891, where he was taught violin by the Czech violinist Otakar Ševčík, among others. Entering the Moscow Conservatory in 1894, Glière had already composed a one-act opera entitled Earth and Heaven (after Lord Byron) by the time he graduated in 1900. He taught at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music for a few years, instructing the 11-year-old Sergei Prokofiev, and from 1905-1908 studied conducting with Oskar Field in Berlin, where, on 23 January 1908, the premiere of Glière’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 25, was staged.

Gliere in the 1930s

Glière in the 1930s

Over the next few years, Glière composed the symphonic poem Sirens, Op. 33 (1908), the symphony Ilya Muromets, Op. 42 (1911) and the ballet-pantomime Chrizis, Op. 65 (1912). In 1913 he gained an appointment to the Kyiv School of Music, which soon saw its status elevated as the Kyiv Conservatory, and the following year he became its director. In Kyiv he taught Levko Revutsky, Borys Lyatoshynsky and others before returning to the Moscow Conservatory in 1920, and teaching there on and off until 1941. He held positions in the Soviet ‘Proletkult’ organization for some years and also worked with the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Education, but he managed to steer clear of Soviet politics and ideology, even though he received many Soviet awards, and his ballet The Red Poppy was hailed for its supposed glorification of revolution. Glière’s musical roots lay in a pre-Soviet tradition, but they could also be described as traditionally Russian in style. The Russian composer Alexander Glazunov characterized Glière’s 1st Symphony as ‘obtrusively Russian’ in style, and in his 3rd Symphony Ilya Muromets – about the Russian fictional folk hero of the same name – he synthesizes Russian tradition and musical impressionism.

Gliere in the 1940s

Gliere in the 1940s

Glière wrote operas, ballets and cantatas, but also lesser-known chamber works, piano pieces and songs during his time at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music. He gained acceptance by both Tsarist and Soviet authorities, generating resentment from many composers who suffered intensely under the Soviet regime. Unlike Mykola Lysenko, Glière was able to work with the Russian Musical Society, which premiered his 3rd Symphony Ilya Muromets in 1912, the year of Lysenko’s death. As the last genuine representative of the pre-revolutionary national Russian school, he evaded accusations of ‘formalism’ and thusunlike his contemporaries Mykola Roslavets, Vasyl Barvinsky and Borys Lyatoshynsky (see below)escaped both the Stalinist purges of the mid-to-late 1930s and also the Stalinist cultural campaign of the late 1940s. It is difficult to say whether, without the advent of the Soviet Union, Glière would have identified himself more as a Ukrainian or Russian. He worked in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, among others. His lineage, education, background, and even some subjects of his compositions suggest he might have seen himself as Ukrainian, but might in any case have pursued better professional opportunities in Russia. He appears in retrospect as a composer without any nationality at all.

Part I of the symphonic poem-ballet The Zaporizhian Cossacks Op. 64 (1921)

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‘The Cossacks Ride Forth to the Zaporizhian Sich,’ from the ballet Taras Bulba Op. 92 (1952)

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Stanyslav Lyudkevych

Stanyslav Lyudkevych

Stanyslav Lyudkevych

Stanyslav Pylypovych Lyudkevych (1879-1979) was born in Jarosław in present-day Poland. He studied philosophy at Lviv University from 1898-1907, worked as a teacher in Lviv and Przemyśl (also present-day Poland) from 1901, and edited the magazine Artistic Bulletin from 1905. In 1908, he earned a doctorate in musicology in Vienna. From 1910 he served as director of Lviv’s Mykola Lysenko higher musical institute, which he had helped to establish.

Lyudkevych's home in Lviv

Lyudkevych’s home in Lviv

He served in the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI but was taken prisoner by the Russians soon after the start of the war. He spent most of the war in a camp in Kazakhstan, returning home to Lviv only in 1918. In the years 1919-1939, roughly coinciding with the period of the independent Polish republic, Lyudkevych was a teacher of theory at the musical institute, and from 1926, inspector of its affiliates. After the USSR annexed western Ukraine under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Lyudkevych was a professor and remained in that position until his retirement in 1972 at the age of 93. The Mykola Lysenko Higher Musical Institute was renamed the Lviv State Conservatory in 1939, and Lyudkevych became head of music theory and composition there.

Lyudkevych near the end of his life

Lyudkevych near the end of his life

During WWII, he was a teacher of theoretical disciplines at the House of People’s Culture. In the period 1939-1951, he simultaneously held the position of senior fellow at the Lviv branch of the Institute of Art, Folklore and Ethnography of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (now the Maksym Rylsky Institute of Art Studies, Folklore and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv). Lyudkevych composed works in many genres, including choral, chamber music and orchestral productions. Awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1949, he went on to win many awards, including People’s Artist of the Ukrainian SSR (1954), People’s Artist of the USSR (1969), Order of the Friendship of Peoples (1974), Hero of Socialist Labor (1979) and Order of Lenin (1979). He died in Lviv in 1979 at the age of 100.

Cantata-Symphony ‘Kavkaz’ (‘Caucasus’), based on the poem by Taras Shevchenko (1902-13)

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Ukrainian Dance

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The Sun Is Setting

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Mykola Roslavets

Mykola Roslavets

Mykola Roslavets at the beginning of the 20th century

Mykola Andriyovych Roslavets (1881-1944)—better known as Nikolai Roslavets—was a modernist composer who attempted to adapt to the Soviet state’s ideological requirements but was ultimately suppressed. Although apparently ethnically Ukrainian, Roslavets received most of his training and work in Russia. He composed symphonic poems, violin concertos, string quartets, cello sonatas, viola sonatas, violin sonatas and piano trios.

Roslavets in 1926

Roslavets in 1926

Born in the Russian imperial governorate of Chernigov (today’s Chernihiv, Ukraine), Roslavets was accepted in 1902 to the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied violin under the Czech instructor Jan Hřímalý as well as musical disciplines under a variety of Russian masters. In 1912, he graduated with a silver medal for his cantata Heaven and Earth, named for Lord Byron’s verse, and after 1917 became a prominent figure in Russian ‘leftist art,’ along with Kazimir Malevich, Vsevolod Meyerhold and others. He taught violin and composition in Kharkiv as director of the Musical Institute and became a leader of the Association for Contemporary Music. He publicly criticized the identifications of music with ideology, and in the 1920s was attacked by the ‘proletarian music’ movement—especially the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM)—and accused of being ‘counter-revolutionary,’ ‘bourgeois,’ ‘alien to the proletariat,’ a ‘formalist,’ a ‘class enemy,’ a ‘Trotskyist’ and a ‘saboteur.’

Roslavets in 1930

Roslavets in 1930

Although Roslavets’ cantata October was performed in concert in 1928 for the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, he was soon accused of promoting ‘light music’ and ‘spreading counter-revolutionary literature.’ He became the subject of a high-profile prosecution and was banned from employment. He publicly repented his ‘political mistakes’ and gained work at the Musical Theater in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from 1932-33. He then returned to Moscow and earned a meager living teaching and working part-time. He did not secure any official positions for the rest of his life and was never admitted to the Composers’ Union. In 1939, when more punitive measures were being planned against him, he suffered a massive stroke that left him disabled until his death in 1944 at the age of 63.

Roslavets was swept up in the Russian Futurist artistic movement. Pieces composed in the period 1913-17 exemplify his ‘new system of sound organization,’ including Sad Landscapes (1913), and Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 (1916) and 2 (1916). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Roslavets contributed to musical propaganda with compositions such as Komsomoliya (1928) but was never rehabilitated during the Soviet period. His name retained negative political connotations until the USSR collapsed.

Piano Sonata No. 1 (1914)

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Christophe Sirodeau plays 8 piano pieces by Roslavets from 1915-22

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Komsomoliya (1928)

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Mykola Vilinsky

Young Vilinsky

Mykola Vilinsky

Mykola Mykolayovych Vilinsky (1888-1956) was born in the Kherson governorate of the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to a family of hereditary nobles. Already as a secondary school student in the Ananyevsky Gymnasium, Vilinsky was conducting the church choir and organizing the school folk music orchestra. However, at his father’s insistence, he entered the law faculty of Novorossiysk University in Odessa, graduating in 1912.

Witold Maliszewski (2nd from left) at the Odessa Conservatory in 1916

Witold Maliszewski (2nd from left) at the Odessa Conservatory in 1916

Vilinsky later entered the Odessa Conservatory, studying under Polish composer Witold Maliszewski, a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and the first rector, who had founded the conservatory in 1913. Vilinsky soon became Maliszewski’s favorite student, and Maliszewski—ever fearful of political repression—wanted to take Vilinsky and his family into exile with him. However, Vilinsky graduated from the conservatory in 1919, taught there before attaining the rank of professor in 1926, and eventually became the head of the Odessa regional organization of the Union of Composers of Ukraine.

Vilinsky in 1937 (Photo: Vilinsky Family Archive)

Vilinsky in 1937 (Photo: Vilinsky Family Archive)

By 1941, Vilinsky was a professor at the Tashkent Conservatory in Soviet Uzbekistan, and from 1944 served as head of the Department of Music Theory at the Kyiv Conservatory. He composed symphonic suites, cantatas, chamber music, and vocal and choral treatments of Ukrainian, Moldovan and Russian folk songs. During his youth (1905-09), Vilinsky composed works such as Sad Song, Funeral March, Two Mazurkas, Elegy, Waltz and March. His Preludes No. 1 and No. 2 (1909) were re-edited in 1925 and 1945. In the 1920s and 1930s, Vilinsky played a major role in developing a national musical culture in Moldova. He produced the cantata ‘Moldavia’ for Choir, Soloists and Orchestra Op. 21 (1937-39). He participated in publishing the collected works of Mykola Lysenko, and received the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Badge of Honor from the Soviet state.

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Vasyl Barvinsky

Vasyl Barvinsky

Vasyl Barvinsky

Vasyl Oleksandrovych Barvinsky (1888-1963) was born to an old Ukrainian aristocratic family, the son of composer, pianist, music critic, instructor and conductor Oleksandr Barvinsky, who—as ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian parliament—defended the interests of Ukrainian Galicia. Vasyl’s first music teacher was his mother, the pianist Yevheniya Barvinska. After graduation from the Lviv Conservatory, he entered the law faculty of Lviv University in 1906, but then moved to Prague in 1907 to continue his musical education, attending lectures by renowned Czech musicians.

Barvinsky (center) with Borys Lyatoshynsky (left) and Levko Revutsky

Barvinsky (center) with Borys Lyatoshynsky (left) and Levko Revutsky

In the years 1912-1914 he wrote a piano sextet in memory of Mykola Lysenko and a number of other piano pieces before returning in 1915 to Lviv, where he worked as a director and professor at the Mykola Lysenko Higher Music Institute. He not only led pedagogical work, but also directed the ‘Boyan’ choral society and gave concerts. In 1917 he created the Solemn Cantata and the cantata Testament to the verse of Taras Shevchenko.

In 1929-1930, Barvinsky composed the overture to the opera Oh, Don’t Go, Gregory (Maroussia), and in the 1930s compiled a collection of 38 Ukrainian folk songs for piano, a series of Christmas carols and a collection of 20 pieces for children. He also composed a number of pieces for violin and piano on Ukrainian themes, as well as the String Quartet for Youth. In 1932-1933 he created the cantata Our Song, Our Longing (lyrics by S. Cherkasenko) and worked on the oratorio Volodymyr the Great (unfinished) and a treatment of Ukrainian songs and chants. Among the latter are two songs to the words of Ivan Franko (Moon Prince and Blessed Be) and A Psalm of David for tenor and orchestra. He developed and orchestrated Mykola Lysenko’s cantata Beating Rapids, his song Do Not Forget the Young Days, Ostap Nizhankivsky’s For the Swallow, and Stanyslav Lyudkevych’s Lullaby translated for string quartet.

Commemorative plaque on Barvinsky's home in Lviv

Commemorative plaque on Barvinsky’s home in Lviv

In October 1939, Barvinsky was elected to the People’s Assembly of Western Ukraine, which proclaimed the accession of Western Ukraine to the Soviet Union. In 1939-1941 and 1944-1948, respectively, while in the position of Director of the Lviv Conservatory and chairman of the Lviv branch of the Union of Composers, he wrote a number of mostly vocal works.

In early 1948, Barvinsky was arrested and forced by the Ministry of State Security (MGB) to sign a document: “I authorize the destruction of my manuscripts.” The manuscripts were duly destroyed, and Barvinsky spent 10 years in a labor camp in Mordovia, an eastern province of European Russia. After returning from exile in 1958, Barvinsky focused all his efforts on restoring from memory his works destroyed during the time of his arrest, and he worked on this until his death in 1963. In 1964, as a consequence of the long-term efforts of fellow composers from Lviv, Barvinsky was politically rehabilitated in the USSR. Nevertheless, for nearly 25 years, the composer’s music was excluded from concerts everywhere.

Piano Trio in A Minor Part III. Allegro Giocoso (1910)

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Piano Prelude #2 (1908-1918)

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 Piano Prelude #4 (1913)

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What Miracle Is This? (1916)

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‘Lullaby’ Suite for Violin and Piano (1927)

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Humoresque (1934-35)

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A short lecture on Barvinsky’s life and work by Ukrainian music scholar Nina Soyfer, Ph.D.

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Viktor Kosenko

Viktor Kosenko

Viktor Kosenko

Viktor Stepanovych Kosenko (1896-1938) was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was influenced by the works of Russian composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, but also by his Ukrainian compatriot Mykola Lysenko. He lived and worked mainly in three cities: Warsaw, Zhytomyr and Kyiv, where he became famous. As a boy in Warsaw, he grew up listening to his mother play the piano and to the performances of Frédéric Chopin and Johannes Brahms. His formal training on the piano began at age nine, and from age twelve he was studying piano at the Warsaw Conservatory.

Forced to leave Poland with his family at the beginning of WWI, Kosenko continued piano classes at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He received high praise from the institution’s director, Alexander Glazunov, and composed for the piano during his time as a student. His early musical compositions are characterized by Romantic and post-Romantic styles, combining European tradition with Ukrainian national elements. His influences included not only Chopin and Brahms but also Bach, Mozart and Schubert. He also wrote several pieces of music for children.

Kosenko commemorative stamp issued in 1996, the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth

Commemorative stamp issued on the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth

Kosenko moved to Zhytomyr to join his family in 1918 and became director of the Zhytomyr Music School, where he dedicated most of his works to his new wife, Angelina. In 1921, he and his fellow musicians founded the Leontovych Musical Society, named after the recently deceased Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych. Kosenko gave his first concert in 1922, and in 1923 had his first piano compositions published by permission of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (RAPM). Between 1923 and 1929, Kosenko gave over a hundred free concerts throughout Ukraine, and in 1927 the Association of Proletarian Musicians of Ukraine invited him to give a concert in Kharkiv, then capital of the Ukrainian SSR. He was soon giving frequent concerts in other major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Luhansk at the invitation of the association but found himself in creative conflict with the Stalin regime.

Portrait of Kosenko (bottom right) in the Zhytomyr Music School. Next to him is a portrait of the pianist Svyatislav Richter, who was born in Zhytomyr.

Portrait of Kosenko (bottom right) in Zhytomyr Music School. Next to him is a portrait of pianist Sviatoslav Richter, native of Zhytomyr.

He moved to Kyiv, where the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama offered him a position as chamber musician in 1929, then a professorship in 1932. Music classes were then transferred to the Kyiv Conservatory, where he taught from 1934 to 1937. In 1936, he participated in the first compilation of Soviet folk songs. Kosenko lived in poverty and became ill toward the end of his life. By the time the Soviet government provided him with a small apartment in Kyiv in 1936, in recognition of his musical accomplishments to date, he was already quite ill due to the unsanitary conditions in which he and his family had been forced to live for so long. He was finally awarded the Order of the Red Banner by the Soviet Communist Party in 1938, the year he died. A complete collection of his works was published after his death.

Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 6 (1919)

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Piano Concerto (1928)

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Sarabande (1928)

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Borys Lyatoshynsky

Lyatoshynsky Edited

Borys Lyatoshynsky

Borys Mykolayovych Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968) was born in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, and began playing piano and violin at age 14, writing a mazurka, waltz and quartet for piano in his teens. After graduating from the Zhytomyr Gymnasium in 1913, Lyatoshynsky attended Kyiv University and later the Kyiv Conservatory, where he studied composition with Reinhold Glière. By the time he had graduated from the conservatory in 1919, he had composed a string quartet and a symphony.

Lyatoshynsky in 1913

Lyatoshynsky in 1913

In his early years, Lyatoshynsky drew inspiration from Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and Scriabin, but began experimenting with atonality and unconventional harmonies to build on the growing corpus of ‘modernist’ music. At 25, he was already a professor and lecturer in the Kyiv Conservatory and a leader of the Mykola Leontovych Society of Contemporary Music. During 1922-25, he directed this association without significant intervention by state authorities. He composed his cycle of seven pieces for the piano—Vidobrazhenya (Reflections) Op. 16—during this time.

During the 1920s, Lyatoshynsky created 24 romances or narrative ballads (1922-1924) based on the poems of Heine, Valmont, Wilde, Poe, Shelley, Maeterlinck and others; and a sonata for violin and fortepiano (1926). Piano Sonata No. 1 (1924) was his first published work (Moscow, 1926), and in it he changed the traditional sonata structure, using only one movement and experimenting with non-traditional rhythms. From the beginning of 1926, however, his work underwent permanent change. Under Soviet cultural policy, folk music became the basis for developing Soviet state-controlled Ukrainian nationalism. Lyatoshynsky incorporated folk themes into his music to fit the demands of the Soviet state.

Gymnasium No. 2 in Zhytomyr, where Lyatoshynsky first studied

Gymnasium No. 2 in Zhytomyr, where Lyatoshynsky first studied

In the 1930s, the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater commissioned him to travel to Tajikistan, study folk music there, and compose a ballet about the life of the native people. During 1935-38 and 1941-44, he taught at the Moscow Conservatory and wrote his Symphony No. 2 in B Flat (1936) in his favorite ‘modernist’ style, using atonality to depict disturbing aspects of Soviet life. At this time, Dmitri Shostakovich and other composers were being singled out for political attack, and the planned premiere of Symphony No. 2 in 1937 did not take place. It was already attracting adverse official criticism for its negativity, as was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4. The premiere of Lyatoshynsky’s Symphony No. 2 was delayed until 1941.

At the rehearsals, Lyatoshynsky noted that some musicians praised his work and others ‘were incredibly insolent,’ asserting that ‘it was no music at all,’ ‘rubbish’ and ‘100% formalism.’ Lyatoshynsky replied that he had written the work ‘sincerely,’ and that it was not the work of a formalist. The orchestra musicians began shouting violently, and unfortunately for Lyatoshynsky, a Soviet newspaper reporter was present and printed a highly critical article a few days later. Lyatoshynsky was aghast at ‘such destructive criticism.’ As he wrote years later to Reinhold Gliére: ‘I have completely “disappeared” from all concerts and radio. If I were to say it in a word, for now I am dead as a composer, and when my resurrection will occur, I don’t know.’

During WWII, Lyatoshynsky created chamber works (‘beautiful compositions’ as described by Glière ) such as Ukrainian Quintet Op. 42 (1942), and also led wartime operations to rescue Ukrainian manuscripts from conflict areas. After the war, in 1946, he was honored with the Stalin Prize for his Ukrainian Quintet, and received another such award in 1952 for compositions about Taras Shevchenko.

Museum-Room in Lyatoshynsky Music School in Zhytomyr

Museum-Room in Lyatoshynsky Music School in Zhytomyr

After Stalin’s death, his creativity received freer rein. In his next and last symphony, Symphony No. 5 in C Major (‘Slavonic Symphony’), the composer included the Russian folk song as the main theme. Lyatoshynsky continued using folk material in his music, making references to the other socialist bloc republics such as Bulgaria, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia. He began to enjoy privileges in the post-Stalin era that included trips abroad to such countries as the United Kingdom, Austria and Switzerland, and he even took his wife with him.

Lyatoshynsky Monument in Zhytomyr

Lyatoshynsky Monument in Zhytomyr

Lyatoshynsky received many medals for his achievements. In 1938 and 1955 he was awarded the Order of the Badge of Honor; in 1946—the Order for Heroic Achievement and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. In the 50th of year of Soviet rule he received the Order of Lenin. Posthumously, Lyatoshynsky obtained the distinction of People’s Artist of the Ukrainian USSR in 1968 and the Shevchenko National Prize in 1971. His legacy is similar to that of Shostakovich: running afoul of the Soviet (particularly Stalinist) regime for ‘formalism,’ ‘deviations’ and ‘degeneracy,’ but remaining active and working continuously. Having outlived Stalin, he managed to become one of the composers of the Soviet ‘privilegentsia,’ although many of his compositions were not performed during his lifetime.

Symphony No. 1 in A Major, Op. 2 (1918)

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Reflections Op. 16 (1925)

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Symphony No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 26 (1935-36; revised in 1940)

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Ukrainian Quintet Op. 42: 1. Allegro i poco agitato (1942)

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Symphony No. 4, Op. 63 (1963)

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