Modern Ukrainian Music:  1980 - 2000[1]




Ludmila Yurina



Ladies and gentlemen!


                        It is very pleasant for me to appear before you and to share my ideas with you. I hope that our contact will prove to be mutually beneficial. I assure you that the weather in Texas is more agreeable than the cold temperatures of my city in Ukraine!  Prior to the beginning of my presentation I would want to thank Professor Gerald Gabel and Dr. Richard Gipson, Director of the School of Music at Texas Christian University, for their generous invitation to present this lecture and for assistance in translating its contents from Russian to English.  Actually we started with an internet translator because Dr. Gabel’s Russian is not as good as mine!


                        To begin, it would be desirable to note that, at present, musicological investigation of the systems and generalities of Ukrainian musical culture from 1980-2000 does not exist. Therefore, in today's lecture, I am limited by time restraints in presenting so much information. Certainly, it is not possible to present extensive detail of the enormous amount of material generated during this period and to mention all composers and all works of this period, but I will try to present important moments and stages of development of Ukrainian music of the post-Soviet period of 1980-2000.


                        Contemporary Ukrainian music is now greatly diverse in style and genre.  It has numerous influences in its heritage. There is music written in the spirit of the best traditions of social realism and Soviet traditions. This includes compositions of Andrey Shtogarenko, Nikolai Dremlyuga, and Vitaly Kireyko.  Also we have music written in more dated styles of classical music of the 19th century, as well as music of a more popular style which we call “kitch” (for instance, Petrov Omelchuk’s "We come (revolutionary step of the orange revolution"). There is also electronic experimental music by Ivan Nebesny and Alla Zagaykevich), "Post-modernism" in the music of Helen Zinkevich, Sergey Zazhytko, Ludmila Yurina, Karmella Tsepkolenko, and Vladimir Runchak). Finally, there are the “happenings” in the works of Sergey Zazhitko and Daniel Pertsov. This is a synopsis of contemporary Ukrainian music.


                        Before approaching the characteristics of music in the 21st century, let us briefly reflect upon 80-90 years of the past century. The Ukrainian school of composers had several directions, such as folklore, vanguard, and traditionalism in the spirit of social realism.


                        The Ukrainian composers of the previous 70-80 years, which belong to previous directions, continued the traditions of the school which glorified Communist values of Lenin and the Communist Party. In those times especially, music was composed to commemorate important dates like anniversaries of the October Revolution, the Young Communists, the birthdays of Lenin and other leaders of communist party, and to the congresses of the communist party. This music was entirely subjected to the influence of Communist ideology. Significant examples include compositions written to glorify important historic events like a “Celebration Overture” (found in the catalogs of all composers), a composition for choir entitled "Lenin, our flag" composed by Gerasimchuk, or  the "Spring Ode Of Lenin" by Vodovozov, the choreographic picture composed by Grzhibovsky entitled "Collective Farm Wedding,” the song by Vermenych entitled "I glorify the Communist Party,” “On Collective Farm Fields,” "Partisan Cycle" by Meytus, "On the Dneproges Guard" by Borisov, and many others.


                        The vanguard direction, represented by such composers as Valentin Silvestrov, Leonid Hrabovsky, Vitaly Godzyatsky, Vladimir Zagortsev, was not openly accepted by Soviet ideology. Of necessity, these composers had to "fight” with the Communist framework. Some names of their compositions disturbed the critics.  Examples would include the compositions "Eshatofony," "Mysterium," "Meditation," and "Projections on Harpsichord, Vibraphone and Bells" by Silvestrov, "Emancipated Suitcase," and "Antiworld into a Suitcase” of Godzyatsky, "Gradations," and "Volumes" by Zagortsev, "Constants" by Grabovsky. At the beginning of the 1960s, these composers created the group "Kiev Vanguard" (Silvestrov can be considered one of the chief representatives of this group). They were notorious and they were soon severely criticized by the conservative circles of the USSR (Silvestrov was ex-communicated from the composers’ union and re-instated years later). The Communist party considered the performance of Silvestrov’s work “Projections,” conducted by the famous conductor Bruno Maderna, a “special danger” to communist ideology. The music of Kiev Vanguard was influenced by European culture. Twelve-tone technique became the means by which composers organized their ideas and compositions. These include "Hymnus," "Eshatofony," and "5 Pieces for Piano" of Silvestrov, "Stabilis" by Godzyatsky, and "Volumes" by Zagortsev.


                        The folklore direction was embraced by all of Ukraine. It is in the romantic tradition (thus it was said to include the influence of Ukrainian ethos). It represented the continuation of traditions in the music of Kosenko, Revutsky, Lyatoshinsky. From the younger generation of composers, compositions include Miroslav Skoryk’s "Carpathian Concerto,” Vladimir Zubitsky’s opera "Chumaks Road,” and the cantata "Chumaks Songs,” Vladimir Tylik’s "Poltava Dances,” Levko Kolodub’s cycle of Ukrainian folk songs for chamber orchestra entitled "Ukrainian Suite,” and Yevhen Stankovich created the salient folk opera “The Flower of Fern”.


                        It is possible to say that the symphony was the prevailing genre of this period. Its forms included sonata, non-sonata forms, "epic” compositions, collage; they are topical, theatrical, linear or those not related to particular events. The brightest representative of this time and genre was Yevhen Stankovich with his symphony entitled “I Am Asserted”. Other important composers include Miroslav Skoryk, Oleg Kiva, Ivan Karabits, Valentin Bibik, and Gennady Lyashenko.


                        The 1990's brought a change in Ukrainian music. The evolutionary process begun in previous years continued. The new generation of composers was oriented to the music and composition schools of Western Europe, and world traditions. This picture of total change arose because of the collapse of the USSR and establishment of an independent Ukraine in 1991. Limitations previously imposed on composers were eliminated. All ideological prohibitions concerning musical creation and culture disappeared. Young Ukraine composers were able to become acquainted with the latest works of the most widely known composers of the entire world, including different genres and directions. Young composers began to travel to ­Europe to attend master classes and to participate in concerts and festivals of contemporary music. At that time, the notion of organizing festivals and concerts was entirely new. The works of contemporary composers both Ukrainian, and foreign were presented. All these processes also stimulated the activity of Ukrainian composers and the deepening of their creative searches - to experiment. In connection with the introduction of these ideas to young Ukrainian composers, the Ukrainian school of composers adopted some changes, accepting the European styles, research and experiments. The galvanizing factor in this direction was the establishment of the International Forum of Young Composers in 1992, which is presented, to this day, in Kiev. The festival provides performances of music of young composers. The influence of the German school became noticeable in the music of Karmella Tsepkolenko, Ludmila Yurina, and Vladimir Runchak. The music of Mauricio Kagel influenced Sergey Zazhytko (for instance his work Zbigniew Batjuk), and Vladimir Runchak with his composition “Message to M.K. for piano”. The influence of the French school of spectral composition founded at IRCAM in Paris, is found in the music of Alla Zagaykevich.  Also important is the Italian school, particularly the composers Berio and Nono.


                        In the decade beginning in 2000, the new directions in Ukrainian music became more ingrained.  Contemporary music in the Ukraine became more important with new compositions, by the young generation, oriented to the European style.  This included more projects with foreign performers and the composers developed international contacts.  Ideological and other limitations completely disappeared.  It is possible to note several stylistic directions:

1. the "Post-modern,” outlined by the musicologist Helen Zinkevich, includes works which continue the line of traditions of the previous 60-70 years.   These tendencies are found, for instance, in the music of Oleg Kiva, Yevhen Stankovich, Miroslav Skoryk, Gennadiy Lyashenko, and Alemdar Karamanov;

2. works created in the radical European style by composers such as Alexander Shchetinsky, Alexander Grynberg, Karmella Tsepkolenko, Vladimir Runchak, Sergey Pilyutikov, and Alla Zagaykevich; and …

3. the experimental music of Daniel Pertsov and Sergey Zazhytko.


                        Predominant genres of this period are symphonic, works for choir, chamber, electronic, and experimental music. Electronic music becomes more widely represented in the creative output of Ukrainian composers. This includes the recent projects and compositions of Julia Gomelska (“Flute vers-inversions”), Ivan Nebesny ("Last rite of the old sorcerer"), Ally Zagaykevich ("Pagoda") , Sergey Pilyutikov ("In the lung of breath" – for flute with electronics), and Ludmila Yurina ("Quad,” and the electronic ballet "EXISTENZA” with video). There is also continued research in works adapted to the stage including the “happenings” of Sergey Zazhytko – the cycle of "Batjuk" works). Composers of the middle and older generations continue to work actively in the genres of symphonic, chamber, and choral music (for instance, Lesja Dychko and Victor Stepurko). As a whole, the music of Ukrainian composers is increasingly presented in other countries (especially at festivals and on concerts). Ukrainian composers are more frequently invited to conferences and to compose music in other countries (Karmella Tsepkolenko, Ludmila Yurina, Vladimir Runchak, Yulia Gomelska, Sergey Zazhytko, Svetlana Azarova, Vadim Larchikov, Zoltan Almashi). This is an indication that Ukrainian music has reached a level of professionalism commensurate with levels of composition in other parts of the world. Composers continue to create works based upon Ukrainian folklore, which was as important in the past 50 to 60 years as it was previously. The importance of music based on folkloric themes was encouraged by the Soviet government since, to them, it seemed more endearing and comprehensible to the average person. The use of folkloric themes is represented in the music of Dremlyuga, Shtogarenko, Filippenko, and Kireyko. In these works, they incorporate the melody of folk songs and, upon this, the entire work is built. In recent years there has been less emphasis on this genre. Musicologists emphasize that the Ukrainian culture of singing has an enormous influence on all forms and genres of music including classical and popular. The intersection of the Ukrainian way of life with Ukrainian song, its poetics, emotionalism, and force of expression is very important.


                        The most notable recent development is an increase in the composition of works oriented to orthodox themes and the use of canonical orthodox and biblical texts. In this category are the "Liturgies" of Lesja Dychko, "Word of Simeon" by Victoria Poleva, spiritual choruses and the cantatas of Hanna Havrylets, Igor Shcherbakov, Irina Aleksychuk, Bogdana Filts, Victor Stepurko and others. The genre of "spiritual songs” is extremely popular in Ukraine and has a wide audience.


                        The generation of young composers is oriented both to European styles and to post-Soviet values. The young composers include Alexey Vojtenko, Elena Serova, Alexander Bondarenko, Oleh Bezborodyko, Jaroslav Odrin and others.


                        Let us pause to reflect upon "postmodernism,” with which musicologists are now actively engaged. The invasion of postmodernism occurred in the ‘90s. As has already been stated, this was caused by the disintegration of the USSR and by the extensive connection of the Ukraine to information sources of world musical culture. In Ukrainian postmodern music, there are several approaches:

1. In the work of some composers, it is found in, perhaps, 1 or 2 compositions,

2. There are composers, who systematically work in the postmodern style such as Vladimir Runchak and Sergey Zazhitko),and …

3. Other composers, especially those of the older generation, who have no relation to it. 


There are also signs of classical postmodernism:


1. the demonstrative play upon traditional names for compositions, proclaimed in the names of compositions including Vladimir Runchak’s  "Antisonata,” "Non-concerto,” and "Something Like A Quintet”. Although these names are genuine, they are not the most radically titiled of Runchak’s compositions;

2. a mix of ironic or unusual texts antiphonally (in the style of the playwrite Ionesco) in a purely dimensionless intertextual space. Sergey Zazhitko’s "Songs of the Folks of the World" is representative of this movement;

3. the simulation of game situations, which are manifest in the most varied forms (lingual mixtures) including Sergey Zazhitko’s "Fallosiped,"  Vladimir Runchak’s "Knock – No  Knock – No” for 2 percussionists; and

4. provocation as found in Sergey Zazhitko’s "More!,” "To Samuel Beckett" for silent narrator and double bass, "Thus!,” "Funeral Dances,” "Fallosiped" which uses hoses from vacuum cleaners.

The Ukrainian musicologist, Helen Zinkevich, is credited with the creation of the new designation of the contemporary "post-postmodernist" style.


                        Musicologist Yuri Kholopov suggests that all of the "revolutionary" changes in our music are threaded together on one evolutionary axis. What will happen after this evolution? Kholopov considers that all fragments of the 20th century indicate the end of the new time in the music (17th to 19th centuries), and the beginning of the newest time. Among the consequences of this global process, two are basic changes in the "MATTER" of music and a change in its "BEING".


                        During the process of the metamorphosis of "matter": sound is emancipated and acquires independence from tone. Tonality and other pitch organizations (dodecaphony and others), find self-worth (being freed from any system including tone rows). It becomes the “object" of research and is decomposed into the overtones (spectrum) and then, by the object of composition (creation), into sonority (electronics). Non-traditional sounds (musique concrete) begin to appear in compositions. The "matter" of music becomes the absence of music or silence. And music, enlarging its territory, finally uses as its material absolutely everything: all actions of human vitality, activity, environment and real space (Zazhitko’s "To Samuel Beckett” for silent narrator and double bass, and Eugene Kostitsyn’s "Minute of Silence” for any ensemble). The essence of music becomes a devaluation of anthropocentrism.  Musicologist Yuri Kholopov notes: "The 20th century witnessed the swift evolution of the musical object - not the simply regular fact, but the event, which did not exist previously."   Elena Zinkevich writes "We enter into the century of ‘protoform’ of a new order".  A new aesthetic paradigm is vividly manifested in contemporary Ukrainian music. The boundaries of "the field of music" have changed (in connection with the new topical orientation): texts of vocal works are drawn from the writings of Kharms, Khlebnikov, Hesse, Beckett, and vanguard poetry. The new topics require new technologies (Alla Zagaykevich - "Geroneya" on the novel Milorad Pavich). The main object and the protagonist of all collisions of the contemporary musical process is that sound becomes character and "the object of research" in "acoustic" works (Alexander Shchetinsky’s “Sound for Sound,” Ludmila Yurina’s "Sound Illusion,” Alexander Gugel’s "Germination of Silence,” and Vladimir Runchak’s "The Game of Sounds"). "Deep listening" is developed in the sound (Victoria Poleva’s "Numbers,” and Alexander Shchetinsky`s “Glossolalies”). The manipulation of numbers as a fundamental organizational approach in music is revealed in compositions as "mathematical" image (Ludmila Samodaeva’s "Formulas,” Ludmila Yurina’s "Geometrikum,” Svetlana Azarova’s "Chronometer,” and Svyatoslav Lunyov’s "Near your Throne".) With the generation of composers over 40 years of age, the appearance of new radical and ultra-radical ideas has promoted a desire to taste all new styles of music. It is possible to name some features characteristic of contemporary Ukrainian music:


1. A high level of compositional technique in the created works,

2. Assimilation of Pan-European and world aesthetics,

3. The presence of the most diverse genres including symphonic, oratorio, vocal, chamber, electronic, and theatrical music.


                        All this testifies to the stormy processes of the development of contemporary music in Ukraine. At the same time, Ukrainian music is presenting new directions.  Our music exhibits the appearance of new styles, aesthetics, thematics, and, finally, a change in orchestral style (Svyatoslav Lunyov’s "Tutti," Victoria Poleva’s "White Interment,” Ludmila Yurina’s "Crystal" and others).  This makes it possible to look to the future of Ukrainian music with optimism and to await new discoveries and appearances of new and remarkable works.



[1]                 Lecture Presented at the Festival of Ukrainian Chamber Music, Texas Christian University, October 28-31,