Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968)
The history of Ukrainian culture during the first third of the twentieth century reflects the history of the people of the Ukraine, their greatness and their tragedy, with their deliverance from bondage and from the oppression of their national dignity. The period, in short, brought about a short-lived Ukrainian resurrection, when the people worked hard to create an entirely independent land and culture. This brought great creative power in literature, art and theatre, with Ukrainian music taking the lead in the cultural development of these years.
Boris Lyatoshynsky, a composer, conductor and teacher, was a leading member of the new generation of twentieth century Ukrainian composers and is today honoured as the father of contemporary Ukrainian music. Arriving in Kiev from his native city of Zhitomir in 1914, Lyatoshynsky enrolled in the law school of Kiev University, while continuing his musical studies at the new Kiev Conservatory in the composition class of Reinhold Glière, with whom he was to continue a life-long relationship. Having completed his law studies in 1918, he graduated in 1919 from the Conservatory, where he was soon to take up a position as a teacher and later professor, continuing this connection until his death. From 1935 to 1938 and from 1941 to 1944 he taught concurrently at the Moscow Conservatory. As a composer he wrote a variety of works, including five symphonies, symphonic poems and other shorter orchestral works, choral and vocal music, two operas, chamber music and a number of works for solo piano. His earliest compositions were romantic and lyrical in style, influenced most of all by his esteem for the music of Schumann and Borodin. By the time of his Symphony No. 1, his graduation composition, he had begun to be influenced by the impressionist music of Scriabin, but with his Piano Sonata No. 1 of 1924, he finally turned away from tradition, moving towards the new musical language of Central and Western Europe, atonality. This period lasted until 1929, when there gradually appeared more and more evidence of simplification in harmonies, following the broad outlines of Ukrainian national music, with increased reference to the folk-songs and music of the Ukraine, relying on the earlier research in this field of Mykola Lysenko.
There is now general awareness of the tragic effects of the gradual suppression of cultural life in the Soviet Union, with complete state control of all musical activities. By the late 1920s the Soviet government strenuously opposed the development of a national Ukrainian musical style, repressing all the arts and using them as a means of political propaganda, with a consequent disastrous decline in artistic standards. Eventually the Central Committee condemned the formalism of Western European music, while firmly controlling popular taste and the creativity of composers. Systematic purges and censorship enforced the principles of Socialist Realism.
Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 63
Symphony No. 5, Op. 67 "Slavonic"
With the death of Stalin in 1953, there was hope that previous opposition to Western formalism, forced emphasis on nineteenth century Russian music and insistence on the maintenance of Communist Party principles in the arts would be relaxed. Unfortunately the suppression of originality and creativity was resumed in 1963, with new restrictions placed upon composers and the arts. The imposition of the official Party policy aimed at the Russification of the Ukraine and the merging of the two cultures continued during the years of liberalisation, with attention given to the major rôle of Russians in the cultural development of non-Russian Slav peoples.
The Fourth Symphony, Op. 63, of Boris Lyatoshynsky, completed in 1963, was first performed in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) with the Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of one of the foremost conductors of the Soviet Union, Nathan Rachlin. Immediately after the first performance, the critic M. Bialik stressed how, in this symphony, could be seen the creative development of traditions of Ukrainian classical music. He went on to point out that the work, while using contemporary musical language, never lost contact with tonality, while emphasizing impressions of Ukrainian folk-music, adding praise of the brilliant artistry of Lyatoshynsky in his orchestration of the work. The first performance of the symphony in Kiev was met with equal acclaim and during the 1965 concert season it was performed on several occasions, on 9th January to celebrate the 70th birthday of the composer and under his direction and in March at the Assembly of the Union of Ukrainian Composers, at a concert dedicated to great symphonic music of recent years. Critics and performers in general placed this work alongside other European masterpieces by composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartók, Honegger and Szymanowski. There was no doubt about its importance in the development of Ukrainian music.
The fundamental conflict in the symphony is between the subjective and the objective, humanism and materialism, or reality, a division that arises in almost all Lyatoshynsky"s compositions. It is no coincidence that the composer uses thematic material from the piano cycle Reflections. A striking resemblance is to be found in the opening of the Allegro sections in the first movement of both the Third and Fourth Symphonies, yet the direction taken in the reworking of the similar rhythmic fragment in the later work ingeniously takes on an entirely different character. The three movements, played without a pause, impress with symphonic flow, philosophical depth and strongly conflicting development. In the introduction, the conflicting idea emphasizes the two polarised concepts, the first being the objective and formidable chord-like motif, which almost immediately is contrasted with its impressionistic antithesis. Two pictures or perceptions of the world are presented as extreme opposition. This provides the impetus for the opening of the exposition of the impulsive and passionate Allegro moderato ma risoluto assai. The development section is the dramatic centre of the first movement, only 73 measures in length, sounding like a mighty combat of inner struggle and triumph. A short bridge or transition of sixteen measures may be perceived as a moment of emotional resolution. In contrast to the polyphony of the first movement, the second movement, opening Lento tenebroso and moving to Andante, is most influenced by ancient Ukrainian folk-music. Connecting the three principal sections is a massive chorale, which seems to stern from the depths of centuries. From the poly-contrapuntal accompaniment another theme stands out, Peredzvoniv or Church Bells, enhancing the chorale. The third movement, Allegro molto risoluto, sharply brings us from history to the present, with its tense and vital activity, leading to grotesque, scherzo-like images. This movement represents the culmination of extremely complicated concepts and the conflicting process of the development of the entire work. With its depth, musical expression and philosophical ideas, the Fourth Symphony joins the ranks of the great European symphonies of the second half of the twentieth century.
The perceived unity of the Slavic nations and a search for their common roots begins vividly to pervade Lyatoshynsky"s compositions of the 1950s. The principles and themes of Slavonicism, which the composer incorporated in various musical forms, orchestral suites, tone-poems, overtures, ballades and in his Slavonic Concerto, reached a climax in his Fifth Symphony, Op. 67, with its subtitle Slavonic. The three-movement symphony, written in 1965 and 1966, represents a monumental symphonic drama dedicated to Slavonicism, the friendship and unity of all Slavic peoples. The sublime, hymn-like theme at the opening of the first movement, marked Andante maestoso, represents the fundamental idea of the traditional heart of the Slavonic. The theme is based on an ancient Rus song about Ilya Muromets, who rose to defend the city of Kiev against nomadic invaders, led by the avaricious Prince Kalin. The theme is introduced by six horns in unison, leading to a condensed form of polytonal canon for the whole brass section of the orchestra. The tension and uncertainty of the introduction sets the stage for the energetic Allegro molto, the main section of the first movement. The main theme is composed from two divergent Russian folk-tunes, both blending into a musical image of energetic and dance-like qualities. Two subordinate themes, based on Yugoslav melodies, form the nucleus of the exposition. The fundamental character of the recapitulation is marked by the solemn return of the introductory chorale. The second movement, marked Lento e mesto, leading to Andante tranquillo, is based on two Bulgarian folk-tunes. The first of these, Oh my friend Petko, rise up, is permeated with deep sorrow, a reminiscence of a turbulent history and centuries of Ottoman domination. The second of these, Bring here the maiden, is a serene and contemplative melody, resembling the playing of some mountain shepherd. The second movement culminates in a transformation of the first theme. Initially narrative in character, it may be perceived as a tragic echo of events in ancient Slavic history. The finale, marked Moderato, moving on to Allegro energico, again returns the listener"s attention to the world of folk-dance, internal conflict and the church, yet in the final episode develops the principal musical images in a fresco-like manner, resulting in an atmosphere of joy and triumph. This third movement represents a culmination of the artistic concept of the entire symphony, a depiction of the bond and relationship between all Slavic cultures. The brilliant mastery of this work gives it a position not only as the pinnacle of Lyatoshynsky"s achievement but also ensures it an outstanding place in music of the former Soviet Union.
Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra
Established in 1937 under Nathan Rachlin, the Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra has continued to serve as one of the most celebrated and accomplished instrumental ensembles in the territories of the former Soviet Union. During its long history the orchestra has appeared with soloists and conductors of the greatest distinction. Praised by Shostakovich and by David Oistrakh, the orchestra has made many recordings and its tours have taken it to cities throughout the former Soviet Union and Europe. Under its principal guest conductor Theodore Kuchar, appointed in 1992, it has continued to offer an extensive repertoire of music to audiences in the Ukraine and elsewhere.
Theodore Kuchar graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music and by the age of 25 held the position of principal viola in orchestras of Cleveland and Helsinki. He has appeared as soloist and chamber musician throughout the world, performing at major festivals including Blossom, Edinburgh, Kuhmo and Tanglewood. In 1980 he was awarded the Paul Fromm Fellowship from the Boston Symphony Orchestra for study and performance at Tanglewood, where his mentors included Bernstein, Colin Davis, Ozawa and Previn, while at the same time working under the guidance of Lorin Maazel as music director and conductor of the Cleveland Sinfonia. He has subsequently served as music director of the Finnish Chamber Orchestra, Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra and West Australian Ballet while having guest conducted the leading orchestras of cape town, Helsinki, Kiev, Prague and Tallinn, amongst many others. He also serves as artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. In 1992 he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra, with which he records for Marco Polo the complete symphonies of the leading Ukrainian composer of the twentieth century, Boris Lyatoshynsky.