About this Recording
8.223542 - LYATOSHYNSKY: Symphony No. 1 / 'Grazhyna', Op. 58

Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895–1968)
Symphony No. 1, Op. 2 • “Grazhyna”, Op. 58 (Symphonic Ballade)


Lyatoshynsky’s Symphony No. 1, which although completed by the year 1919, did not receive its première as a complete work until 1923, at which time it was conducted by Reinhold Glière, professor of composition and then director of the Kiev Conservatory. Fragments of the symphony became known to the public in earlier forms. The second movement of the symphony received its first performance as early as 1917, conducted by the composer, when it was introduced as an independent work under the title “Lyric Poem”. The first movement was composed in 1918, while Lyatoshynsky was completing his studies at the Kiev Conservatory, and was in that same year submitted as his graduation work. The second movement, reworked from its original form, and the finale were later completed in 1919. Although the work gives a rather immediate impression of being polystylistic, it is the harmonic language of Scriabin which obviously left a strong impression on the young composer, while the grandiose orchestration is most influenced by the romantic traditions of Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Wagner.

It would be incorrect to compare the First Symphony, not only with other European symphonies of the same period, but even with Lyatoshynsky’s subsequent, more structurally accomplished symphonies. It would be equally incorrect to completely disregard this work as a mere student exercise. Already in the first movement exist melodic and rhythmic fragments, which although here appear “raw” or angular, become quite recognizable staples of his later works. The two principal themes of the first movement appear on the surface to be very much Scriabin-like, yet this association can only be a cosmetic one, as the personal convictions and depictions of the two composers, through their melodic portrayal, were of complete contrast. Through his outlook on the lives of the Ukrainian people and, in fact, the rest of the world, Lyatoshynsky was distressed by this period in history. This symphony can be described as an artistic description of the composer, mostly inspired by the life-confirming tragedy of the times. The symphony is structured along the traditions of the three-part sonata cycle. The unusually saturated textures, largely brass dominated, create this dramatic and tragic image, yet as this appears within a refined polyphonic structure we already see the individuality and foundation towards the future of Lyatoshynsky. Although on first hearing the unfamiliar listener may be, at times, reminded of Scriabin, it is this unique use of themes and melodies which gives this composer such an individual style. In the words of the Ukrainian musicologist Mykola Hordiychuk, “the device of ‘Surrounding’ broad, melodic themes by shorter, expressive folk tunes throughout his creative output appears to be one of the most distinctive features of the composer’s individuality”.

The second movement of the symphony can be best described as a deep, psychological narration based on the human existence. It begins by outlining the doubts and desperate feelings experienced by mankind, possibly reflecting directly on the souls of so many Ukrainians at this particular point in time, yet throughout the movement developing as an emotionally exhaled and inspired statement in the name of life and artistic creativity. The finale contrasts and juxtaposes the various thematic material already heard throughout the symphony. The tragic nature of the movement, which is all too evident based on the various thematic characters, is developed into a heroic statement through the use of fanfare-type material and culminates in the greatest of extended climaxes, so reminiscent of what one may normally associate with Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky.

The symphonic ballade Grazhyna, Op. 58 is recognised by many as one of Lyatoshynsky’s true masterworks. Composed in 1955, the work was written to commemorate the centenary of the death of the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz and may best be described as a programmatic work, based on the poem of the same name. The first page of the composer’s score contains a detailed programme of the various episodes to be found throughout the symphonic poem, which remain faithful to the original poem. Lyatoshynsky ingeniously recreates the poet’s intentions through the use of strict sonata form. It is the work’s programmatic structure, though, which gives reason for the unique development of the coda. The coda, in this instance, is not a direct repeat of existing material, but an interaction between that which has already been stated and several new, emotionally-charged colours. Thematic development of a very sorrowful nature depicting the death of various characters maintains the dramatically strained atmosphere, yet this was not intended to diminish the heroic pathos of the composition. The closing theme, depicting Grazhyna’s death, represents the composer’s intention as a call to fight for the glory of the people and the motherland. In short, the first and many subsequent performances of this emotionally-charged tone poem was greeted by critics and followers of Lyatoshynsky’s output with extreme interest and enthusiasm.

© 1994 Volodymyr I. Rozhok

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