About this Recording
8.555579 - LYATOSHYNSKY, B.: Symphonies, Vol. 2 - Nos. 2 and 3 (Ukrainian State Symphony, Kuchar)

Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895–1968)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 26 • Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 50


During the first third of the twentieth century, Ukrainian society underwent several seismic shifts as a result of political instability and oppression. Following the long and bitterly fought Ukrainian War of Independence from 1917–21, the Soviet government introduced a new policy of tolerance and ‘Korenizatsiya’—literally ‘putting down roots’—allowing smaller Soviet nations and republics far greater control and freedom. This resulted in a vibrant, if short-lived, cultural renaissance, and the emergence of a new generation of artists, writers and musicians, who drew on both eastern and western models as well as looking to their own national heritage.

Boris Lyatoshynsky was a leading member of this new generation of Ukrainian composers, and is today honoured as the father of contemporary Ukrainian music. Arriving in Kiev from his native city of Zhitomir in 1913, Lyatoshynsky enrolled first in the law school of Kiev University, and subsequently also at the recently-founded Kiev Conservatory, where he studied composition with Reinhold Glière. Having completed his law studies in 1918, he graduated in 1919 from the Conservatory, and took up a teaching post there in the very same year. He continued to teach in Kiev for the rest of his life, and became a professor of the Conservatory in 1935. Additionally, from 1935–38 and 1941–44 he taught at the Moscow Conservatory, and in later life acted as an adjudicator for the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow on several occasions.

Lyatoshynsky composed in a broad variety of genres. His output includes five symphonies, several symphonic poems and other short orchestral works, choral and vocal music, two operas, and a number of chamber and solo piano pieces. He also provided incidental music for both stage and film productions. His earliest compositions were heavily influenced by the tastes of his teacher, Glière, and are Romantic and lyrical in style, with frequent references to the music of both Schumann and Borodin. By the time he completed his Symphony No. 1, part of which formed his graduation work from the Conservatory, he had become interested in the impressionist music of Scriabin. But five years later, with his Piano Sonata No. 1 (1924), he moved away from Russian models in favour of the new musical developments of Central and Western Europe—specifically, atonality. This exploration of musical expressionism, and in particular the music of Alban Berg, lasted until 1929, when Lyatoshynsky increasingly turned his attention to his Ukrainian musical heritage. For the rest of his career, and drawing on the research of the late nineteenth-century ethnomusicologist Mykola Lysenko, Lyatoshynsky drew together Ukrainian folk-songs and melodies with contemporary harmonic and formal approaches.

The golden age of cultural freedom in the Ukraine was to come to an abrupt end in the late 1920s, as Stalin took control and Socialist Realism became the new order of the day. Ukrainian national music was brutally repressed, Western European developments were condemned, and systematic purges and censorship were employed to enforce the new regime. It was not until the mid-1950s that the next generation of Ukrainian composers, all pupils of Lyatoshynsky, were able to establish a free avant-garde with the help of their mentor.

Lyatoshynsky’s Second Symphony, Op. 26, composed between 1935–36, was doomed to remain unheard until 1964, due to the intervention of the Soviet authorities. Early critical responses to the work reflect the general situation in this period of Ukrainian culture, when each new work was judged by its effectiveness in the promulgation of the canons of Socialist Realism. (That is, a doctrine by which artworks had to promote a sense of collective, and positive, human destiny and purpose.) Lyatoshynsky’s turbulent Symphony evidently confused and unsettled the censors—whilst its outer movements are sharp-edged and nervous, punctuated by violent outbursts, the Lento e tranquillo in particular retains elements of the romantic expansiveness that characterised his First Symphony (1917–19), and the rich orchestral textures of Scriabin. Lush passages for high strings and harp sit alongside edgy woodwind outbursts; brooding, ominous cellos and basses are knocked aside by punchy brass and percussion; and thematic material is cleverly layered across the orchestra to contribute to a sense of discomfort and claustrophobia. Consequently, the censors felt that Lyatoshynsky had not satisfactorily adhered to the positive, Soviet nationalist tenets of Socialist Realism. A highly damaging review was published shortly after he completed the work—before the première—as a result of which the performance was cancelled (although the cancellation was attributed to the death of a leading member of the Communist Party). Lyatoshynsky returned to the Symphony in 1940 to revise it; but as with Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, which was composed in the very same years as Lyatoshynsky’s, it was to be several decades before the work finally received its first public performance, almost thirty years after its composition.

It is difficult to find a Ukrainian musician who is not familiar with Lyatoshynsky’s Third Symphony, Op. 50, written in 1951 and revised in 1954, a work that provides yet another example of Party criticism. Generally considered to be one of Lyatoshynsky’s finest (and most frequently performed) compositions, and his most successful integration of nationalist and expressionist approaches, this work was first performed in 1951 at the Congress of Ukrainian Composers in Kiev. The première caused a great sensation; but Soviet censors were not satisfied and insisted that the composer would have to rewrite the last movement. This finale, which had initially borne the epigraph ‘Peace will defeat war’, had to be substantially altered—and the epigraph removed—if Lyatoshynsky hoped to see it performed again. After several years of agonising indecision, he eventually offered a revised version in 1954; but it was only after yet more adjustment that the Party agreed to permit a performance. In its new form, the Symphony was given in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1955 by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Evgeny Mravinsky; and it was subsequently repeated in Moscow, Kiev and a number of other cities throughout the Soviet Union. Although the piece became an accepted and celebrated composition, the process of official rejection and forced revision proved hugely damaging to Lyatoshynsky. The Party continued to level accusations of formalism, decadence, aggression, sadism and cacophony at his music, and it was not until the later 1950s that he felt able to operate once more with a sense of creative freedom. Despite this painful creative history, the Third Symphony is a supreme example of Ukrainian symphonic music, and stands among the most important symphonies of the twentieth century.

Theodore Kuchar
Edited Katy Hamilton 2014

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