Boris Lyatoshinsky

Boris Lyatoshinsky


• 1895 1968


Boris Lyatoshyns'ky, the father of modern Ukrainian music, left his hometown of Zhitomir to study law at Kiev. While at the University, he also took compositions lessons from Reinhold Glière, leading to a lifelong friendship. Lyatoshyns'ky took his law degree in 1918 and graduated from the Kiev Conservatory in 1919. After graduating, he joined the faculty of the Conservatory and remained there until his death. He also taught at the Moscow Conservatory (1936 - 1937 and 1941 - 1943). He joined the Kiev Association for Contemporary Music in the early 1920s and was on the board of directors of the Ukrainian Composers' Union in the late '30s and early '40s; he also served on the board of directors of the Composers' Union of the U.S.S.R. from the late '40s until his death.

Lyatoshyns'ky lived during an extremely difficult time for his nation, and his music reflects this. While his First Symphony (1919 - 1918) was written under the influence of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and especially Scriabin, his works of the '20s reflect his growing enthusiasm for the music of the Ukraine in works like Overture on Four Ukrainian Themes (1920) and his opera The Golden Ring (1929). After several centuries of political and cultural domination by Czarist Russia, the Ukraine was now an autonomous republic within the U.S.S.R. and Lyatoshyns'ky and other composers believed it was critically important to create a distinctively Ukrainian music. Lyatoshyns'ky's Second Symphony (1935 - 1936, rev. 1940) was conceived and executed on a massive scale, but rooted in the folk music of his country, embodying his own highest intellectual and spiritual aspirations in harsh and angular music of both great complexity and appeal. When he submitted to the Composer's Union for performance, however, he discovered that it ran counter to the Soviet requirements of Socialist Realism in the arts and he was forced to thoroughly revise the entire work. This did not "rehabilitate" the symphony and it was not permitted to be performed until 1964.

His Third Symphony (1951, rev. 1954), is considered the greatest Ukrainian symphony of the last century -- a work that manages to blend a modernist manner with great emotional depth and profundity. But, as was the case with the Second, the Party once again demanded Lyatoshyns'ky revise the work, including composing an entirely new fourth movement. In this case, however, it received its premiere -- in 1955 by Evgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic, testifying to the stature of both the work and the composer. From that point onward Lyatoshyns'ky was able to compose more or less as he wished and the 13 years between the premiere of the Third Symphony and his death were the most productive and successful of his life. While the Fourth Symphony (1963) was composed in the same philosophical modernist vein as his Second and Third, many of the other works of this period advocated a kind of pan-Slavic music. The symphonic ballad Grazhyna (1955), the tone poem On the Banks of the Vistula (1958) and the Polish Suite (1961) all make use of Polish influences and folk songs, while the Slavic Piano Concerto (1953) and especially the Slavonic Fifth Symphony (1965 - 1966) utilize elements of music from Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, and the Ukraine.

Lyatoshyns'ky is a composer of great personal and intellectual strength who fervently believed that his music should incarnate the music of his country in its loftiest form, while remaining comprehensible to an educated audience.