Skip to Main Content

Ukrainian Music in the UNT Music Library: Classical composers


Ukrainian and Russian classical music did not exist nearly as early as that of the classical music of Western Europe. In the areas that became Ukraine and Russia, Eastern Orthodox monophonic chant rather than polyphony was the acceptable music for worship for many centuries, and there was no contact with the West to influence musical traditions. It was not until the 17th century that western styles were introduced, and not until the 18th century that major Ukrainian/Russian composers emerged.

The first to be identified, known as the "golden three" for their vital contributions to Ukrainian and Russian music history, are revered today. Their style reflects that of the classic era in which they flourished. 

Maxim Berezovsky, 1745-1777
Details of Berezovsky's life are sketchy. Born in Hlukhiv, Ukraine, he received musical training there and was singing and composing at an early age. He was sent to St. Petersburg in 1757, where he served as a singer at the court of Tsar Peter III. He began intensive study of composition in the 1760s. He studied with Galuppi in Russia and later in Italy, where he possibly studied with Padre Martini as well. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1773, where he served in the Imperial Court Chapel. His most significant compositions, his varied choral works for Orthodox worship, date from this period. Perhaps due to the court's preference for Italian musicians, he was never promoted to a high position. He died in poverty, and the circumstances of his death are controversial. He may have committed suicide. Much of his music is lost, but enough survives to ensure his legacy as a major composer and an important pioneer of western-influenced Russian and Ukrainian classical music. 
Our holdings:   Search Results -- 10 Matching Results - Discover (

Artem Vedel, 1767-1808
Born in Kyiv, he studied at a music academy there. In 1787 he went to Moscow, where he conducted the choir of a governor. He returned to Kyiv in 1792 and conducted choirs in that city and Kharkiv. He composed most of his important Orthodox choral music in the next few years. However, in 1797 a new Tsar, Paul I, banned the singing of choral concertos and other non-liturgical music from the church, which ruined Vedel's career as a composer. He entered a monastery in Kyiv, but was accused there of making threats against the royal family. He was declared insane and confined to a mental institution in 1799, where his health deteriorated. He was allowed to return home to die. His music was officially banned in Russia and Ukraine for most of the 19th century, but manuscripts of his works circulated in secret anyway, and his music was performed. He is now considered one of the greatest masters of Ukrainian Orthodox choral music.
Our holdings:   Search Results -- 4 Matching Results - Discover ( 

Dmitri Bortniansky, 1751-1825
Born in Hlukhiv, Ukraine, he formed his earliest musical impressions there. Ukraine was famous for its fine singers. Due to his exceptional singing voice and musical talent, he was soon brought to Russia. By 1758 he sang at the Russian Imperial Court Chapel in Saint Petersburg. At the time Galuppi was there, and Bortniansky was his pupil. When Galuppi went back to Italy in 1769, Bortniansky travelled there for further study with him. In 1779 he was called back to the Russian court, and for many years served as music director of the court chapel. He is especially famous for his Russian Orthodox choral music, and it is notable that in recent years, musicologists have observed considerable Ukrainian influence in it.
Our holdings:    Search Results -- 65 Matching Results - Discover (

MAJOR UKRAINIAN COMPOSERS in the mid to late 19th century, 20th century, and 21st century

Mykola Lysenko, 1842-1912
A nationalist composer and ethnomusicologist, he was a central figure in Ukrainian music and influenced many later composers. His extensive output included his arrangements of many Ukrainian folk songs, and he encouraged the use of the Ukrainian language and poetry. He lived in Kyiv from 1876 on. An activist who championed Ukrainian culture, he endured difficulties from the Russian authorities who controlled the area. He managed to persevere and founded the Lysenko School of Music in 1904. It became a public university for the performing arts in 1912, and it still survives.  
Our holdings:   Search Results -- 27 Matching Results - Discover (  

Reinhold Gliere, 1875-1956
Born in Kyiv, he obtained his first musical education at the Kyiv Conservatory and later studied in Russia at the Moscow Conservatory. He was director of the Kyiv Conservatory from 1914-1920. Then he returned to Russia and spent his career as a Soviet composer. He was interested in the music of the Ukrainians and some of his works reflect their folk culture. His conservative style and involvement with folk music of various regions of the Soviet Union seem to have enabled him to gain approval from the Soviet authorities and avoid the persecution that befell many of his more innovative contemporaries.
Our holdings:   Search Results -- 350 Matching Results - Discover (   

Mykola Leontovych, 1877-1921
Leontovych was born into a priestly and musical family in the Podolia province of Ukraine. Initially studying for the priesthood, he soon pursued musical studies and composition instead. He was strongly influenced by the Ukrainian musical nationalism of Mykola Lysenko and by Ukrainian folk melodies. His choral arrangement of the folk song Shchedryk was introduced in the west in 1919 when a Ukrainian chorus toured Europe and America. In English translation, it became the Christmas standard, "Carol of the Bells." Tragically, Leontovych was assassinated by a Soviet agent in 1921.
Our holdings:   Search Results -- 58 Matching Results - Discover (  

Sergei Prokofiev, 1891-1953
This major composer was actually born in Sontsovka, Ukraine. He began composing in his early years there, and by 1904 went on to study in St. Petersburg. His first opera, Semyon Kotko, was set in Ukraine, and he incorporated Ukrainian folk melodies in it. 

Our holdings:   Search Results -- 1,780 Matching Results - Discover (

Valentin Silvestrov, 1937-
Currently Ukraine's most famous classical composer, he was born in Soviet-controlled Kyiv and was educated at the Kyiv Conservatory. Apparently, his modernist compositions met with disfavor from Soviet authorities, and he later explored a more conservative style. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he began to compose religious music. His publisher recently reported that he and his family were trying to escape Kyiv. The good news is that they are now safe in Berlin. 
Our holdings:    Search Results -- 82 Matching Results - Discover ( 

Additional Links