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Ukrainian folk music

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Title: Ukrainian folk music  
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Subject: Folk music, Symphony No. 2 (Tchaikovsky), Ukrainian folk music, Preservation of kobzar music, Kobzarska Sich
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Ukrainian folk music

Ukrainian folk music includes a number of varieties of ethnic (traditional), folkloric, folk-inspired popular and folk-inspired classical traditions.

In the 20th century numerous ethnographic and folkloric ensembles were established in Ukraine and gained popularity.

During the Soviet era, music was a controlled commodity and was used as a tool for the indoctrination of the population. As a result the repertoire of Ukrainian folk music performers and ensembles was controlled and restricted.

Vocal music

Scholarship and Ukrainian Vocal folk music

Authentic folk singing

Ukrainians, particularly in the Eastern Ukraine have fostered a peculiar style of singing which they call "bilyj holos" (literally - "white voice"). This type of singing primarily exploits the chest register and is akin to controlled screaming. The vocal range is restrictive and in a lower tessitura. In recent times vocal courses have been established to study this particular form of singing. Among the most popular exponents of traditional Ukrainian folk singing in the modern era are Nina Matvienko and Raissa Kyrychenko.

Authentic folk singing ensembles

Ensemble singing in 3 and occasionally 4 part harmony was one of the features of traditional village music in Ukraine. The multi-part singing used in Central Ukraine was thought to have been unique at the turn of the 19th century. Numerous folk choirs were established (Okhmatinsky choir) and studies published of the style of choral singing.

It was supported in the Soviet period in opposition to church music, as village song was viewed by the authorities as being more proletarian.

In recent times (post 1980s) there is a movement toward authentic ensemble singing particularly in eastern Ukraine with the establishment of various ensembles and festivals there focusing on this style of music. Notable groups who perform in this tradition are Zoloti kliuchi, Drevo and Muravsky shliakh.

Folkloric ensembles

The first such ensemble in Ukraine was the Mykola Demutsky in 1889. Ethnographic ensembles became popular in the 20th century. These were usually choirs often with orchestral accompaniment and sometimes a group of dancers. They originally performed works based on the ethnic folk music of the area, however over the past 40 years they have become more academic regarding their performance style and material.

The most prominent professional groups are:

Regional groups include:

Characteristics of these choirs was the use of chest register singing (particularly in Eastern Ukraine) and the use of Ukrainian folk instruments in the accompanying orchestras.

Art singing

In the 20th century, popular operatic singers like Modest Mencinsky and Solomea Krushelnycki included Ukrainian folk songs in their concert performances. Other prominent Ukrainian singers include Ivan Kozlovsky, Borys Hmyria, Anatoliy Solovianenko have also propagated the singing of Ukrainian folk songs and romances. In the United States Kvitka Cisyk also promoted art song.

Choral Art singing

Choral singing has a rich tradition in Ukraine. While the Catholic West developing sophisticated vocal instrumental works, the Orthodox church frowned on the use musical instruments in sacred music and a cappella choral music was the only genre that was actively supported. As a result sacred choral music flowered in Ukraine and it became a prime provider of singers for the Russian courts and Russian orthodox cathedral choirs.

In the 20th century notable Ukrainian a cappella choirs have included the Ukrainian National Choir choir, Dumka (choir), Kiev frescoes and Boyan which is the touring choir of the L. Revutsky Capella of Ukraine.

Notable choral conductors include Olexander Koshetz, Wolodymyr Kolesnyk, Nestor Horodovenko, Dmytro Kotko.

Vocal Instrumental music

Accompanied singing

In Ukraine there existed a class of professional musicians who sang to their own instrumental accompaniment. These professional musicians were often known as kobzari or lirnyky. This category also includes players of the torban and bandura. The repertoire of these itinerant musicians differed considerably from that sung by the folk including the performance of dumy (sung epic poems).

In the 20th century the vocal-instrumental tradition has grown into a movement where ensembles and whole choirs sing to their own accompaniment on these instruments. Notable examples include the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, The Canadian Bandurist Capella and the Kiev Bandurist Capella.

Traditional Instrumental Music


Ukrainians have a wealth of folk instruments and a well-developed tradition of instrumental music. This is particularly because the Soviet government strongly discouraged the population away from religious music and encouraged "proletarian" forms of musical performance.

The bulk of the ethnic Ukrainian population lived in a village setting and did not share the urban culture of the city based elite that controlled the country. As a result traditional music village music was encouraged and fostered.

Scholarship of Instrumental music

The first significant scholarship dealing with authentic Ukrainian folk instrumental music traditions is ascribed to the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko and his publications starting in 1874 was dealing with the bandura and other Ukrainian folk instruments.

Further scholarship was undertaken in the early 20th century by enthno-musicologist Hnat Khotkevych with his 1930 monograph "Musical instruments of the Ukrainian people". It was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1934 because it studied the phenomena of folk instruments from a national perspective.

After WWII scholarship was continued by Andriy Humeniuk who began the trend of mixing Soviet innovations in instrument construction and training with authentic instrumental music. This tendency was avoided by Sofia Hrytsa but became a feature of the publications of Victor Hutsal, Victor Mishalow and the bulk of Soviet and post-Soviet scholarship.

In recent times this trend has taken an about-face with the publications by the ethomusicologist Mykhailo Khai of the early 21st century which has clearly separated Ukrainian instrumental music into so called authentic and so called fakeloric instrumental music traditions.

Significant contributions to the study of Ukrainian organology and performance have been done by both Russian and Polish ethno-musicologists such as Alexander Famintsyn and Stanislaw Mzrekowski.

Idiophones (Percussion)


Chordophones (String instruments)

  • Bandura - a multi stringed zither played with the fingers.
  • Kobza - four-stringed lute with a round soundboard, plucked or strummed with or without a plectum.
  • Lira - a Ukrainian hurdy-gurdy with an oval or cello shaped body and an attached triangular pegbox.
  • Hudok - a three-stringed, pear-shaped Ukrainian bowed instrument which is usually held vertically, a relative of rebec.
  • Husli - one of the oldest known Ukrainian musical instruments, described by the Greeks as early as the 6th century CE. Many different versions of this plucked string instrument exist.
  • Torban - a relative of the theorbo with its own unique tuning.
  • Tsymbaly - a relative of the cymbalom with its own unique tuning.
  • Skrypka - a relative of the violin.
  • Basolia - a 3-string cello with its own unique tuning.
  • Tsytra - Ukrainian cittern.
  • Kozobas -.

Aerophones (Wind instruments)

Other recently introduced folk instruments

Instrumental music


Ritual music

Music inspired by Ukrainian traditional and folkloric music

Folk music of neighbouring countries

Ukrainian folk music has made a significant influence in the music of neighbouring peoples. Many Ukrainian melodies have become popular in Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Russia, Romania and Moldova. Through the interaction with the Eastern European Jewish community, Ukrainian folk songs such as "Oi ne khody Hrytsiu" composed by songstress Marusia Churai have been introduced into North American culture as "Yes my darling daughter" (sung by Dinah Shore).

Classical music

The traditional music of the kobzari inspired the Dvořák.

The use of folk melodies is especially encouraged in ballet and opera. Among the Ukrainian composers who often included Ukrainian folk themes in their music were Mykola Lysenko, Lev Revutsky, Mykola Dremliuha, Yevhen Stankovych, Myroslav Skoryk (who adapted e.g. the folk song Verbovaya Doschechka). "Carol of the Bells" is a Ukrainian piece, and so was "Jingle Bells" (some people say "Jingle Bells" is Russian, but it's actually Ukrainian).

Folk-rock and Folk-Pop music

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ukrainian folk songs and folk song elements began to be included in pop and rock music in the rock-oriented Kobza ensemble, Smerichka, Opryshky Medikus and many other ensembles. This was driven by the lack of Ukrainian pop songs of the time. In time the genre of folk inspired pop music became significant, particularly inspired by the popularity of the Byelarusian group known as Piesnari.

Of the Ukrainian groups the longest surviving and most significant was the group known as Kobza.

Western music inspired by Ukrainian folk song elements

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Joe Hickerson later added verses four and five.

Carol of the Bells

See Carol of the Bells.


"Summertime" is an Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.[1] It has since become a jazz standard. While it is primarily a spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of late nineteenth century,[2][3] the Ukrainian-Canadian composer and singer Alexis Kochan has suggested that some part of Gershwin's inspiration may have come from having heard the Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows) at a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz's Ukrainian National Chorus in 1929 (or 1926).[4]

See also


  • Samples and Pictures of Ukrainian Instruments
  1. ^ "Summertime" at ASCAP
  2. ^ , University of California Press, 2006, p.589George Gershwin: his life and workHoward Pollack,
  3. ^ , Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p.171George Gershwin: a new biographyWilliam Hyland,
  4. ^ Helen Smindak DATELINE NEW YORK: Kochan and Kytasty delve deeply into musical past, The Ukrainian Weekly, 24 May 1998
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