Music as a strategic issue of Ukrainian independence: an interview with Professor Lyubov Kyyanovska#

Newly-elected MAE Luba Kyyanovska discusses her life as a musicologist, from her early studies in L’viv to life beyond the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Luba Kyyanovska
Professor Lyubov Kyyanovska

About Professor Lyubov Kyyanovska MAE#

Lyubov Kyyanovska is a Ukrainian musicologist and a Professor at the National Music Academy in Lysenko, Lviv. She was awarded the Mykola Lysenko Prize in 2006, named Honoured Artist of Ukraine in 2009 and Honoured Artist of Polish Culture in 2010.

She is a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Arts of Ukraine and was elected to the Academia Europaea in 2022 as a member of the Musicology and Art History section.

The interview#

Congratulations on your election to the Academia Europaea. What does being Member of the Academia Europaea mean to you?

“It is an extraordinary honour for me to receive the title of Member of Academia Europaea, in recognition for the Ukrainian school of musicology. Ukraine has great traditions and outstanding scientists – Nina Gerasimova-Persydska, Stefania Pavlyshyn, Marina Cherkashina-Gubarenko, Ivan Kotlyarevsky, Yuri Yasinovsky and dozens of other renowned names. Unfortunately, under Soviet occupation, they were not able to declare themselves in the ‘outside world’, but I am convinced that their work will still be appropriately appreciated. As a member of Academia Europaea, I will try to popularise their scientific achievements and represent Ukrainian music as an integral and worthwhile part of world musical culture.”

What is your own career story? How did you first become interested in musicology? Who would you say were the people who have had the greatest impact on your work and career?

“I grew up in a surprisingly rich cultural centre – L’viv, where different national traditions came together. My interest in musical history began at around the age of 5, with one of the first books I read – 300 Opera Librettos. Since then, my favourite lectures have been stories about music, composers and their work. I attended a special music school from the first grade, where a lot of attention was given to the discipline of music theory. This really fascinated me, so in the eighth grade I moved to the music theory department, and then entered the Faculty of Music History and Theory at the Mykola Lysenko L’viv State Conservatory. There were brilliant teachers in the 1970s, many of whom I owe a lot to. Despite a total ideological control, they introduced us impartially to the worldwide achievements of musical culture. Sometimes it was quite dangerous for them; some went through Stalin’s camps, whilst others came from repressed families. But that didn’t stop them. I remember how Volodymyr Flys, a former prisoner of the camps on Kolyma, boldly spoke about the polyphonic works of Johann Joseph Fux, and Stefania Pavlyshyn introduced us to the avant-garde music of the Darmstadt School for analysis and demanded that we read special literature in German. The head of the library, Yaroslava Kolodiy – a student of the famous Polish professor Adolf Chybinski – showed some ‘trustworthy’ students (including myself) banned publications of Western literature and notes of Ukrainian composers who had been declared as ‘bourgeois nationalists’ by the Soviet authorities. This contributed to shaping a fairly independent view on the world, and an objective view of historical processes, unconstrained by communist dogmas.

After graduating from the conservatory, I did not find work in L’viv despite a diploma with honours – for this, someone needed to have appropriate connections (which I didn’t have at that time). I was sent to a pedagogical institute in the small town called Drohobych, near L’viv. However, this actually turned out to be a great pleasure, because in the provinces ideological control was far less strict. We were even able to celebrate religious holidays together – Christmas and Easter. In L’viv, this would likely result in getting made redundant at your place of work with a so-called ’wolf ticket’[1]. Organised concerts took place in which Ukrainian music sounded more like it did in the large cities, and the problems of national and Western music were discussed more freely. It was also easier to apply for graduate school and to defend a doctorate in smaller cities, without ideological supervision. After eight years of work at Drohobych, having achieved the status of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), I was able to enter the alma mater of my dreams – L’viv Conservatory, now called Mykola Lysenko National Music Academy, where I have since been working for the past 35 years.

A new stage in my life and scientific activity began after Ukraine gained independence in 1991. When the Iron Curtain fell, scientists began to travel abroad. I had the good fortune to join Arbeitsgruppe “Musikgeschichte in Mittel- und Osteuropa” in 1995, which was headed by the brilliant scientist and passionate personality Professor Helmut Loos. At first, we operated from Chemnitz, and from 2001 at the Institut für Musikwissenschaft at the Universität Leipzig. Thanks to the annual conferences in Chemnitz and Leipzig, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with the celebrities of international musicology: Klaus Niemüller, Hartmut Krones, Mieczysław Tomaszewski, Otto Biba, Primos Kuret, Jiří Fukac, Vladimir Karbusicki, Irena Poniatovska, Ferenc Laszlo and many others. I have also spoken at numerous conferences and published in scientific magazines and journals in Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, the USA and Serbia. Since 2014, I have been a guest professor at the Jan Dlugosz University of Natural Sciences and Humanities in the Polish city of Czestochowa.

If I think about the influence of certain people on my professional activity, in addition to the teachers of the conservatory and foreign colleagues already named, I remember my supporter Professor Vsevolod Zaderatsky. I also think of prominent Ukrainian composers about whom I have written monographs: Mykola Kolessa and Myroslav Skoryk, and of course my husband, the talented composer Viktor Kaminsky. In general, communication with each musician and with each intellectual leaves a mark on your mind, and makes you think about the numerous problems of musical creativity and modern culture. In that sense I am a happy person, because I’ve met so many talented and charismatic personalities along the way.”

[1] A negative comment in someone’s work record, making it difficult to find employment

You have written about music as a strategic issue of Ukrainian independence. Could you say something about this, both from historical and current-day perspectives? For example, we have seen how musical performances, both planned and spontaneous, have been taking place in Ukrainian cities since the invasion by Russia. And in May, the whole of Europe got behind Ukraine to win the Eurovision song contest.

“This may seem like an exaggeration for the European reader, but in Ukraine, music and singing is really a strategic mechanism in the formation of our national identity. Historically, Ukraine has long been divided between different empires and countries, and each of them has tried to assimilate Ukrainian people and make them forget their language, culture, and history. One of the most effective forms of historical memory, which helped to keep Ukrainians from dissolving into other ethnic groups and to preserve our self-consciousness, was song folklore; a rite in which the action is always accompanied by singing sacred music. It is no coincidence that the cult book for Ukrainians is a collection of poems by Taras Shevchenko, called “Kobzar”. Kobzars are blind singers, Ukrainian rhapsodies-bards from the 16th century, who travelled around the country and, accompanied by a kobza or bandura, they sang dumas: recitative and vocal compositions about historical events. They were perceived as the memory and conscience of the nation. Not without reason the Soviet authorities, in parallel with the Holodomor (great famine) of 1932-33, organised the criminal murder of kobzars. They were targeted in order to destroy the historical memory, replacing it with a falsification about the “three fraternal peoples” – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and a simulacrum about the “elder brother” – Russia.

Since the bloody war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, our figures of musical culture everywhere are ambassadors of goodwill. Not only the winners of the Eurovision Song Contest, but also academic performers and collectives. Allow me to name some of the orchestras that now promote Ukrainian art over the world; the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, YsOU (Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under the direction of Oksana Lyniv), ORCHESTRA INSO-Lviv, Ukrainian Orchestra of Freedom, and numerous soloists – instrumentalists and singers, chamber ensembles and choirs. In the end, Ukrainian music began to be identified not as part of Russian culture, but as an independent part of the world’s spiritual space with its own original artistic heritage. And this is extremely important, because it is through artistic artefacts that the unique spirit of the nation is learned. This is what I mean by the strategic goal of Ukrainian music.”

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What are your aspirations for the future of your work?

“I am extremely interested in the anthropology of music as a new direction of humanistic science, which is primarily aimed at identifying the connection between humans and music. After all, any artistic achievements – including musical creative achievements – are always associated with the individual (anthropos in Greek means person). Therefore, the music of a certain era and nationality always reflects deep spiritual processes and is a mirror of its time and society. The task of musical anthropology is not only to convey the state of affairs, but also to outline strategic goals for the future. How can quality music be distributed as widely as possible? How can we make such music cease to be a benefit of the chosen elite, and instead become a need of society as a whole? How to make optimal use of the potential of music to improve the life of the individual and society? Our state is now at war, and I hope, soon in a state of post-war reconstruction – we will certainly face such existential problems, for which it will be possible to attract music for great benefit. It is these problems that I would like to consider in more detail in the context of the modern science of music.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are personal and do not necessarily represent the views of the Academia Europaea or Cardiff University where the interview took place. Read Academia Europaea’s statement on Ukraine.
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