Leah Batstone

At 30: Four Waves of Ukrainian Music in the Twentieth Century

The significance of Ukrainian social and political events for the rest of the world has increased tremendously in the last five years. As the West comes to terms with questions of nationalism and identity, as well as the electoral weaknesses technology as recently exploited, Ukraine’s symbolic fight for a sovereign narrative has much to teach Europe and North America. While the academic study of literature, visual art, theater studies, as well as political and social history have focused increasingly on Ukraine’s unique contributions, the field of music history, particularly the study of classical music designed for performance by professionals in the concert hall, has lagged behind. This project will add a discussion of the culture of the serious genre of “art music” to the emerging narratives of twentieth century Ukrainian identity. This music, some of which is unknown outside Ukraine, some of which has been falsely subsumed as part of Russian music history, deserves to be recognized and considered in relationship to its own history and on its own merits. This book will fill a lacuna in the current scholarship, while also bringing attention to the musical works of Ukraine and the important ways in which they help to tell the story of the country.

Despite its frequent characterization as a nation of Russia’s “country cousins,” Ukraine has a rich history shaped by encounters and collaboration between multiple ethnic, confessional, and linguistic populations, its colonial history at the hands at multiple empires, and its position on the edge of Europe. Each of these elements of Ukraine’s history plays an important role in discussions of contemporary politics and identity, and therefore culture. As Europe and North America globalize and their populations diversify, questions concerning how multiple groups can coexist and even co-create productively are central. As Europe faces questions about its future as a unified entity, as well as the problems the European Union has created for questions of cooperation between East and West, the history of a nation whose long history has continuously navigated these boundaries has much to teach us. Finally, given the monumental events of the twentieth century, of which Ukraine was nearly always at the heart, the musical culture of this nation deserves a history of its own, distinct from its occupiers. By examining I will create the basis for a new narrative of Ukrainian musical identity.

At 30: Four Waves of Ukrainian Art Music in the Twentieth Century is a large-scale project that will result in a book of essays concerning four ‘waves’ of Ukrainian music, which have occurred approximately every thirty years since the 1920s. The composers of each of these waves similarly tend to be in their thirties when they first reach their musical maturity. This project will explore the responses oft Ukrainian art music to four significant moments of political liberation in the twentieth century: the 1917 Revolution, the Cold War Thaw following Stalin’s death, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the achievement of Ukraine’s Independence, and the musical reaction to changes in contemporary politics exemplified by the 2004 and 2014 revolutions. It is an interdisciplinary study that combines musicology, politics, and cultural history, and will identify and situate trends of Ukrainian musical development in the twentieth century. I will also examine the elements that the music of each of these waves shares in order to begin to construct a discussion of ‘Ukrainian music’. Finally the study will be shaped not only by the study of events in Ukraine during the twentieth century, but how the cultural responses to these events is related to Ukraine’s multiethnic history.