Four decades ago he
challenged Soviet pop music.
Few have since matched his talent and popularity
Volodymyr Ivasiuk, a Ukrainian legendary composer and poet, would have marked his 60th birthday on March 4.
He was one of the founders of Ukrainian pop music, author of 107 songs, 53 instrumental compositions, and music for several plays. He was also a trained physician and violinist, played the piano, cello, and guitar like a virtuoso, and was an excellent singer. Ivasiuk was also a gifted painter and photographer. He died very young (he was found hanged in the Briukhovychi Forest near Lviv), and it was only three decades later, in February 2009, that the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that the case would be re-examined.
Ivasiuk is admired and remembered by all who love Ukrainian songs. His songs “Chervona ruta” and “Vodohrai” have become Ukraine’s music brands and served as standards for several generations of performers and listeners.
MECHANIC, VIOLINIST, AND STUDENT
Three cities — Chernivtsi, Kyiv and Lviv — occupied a special place in his life and creative work.
Ivasiuk was born in the city of Kitsman in Bukovyna where he lived until he was 17. He then moved to Chernivtsi. It was there that his character endured the first test of strength: the young man was expelled from the local medical institute on the very first day of studies. He became a mechanic’s apprentice at the local Lehmash factory. There was deafening noise in its workshops, not the best environment for Ivasiuk, who was a violinist and also wanted to become a physician. Then fortune smiled on him when the local public activist Leonid Melnyk learned that Volodymyr was a musician and offered him to conduct the workers’ choir.
Eventually, Ivasiuk enrolled in the medical institute. He composed “Chervona ruta” by the end of his third year of studies, and this song echoed across the world. Everyone was singing it, but not everyone favored the composer. Professors would quite often addressed Ivasiuk in classed and said, “Time to make up your mind, young man. Do you want to be a composer or a physician?” The dean’s office received reports to the effect that the fifth-year student Ivasiuk had failed to attend 18 classes within eight months and thus was unable to make up for them, warranting his expulsion. These “documents” are currently on display at the Ivasiuk Memorial Museum in Chernivtsi.
Nevertheless, Ivasiuk successfully completed the studies and then went to a military training camp. Meanwhile, the Chernivtsi regional Komsomol committee received a communication from Yevgenii Tiazhelnikov, the first secretary of the All-Union Komsomol Central Committee, with an order to prepare documents needed to include Ivasiuk in the Soviet artistic team that would be sent to the Olympic Games in Munich. The composer’s father, Mykhailo Ivasiuk, made a frantic search for his son’s photos and the regional committee’s secretary Liudmyla Asmendiarova sent the documents to Moscow with a train conductor, but then someone ranking higher than Tiazhelnikov stepped in and Ivasiuk never went to Munich.
At that time Ivasiuk was offered enrolment in Lviv Medical Institute coupled with a promise that he would also be able to attend classes at the Lviv conservatory. According to his sister Oksana, after the success of his “Chervona ruta,” Ivasiuk wanted to become a professional composer, so he accepted the offer. In September 1972 he moved to Lviv, the city where he experienced his victories and fiascoes, and found his last repose. He fell in love with Lviv, but Kyiv had attracted him since the time of his youth.
There is no accurate information as to when Ivasiuk first visited Ukraine’s capital for the first time and how long he stayed there. Instead, there are many other interesting facts. In the summer of 1963, when Ivasiuk graduated from Kitsman’s music school with a diploma of a violinst, his teacher Yurii Vizniuk persuaded him and his father to go to Kyiv, where the Mykola Lysenko 10-grade Music School had opened. Volodymyr passed the entrance exams and began to attend Kacherian’s classes.
The school’s curriculum included general educational subjects. Children who lived in Kyiv or not far from the city found it easier to attend classes than those from other cities. Students like Ivasiuk had to take care of themselves, so they could do their homework, have something to eat, and go to school every day wearing clean clothes. The letters from Ivasiuk’s parents at that period reflected their concern about his health.
When he came to his parents’ place for vacations, they were horrified to see that he had lost eight kilos. Grandmother Oleksandra told his father, “Mykhailo, if you let your son return to Kyiv, I will disown you!” Volodymyr was left at home and promised that he would resume studies at the music school and would to learn to play the piano. The boy tried to resist, even saying that he would walk all the way to Kyiv because he wanted to study there. (Those who believe that Ivasiuk was expelled from school for poor academic performance should see a report card for the first term — it does not have marks lower than B.)
Two years later, in June 1965, Volodymyr performed in a gala concert at the Zhovtnevy Palace in Kyiv, which was dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Bukovyna’s reunification with Ukraine, because the ensemble Bukovynka, which had created, won a republican song contest. Incidentally, Sofia Rotaru, then known as a popular folk singer, also appeared in the concert.
In 1968, in the popular Ukrainian television show Kamerton dobroho nastroiu (Good Mood Tuning Fork), Ivasiuk and the ensemble Karpaty performed his song “Ia pidu v daleki hory” (I’ll Go to Distant Mountains). The audiences liked it so much that they asked to watch and hear it again. Since Ukrainian Television did not make use of video recording at the time, the song was performed again in the next Kamerton show and Ivasiuk received a letter of thanks from the regional TV studio. In the fall of 1969, the song was played during the popular radio program Vid suboty do suboty (From Saturday to Saturday). At that time Ivasiuk met Viktor Herasymov, who hosted this popular radio program. Ukrainian Television played his “Chervona ruta” and “Vodohrai” for entire Ukraine in its Kamerton show, which was broadcast live from the Theater Square in Chernivtsi on Sept. 13, 1970. After a year Ivasiuk and his friends were already editing the film Chervona Ruta at the Ukrtelefilm Studio.
Generally speaking, there was little love lost between Kyiv’s official music circles and Ivasiuk. In October 1970, a jury led by the composer Buievsky came to Chernivtsi for an audition of the vocal-instrumental ensemble Smerichka, which was taking part in a republican amateur song contest. The head of the jury described “Chervona ruta” as “soap bubbles on a Christmas tree.” However, the Ukrainian Radio and Television always waited for new songs from Ivasiuk. He is warmly remembered by Emma Babchuk, Mykola Amosov, and Vasyl Dovzhyk.
Ivasiuk had another business address in Kyiv: Budynok zvukozapysu (Sound Recording House). In 1974 it recorded his songs for the LP “Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Songs Performed by Sofia Rotaru.” The LP was released three years later because Ivasiuk was an “amateur composer” and under the standing orders of the Composers’ Union of the USSR had no right to have an LP, despite his all-Union popularity and participation in the international song contest Sopot ‘74 in which Sofia Rotaru performed his “Vodohrai.” The fact that songs by this “amateur” were being sung in Ukraine and in other Soviet republics added fuel to the fire of animosity on the part of bureaucrats in the field of music.
Ivasiuk was always present during the recording of his songs played by the Variety and Symphony Orchestra of the Ukrainian Radio and Television, conducted by Rostyslav Babych. Babych recalled later that Ivasiuk and he quickly made friends and that Volodymyr would often stay at Babych’s place in Rusanivka, a district in Kyiv.
“Volodymyr was very fond of the Dnipro and my apartment building was right on one of its banks, Babych said in an interview, my wife and daughter often recall the way we worked together for days on end, never leaving the apartment. I made between five and seven arrangements of Volodymyr’s songs, and I always listened to what he had to say. He was clearly in command of the process, saying, ‘Here we’ll have the strings… and here I’d like to have the brass.’ I meticulously converted his ideas into the score.”
The LP “Ivasiuk’s Songs Performed by Sofia Rotaru” was recorded at the Dnipro Studio only from one a.m. to five a.m. when there were no streetcars with their noise. Babych remembers Ivasiuk’s generosity; he would always come to the recording session with expensive sausage, tuna sandwiches, and other tasty things enough to feed the whole orchestra. He also remembers the way the Composers’ Union revolted against Ivasiuk; all those officially recognized maestros who considered their positions indisputable, inviolable, and invincible were outraged by a young fellow from Western Ukraine, whose songs “Chervona ruta” and “Vodohrai” spread throughout the entire country overnight, from Tallinn to Vladivostok.
Ivasiuk’s songs were performed far outside Ukraine, including by the Belarusian ensemble Pesniary and Georgian Orera. The Polish singer Edyta Piecha [b. Edith-Marie Pierha] had his “Vodohrai” in her repertoire. At the time, popular songs — lyrics and music — were published by special and mass journals and newspapers (ranging from Lesnaia promyshlennost to Muzychna Ukraina), yet to have such songs published, one had to pass muster with the Artistic Council. The latter was then presided over by Ihor Shamo, one of the official “giants” of Ukrainian songs. He blocked the publication of Ivasiuk’s book twice, saying that he didn’t compose properly, there was too much syncopating, and so on. I learned this from Borys Chip, laureate of the Taras Shevchenko Prize, then an editor with the Muzychna Ukraina Publishing House. Ivasiuk’s book was published after Chip added a Ukrainian version of the Russian poet Andrei Dementiev’s Rozhdenie dnia (Birth of The Day).
In 1983 Muzychna Ukraina published a large collection of Ivasiuk’s songs. It repeatedly returned to his creative legacy in the late 1980s and early 1990s and included his works in the collection Sto naikrashchykh ukrainskykh pisen (One Hundred Top Ukrainian Songs).
PHOTO AS A KEEPSAKE
In the now distant 1970s, there was a high-rise apartment building in the vicinity of what was then the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy of the Ukrainian SSR (VDNKh). The tenants of one of the apartments were the film director Viktor Storozhenko and his wife Oksana. In September 1975 Storozhenko was shooting the film Pisnia zavzhdy z namy (The Song Is Always With Us) in the Carpathian Mountains, starring Sofia Rotaru. Six of the twelve soundtracks were Ivasiuk’s (the premiere screening was on Central Television in Moscow, on Jan. 1, 1976). Later, at the time when Ivasiuk was expelled from the conservatory, they accused him of taking part in this film.
Ivasiuk and Storozhenko are not with us, but Viktor’s wife Oksana cherishes the memory of their friendship. She says that Volodymyr would come to them whenever he visited Kyiv, alone or with Yurii Rybchynsky or Tetiana Zhukova. They would often stay long into the night. “He was romantic and clever and knew how to keep the conversation interesting. It was always interesting to be in company with him. He never drank vodka, just a little champagne. He signed for me a copy of his song Povir ocham (Trust Your Eyes) with Kudriavtsev’s lyrics.”
The Storozhenkos came to see Ivasiuk in Lviv, and there is a photo taken by Ivasiuk during one such visit. Volodymyr had a singular talent for sociability, so people were glad to open their hearts to him.
While in Kyiv, Ivasiuk was fond of visiting his friend and fellow countryman, movie actor Ivan Mykolaichuk who lived with his wife Marichka in Berezniaky, a residential district in the outskirts of the city. “Ivan loved to sing songs with me and Volodymyr enjoyed listening to us,” recalls Marichka, “but often he couldn’t help joining in. We mostly sang folk songs. On one such occasion Volodymyr asked me to sing a Bukovynian song. I did the wedding song Barvinkovy vin (Periwinkle Garland), it was Ivan’s favorite. After I finished singing Volodymyr said with tears welling up in his eyes, ‘Thank you. Here, take this. This is a whole bunch of folk songs I recorded. You have them till tomorrow. All you can copy is yours. You can and must sing our Bukovynian songs.” Ivan’s younger sister Ivanka and I spent the night copying the music and lyrics. Ivan Mykolaichuk dreamed of making a film based on Bukovynian tales and with Ivasiuk’s music score, but life decided differently.” Marichka later produced the albums “Proshchaius, anhele, z toboiu” (Good-bye, My Angel!) and Bukovyno, Bukovyno that consisted of the songs recorded by Ivasiuk.
Ivasiuk was always made welcome by friends who lived on Khreshchatyk, Pushkinska, Malyshko streets, at VDNH, as well as in the Rusanivka and Berezniaky districts. There was also Podil, where the poet Yurii Rybchynsky lived with his wife. Rybchynsky and Ivasiuk had a lot in common; they were fond of the same poets, singers, and composers. In an interview to The Day Rybchynsky told about his last meeting with Ivasiuk: “We were walking down Khreshchatyk, discussing our plans. Volodymyr was about to graduate from the conservatory and wanted to live and work in Kyiv. He admitted that he felt uncomfortable in Lviv and that here he would be able to write more, make more recordings, and communicate with friends. I had just written “Shliakh do Tarasa” (The Road to Taras), and Volodymyr said he would start composing music for my poem as soon as he was done with the exams, but…” Ivasiuk died several days later.
Ivasiuk and Rybchynsky produced three songs together: Klenovy vohon (Flaming Aspen), U doli svoia vesna (Fate Has Her Spring), and Mii Kyiv (My Kyiv). The latter, created in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany, was performed by Iosif Kobzon and was then released as a small flexible disk inserted in an issue of the all-Union journal Krugozor.
Ivasiuk came to Kyiv to attend the graduation performance of the actress Liudmyla Shkurkina, his first love. He took part in the plenary meetings of the Composers’ Union and meetings of creative youth. He loved Kyiv and dreamed of living and working in this city, so as to “take it prisoner” with his songs.
One day in April 1979, Ivasiuk left home and never returned. There are several theories explaining his death, ranging from homicide to suicide. The criminal case is in the Moscow archives and has been kept there as classified data for several decades. This year the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has re-opened the 30-year-old investigation into Ivasiuk’s death.
At the time Soviet authorities hid behind vague formulations like “death occurred in the Briukhovychi Forest under uncertain circumstances.” Ivasiuk’s relations, however, believe that he was murdered. It was hard to identify the composer’s body; the face was maimed, the fingers broken, bruises all over the body. All who knew Ivasiuk well refer to all suicidal allegations as a pack of lies. In those fatal days all music vanished from Ivasiuk’s portfolio (he was working on a composition for a brass quartet as his term paper).
A day prior to his disappearance, Ivasiuk was to return home from Khmelnytsky where he was a member of the jury at a republican variety music competition. Olha Rudkovska, deputy director of the House of Folk Music and Art in Kyiv, recalls that many people came to the railroad to see him off and were surprised to learn that, instead of train, he had decided on a car ride to Lviv, together with the former artistic director of the ensemble Arnika. Ivasiuk was noticeably nervous and seemed to be in a hurry. Later, trying to piece together the tragedy, his relatives and friends remembered that Ivasiuk had complained about several anonymous threats made over the telephone.
IVASIUK IS WITH US
There is the Ivasiuk Memorial Museum on Mayakovsky St. in Chernivtsi. The maestro is also remembered in Lviv. The Regional Council has proclaimed 2009 the Volodymyr Ivasiuk Remembrance Year and made plans for a number of events to best represent and popularize his multifaceted creative legacy. A music marathon has been launched at the Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet Theater of Lviv, starting with the music project “Our Ivasiuk” initiated by Taras Chubai, the leader of the group Plach Yeremii. Among those who took part in the concert were the vocal group Pikkardiiska tertsia, the groups Dyvni and Komu Vnyz, the string quartet of the chamber orchestra Virtuozy Lvova, and Viktor Morozov. On March 4, 2009, a civilian memorial ceremony took place by Ivasiuk’s grave at Lychakiv Cemetery. Mykola Lysenko Music Academy, where Ivasiuk once studied, and Lviv Philharmonic Society will join the remembrance project in early April. They will perform his chamber compositions. The gala concert “Ivasiuk Is With Us,” starring Pavlo Dvorsky, Pavlo Tabakov, Marian Shunevych, Pikkardiiska tertsia, and the group Class 19, is scheduled for mid-May. Other events of the Ivasiuk Remembrance Year include the re-printing of the composer’s recordings of songs kept in the archives and a song contest for young gifted composers.
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