Mykola Leontovych

About Mykola Leontovych

Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovych was the leading Ukrainian composer of his time, a figure whose output is largely made up of folk-inspired works for unaccompanied chorus. Among his more popular and critically acclaimed compositions are the vastly popular Shchedryk (The Carol of the Bells) and Dudaryk (The Duda Player), works that can be described as miniatures within the choral realm. Leontovych not only used folk melodies but folk texts in his choral works, and over time he evolved a quite imaginative and original style. Still, there are influences discernible in it, most notably from Mykola Vitaliyovych Lysenko, regarded by many as the first important Ukrainian composer and the man to whom Leontovych is generally considered successor. Many of Leontovych's works are masterly creations, brimming with subtlety in their harmonic invention (often Impressionistic in nature) and deft use of imitative counterpoint. Yet his works are rarely performed outside of Ukraine and few recordings are devoted exclusively to them. If music in the unaccompanied choral genre moves into the spotlight, Leontovych will likely become a popular composer worldwide. Shchedryk has been his calling card with the general public (it must be counted among the half-dozen or so favorite Christmas pieces), but it has been arranged to death, and is thus often heard in versions -- both vocal and purely instrumental -- that efface the character of the piece.
Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovych was born in Selevynzi (now Monastïryok), Ukraine, on December 13, 1877. He entered the Russian Orthodox seminary in Kamianets-Podilskyi, from which he graduated in 1899. He was slow in developing as a composer in the years following, as he taught in schools in Kiev and Podillia and organized performances among amateur musicians.
Leontovych eventually had private studies in St. Petersburg and in Kiev, where Boleslav Yavorsky taught him periodically from 1909-1914. In 1916 Leontovych wrote his famous Shchedryk, and was soon the most popular composer in Ukraine. Leontovych accepted the appointment of music professor at Kiev University in 1918 and also began teaching at the Mykola Lysenko Institute (Kiev).
With his career going well, Leontovych started his most ambitious work, the opera On the Water Nymph's Easter. He would never finish it: Leontovych was shot dead in his parents' home in Markovka on January 25, 1921. The perpetrator was, depending on the version you believe, either a common burglar or an agent of the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police).