Six works that celebrate Ukraine's distinctive musical heritage

A continuing music tradition: Boys from the Ukrainian Cadets Corps play wind instruments during a memorial ceremony in Kyiv in 2014 to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Ukraine from Nazi occupation in World War II.Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

February 24, 2022

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included Modest Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kyiv from his Pictures at an Exhibition. While Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was well-intentioned in paying tribute to that culture and region, his music still reflected a ‘Russian’ perspective. Out of deference to Ukrainian views of his piece, we have replaced it with a different selection.

As Russia invades Ukraine, our hearts and minds are with the Ukrainian people and their rich national and cultural history. Here are six works to celebrate their musical heritage, providing comfort in these difficult times.


Maxim Berezovsky: Symphony in C

Maxim Berezovsky was born in Hlukhiv during the Russian Empire. Today, that city lies within the Ukrainian border. His compositions have been disputed by music scholars because both Russia and Ukraine lay claim to him. His Symphony in C, composed in 1772, is considered the first Russian and Ukrainian symphony.


Mykola Lysenko: Second Piano Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes (Dumka-shumka)

Composer Mykola Lysenko founded Ukraine’s national school of composers. He was one of the first musicologists to study music of his home country outside of the larger Russian musical sphere.


Reinhold Glière: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra

Reinhold Glière is probably the most well-known composer from Ukraine. Because of the long and complicated history of Ukraine’s association with Russia before the 1991 Ukrainian independence referendum, Glière is usually considered Russian. This highlights the interwoven cultural similarities between the two largest Slavic nations.


Stefania Turkewich: The Spider

Recognized as Ukraine’s first woman composer, Stefania Turkewich (1898-1977) composed many vocal works that highlight life in Ukraine. Her music was banned in Ukraine when it was under Soviet leadership. Since 1991, her works have begun to resurface.


Valentyn Silvestrov: The Messenger

Known for blending Ukrainian nationalism with post-modern and neoclassical style, Valentyn Silvestrov, born in 1937, has a large presence in Ukraine and should be celebrated as a current leading composer.


Dmitry Bortniansky: La Fête du seigneur - Sinfonia Allegro spiritoso (excerpt)

As one of the most important liturgical composers of Ukraine, Dmitry Bortniansky composed scared concertos, cantatas and hymns. His work and dedication to music education inspired the generations of musicians after him to include many Ukrainian and Russian composers.

Digital producer Jeffrey Yelverton is a musicologist who specializes in classical music from Russian, Ukrainian and other Slavic traditions.