Swinging Lviv

20.02.2012 | By Yevhen Vasylkiv

How modern music helped define urban Ukraine

In 20s and 30s Ukraine was torn between two worlds in the east Soviet, in the west Polish. However, Ukrainian activists in both worlds made a concerted effort to modernize native culture. In the eastern part, Mykola Zerov created world-class Neoclassic poetry, Valerian Pidmohylniy published short stories and the novel The City, full of Freudian and existentialist motives, and translated Oscar Wilde and Anatol France, Mykola Kulish wrote brilliant plays, and Les Kurbas created the avant-garde theatre Different, they were all united by the desire to lead Ukrainian culture out of folklorism and the inherent martyr complex into the modern urban cultural context. In the western part, Ukrainian popular music was one such vehicle for modernism that has been almost forgotten.

Young Ukrainians wanted to be cool
and urban without being Polonized PH:

Ukrainians for centuries have been an overwhelmingly agrarian people, but the urbanization of the 20th century drew its fair share of Ukrainians, many of whom not only retained their ethnicity, but adapted it to the new environment creating own culture own culture and entertainment. Interwar Polish-ruled Lviv-Lwow was one of those cities. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire split up, the nations that once comprised it won independence. Just as Poles wanted to redefine themselves as a sovereign nation, so did Ukrainians. The Polish governments harsh policies led to political and cultural resistance. Ukrainians were a minority inside the Lviv urban society, so until the end of the 1920s the citys entertainment scene was mostly Polish. But as cohorts of young Ukrainians flock into the cities, got educations and professions, they affirmed their right to be cool and urban without being Polonized.

In mid-30s there was a popular quartet named Lvivski Revelersy and directed by Yevhen Kozak. The future head of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Roman Shukhevych, who earned a degree in music in the city, played, and one of the singers was his brother Yuriy. They played foxtrots and tangos. The new-fangled musical styles took a pronounced Ukrainian touch. The dramatic motives, which had been inherent in tango music, for example, interweaved with the performers and the listeners personal stories.

Yabtsyo aka apple

Several Lviv students started developing a new Ukrainian sound as they played jazz and popular dance tunes in the citys cafes and dance halls. Songs sung in the local Ukrainian dialect had a special appeal for the audience and gave them a feeling of unity. The two most remarkable pathfinders on the Lviv scene in the early 1930s were Anatoliy Kos-Anatolskiy and Leonid Yabtsyo Yablonskiy. Kos-Anatolskiy was born in Kolomiya and moved to Lviv to study law. After graduating, he entered the conservatory, as music was his main passion. Yablonskiy was born in Kyiv to the family of a National Ukrainian Republican Army colonel, which was disbanded in 1920 after three years of fighting the Red Army, White Army and Polish Army. His family fled Soviet occupation and moved to Poland.

In the late 1920s the friends founded a jazz band, and called themselves Yablonskiys Capella, or simply the Yabtsyo Band. Anatoliy played the piano and accordion and Leonid was the bands violinist and generated ideas. Though these two enthusiasts were the bands core, its composition varied depending on their repertoire or the gig. The third musketeers name was Bohdan Vesolovskiy. He was born in Vienna but grew up in a small county center Stryi, where his family moved to soon after his birth. His mother was active in the womens rights movement. In 1933 Vesolovskiy came to Lviv, just as Kos-Anatolskiy did before him, to study law and music. He was known as Bondy, a young and promising musician, the publics favorite. In 1937-38 the band was joined by the talented teenage singer Irena Yarosevych, whose fame reached far beyond her collaboration with Yabtsyo, becoming one of the most important figures in Polands cultural and even political life.

Anatoliy and Leonid made up the bands core. The rest of the linep varied from gig to gig PH:

During the mid- and late 1930s, the Yabtsyo Band produced a number of songs that became big hits. Though they didnt have the possibility to make a record for financial and political reasons, their songs were known and sung all over Western Ukraine. Some of the songs lyrics and scores were printed and distributed in local book shops, for example Pryide Shche Chas (The Time Yet To Come) by Bohdan Vesolovskiy. This tango piece was sung in the Soviet Union decades later in the 1950s and 60s, alas the author being unknown. It surfaced again in the late 1980s, when the Lviv Retro project remade several of his greatest hits. An echo of that explosion of creativity of the 1930s is still can be heard, as Oleh Skrypka, one of contemporary Ukraines most prominent recording artists, recently covered two of his songs.

Grand finale

At the end of 1938 Vesolovskiy left Lviv to fight for the Ukrainian cause in Czechoslovakia after the Munich Pact destroyed the country. The band finally broke up after the liberating Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939, although Kos-Anatolskiy survived and prospered in Soviet Ukraine, abandoned jazz, and died as acclaimed composer and music professor. Yablonskiy moved to Czechoslovakia, and then to Buenos Aires, the home of his beloved tango. Vesolovskiy continued his studies in Vienna for a while, but eventually moved to Canada to take active part in the Ukrainian diasporas life.


Fact file

Irena-Renata Yarosevych-Bogdanska-Anders

After the Soviet invasion in After the Soviet invasion in September 1939, Irena sang in the renowned band of Henryk Wars, under the stage name Renata Bohdanska. Musicians supported the Polish army in the West during the war, followed them through campaigns in Italy, where the Poles won several victories, notably at the tough Battle of Monte Cassino. It was then that Irene met General Anders and married him in 1948. The hero general and his wife were not allowed to return to Poland, which by then had fallen under Soviet influence, and had to settle down in England along with the Polish government in exile. In Poland, Anders and Renata were a legend. In the 1960s Irena recorded several of Vesolovskiy´s songs in Ukrainian and some songs about Lviv the town she missed for most of her life. She died in 2010 in London.

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