Ukrainian folk music: Wikis


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Ukrainian folk music includes a number of varieties of ethnic (traditional), folkloric, folk inspired popular and folk inspired classical traditions.

In the 20th century numerous ethnographic and folkloric ensembles were established in Ukraine and gained popularity.

During the Soviet era, music was tightly controlled commodity and was used as a tool for the ideological shaping of the population.

The repertoire of Ukrainian folk music performers and ensembles was tightly controlled and restricted.


Vocal music


Scholarship and Ukrainian Vocal folk music

Authentic folk singing

Ukrainians, particularly in the Eastern Ukraine have fostered a peculiar style of singing which they call "bilyj holos" (literally - "white voice"). This type of singing primarily exploits the chest register and is akin to controlled screaming. The vocal range is restrictive and in a lower tesetura. In recent times vocal courses have been established to study this particular form of singing. Among the most popular exponents of traditional Ukrainian folk singing in the modern era are Nina Matvienko and Raissa Kyrychenko.

Authentic folk singing ensembles

Ensemble singing in 3 and occasionally 4 part harmony was one of the features of traditional village music in Ukraine. The multipart singing used in Central Ukraine was thought to have been unique at the turn of the 19th century. Numerous folk choirs were established Okhmatinsky choir and studies published of the style of choral singing.

It was supported in the Soviet period in opposition to church music, as village song was viewed by the authorities as being more proletarian.

In recent times (post 1980s) there is a movement toward authentic ensemble singing particularly in eastern Ukraine with the etablishment of various ensembles and festivals there focusing on this style of music. Notable groups who perform in this tradition are Zoloti kliuchi, Drevo and Muravsky shliakh.

Folkloric ensembles

The first such ensemble in Ukraine was the Okhmatynsky village folk choir organized by Dr M. Demutsky in 1889. Ethnographic ensembles became popular in the 20th century. These were often choirs often with orchestral accompaniment and sometimes a group of dancers. They originally performed works based on the ethnic folk music of the area, however over the past 40 years have become more academic regarding their performance style and material.

The most prominent professional groups are:

  • State Academic Merited Ukrainian Folk Choir named after Hryhory Veriovka (established 1943)

Regional groups include:

  • Veselka - (now known as Poltava) (est. 1987, Poltava)
  • Donbas - merited miners ensemble of song and dance (est. 1937 Donetsk)
  • Podolianka - ensemble of song and dance (est. 1938 Khmelnytsk)
  • Bukovyna merited ensemble of song and dance (est. 1944, Chernivtsi)
  • Transcarpathian merited folk choir (est. 1945, (Uzhhorod)
  • Verkhovyna - merited Carpathian ensemble of song and dance (est. 1946, Drohobych)
  • Lionok - Polissia ensemble of song and dance (est. 1970, Zhytomyr)
  • Tavria - Women's vocal-choreographic ensemble (est 1971, Simferopol)
  • Slavutych - ensemble of song and dance (est. 1972, Dnipropetrovsk)
  • Volyn Folk Choir (est. 1978, Lutsk)
  • Zoria ensemble (est. 1987, Rivne)

Characteristics of these choirs was the use of chest register singing (particularly in Eastern Ukraine) and the use of Ukrainian folk instruments in the accompanying orchestras.

Art singing

In the 20th century, popular operatic singers like Modest Mencinsky and Solomea Krushelnycki included Ukrainian folk songs in their concert performances. Other prominent Ukrainian singers include Ivan Kozlovsky, Borys Hmyria, Anatoliy Solovianenko have also propagated the singing of Ukrainian folk songs and romances. In the United States Kvitka Cisyk also promoted art song.

Choral Art singing

Choral singing has a rich tradition in Ukraine. The conflict between the Orthodox Est and Catholic West had its front Ukraine. One way which the various arms of the Christain church competed was in music, with the Catholic West developing sophisticated vocal instrumental works. The Orthodox church however frowned on the use musical instruments in saqcred music and acappella choral music was the only genre that was actively supported. As a result Sacred Choral music flowered in Ukraine and it became a major provider of singers for the Russian courts and Russian orthodox cathedral choirs.

In the 20th century notable Ukrainian acappella choirs have included the Ukrainian National Choir choir, Dumka (choir), Kyiv frescoes and Boyan which is the touring choir of the L. Revutsky Capella of Ukraine.

Notable choral conductors include Olexander Koshetz, Wolodymyr Kolesnyk, Nestor Horodovenko, Dmytro Kotko.

Vocal Instrumental music

Accompanied singing

In Ukraine there existed a class of professional musician who sang to their own accompaniment. These professional musicians were often known as kobzari or lirnyky. This category also includes players of the torban and bandura. The repertoire of these itinerant musicians differed considerably from that sung by the folk including the performance of dumy.

In the 20th cnentury the vocal-instrumental tradition has grown into a movement where ensembles and whole choirs sing to their own accompaniment on these instruments. Notable examples include the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus and the Kyiv Bandurist Capella.

Traditional Instrumental Music


Ukrainians have a wealth of folk instruments and a well developed tradition of instrumental music. This is particularly due to the fact that the Soviet government strongly discouraged the population away for Religious music and encouraged "Proletarian" forms of musical performance.

The bulk of the ethnic Ukrainian population lived in village setting and did not share the urban culture of the city based elite that controlled the country. As a result traditional music village music encouraged and fostered.

Scholarship of Instrumental music

The first significant scholarship dealing with authentic Ukrainian folk instrumental music traditions is ascribed to the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko and his publications starting in 1874 dealing with the bandura and other Ukrainian folk instruments.

Further scholarship was undertaken in the early 20th century by enthnomusicologist Filaret Kolessa and Klyment Kvitka. Publications in the new science of organology were undertaken by Hnat Khotkevych with his monograph about Musical instruments of the Ukrainian people in 1930, which was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1934 because of it studied the phenomena of folk instruments from a national perspective.

After WWII scholarship was continued by Andriy Humeniuk who began the trend of mixing Soviet innovations in instrument construction and training with authentic instrumental music. This tendency was avoided by Sofia Hrytsa but became a feature of the publications of Victor Hutsal, Victor Mishalow and the bulk of Soviet and post Soviet scholarship.

In recent times this trend has taken an about-face with the publications by the ethomusicologist Mykhailo Khai of the early 21st century has clearly separated Ukrainian instrumental music into authentic and fakeloric instrumental music traditions.

Significant contributions to the study of Ukrainian organology and performance have been done by both Russian and Polish ethnomusicologists as Alexander Famintsyn and Stanislaw Mzrekowski.

Idiophones (Percussion)


  • Lytavry, Tulumbas - kettle drum
  • Baraban - side drum
  • Bubon - large tambourine
  • Buhay, Berbenytsia
  • Hrebinetz - comb
  • Ocheretianka

Chordophones (String instruments)

  • Bandura - a multi stringed zither played with the fingers.
  • Kobza - four-stringed lute with a round soundboard, plucked or strummed with or without a plectum.
  • Lira - a Ukrainian hurdy-gurdy with an oval or cello shaped body and an attached triangular pegbox.
  • Hudok - a three-stringed, pear-shaped Ukrainian bowed instrument which is usually held vertically, a relative of rebec.
  • Husli - one of the oldest known Ukrainian musical instruments, described by the Greeks as early as the 6th century CE. Many different versions of this plucked string instrument exist.
  • Torban - a relative of the theorbo with its own unique tuning.
  • Tsymbaly - a relative of the cymbalom with its own unique tuning.
  • Skrypka - a relative of the violin.
  • Basolia - a 3-string cello with its own unique tuning.
  • Tsytra - Ukrainian cittern.
  • Kozobas -.

Aerophones (Wind instruments)

Other recently introduced folk instruments

Instrumental music


Ritual music

Music inspired by Ukrainian traditional and folkloric music

Folk music of neighbouring countries

Ukrainian folk music has made a significant influence in the music of neighbouring peoples. Many Ukrainian melodies have become popular in Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Russia, Romania and Moldova. Through the interaction with the Eastern European Jewish community Ukrainian folk songs such as "Oi ne khody Hrytsiu" composed by songstress Marusia Churai have been introduced into North American culture as "Yes my darling daughter" (such by Dinah Shaw).

Classical music

The traditional music of the kobzari inspired the dumky composed by various slavic composers such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Dvořák.

The use of folk melodies is especially encouraged in ballet and opera. Among the Ukrainian composers who often included Ukrainian folk themes in their music were Mykola Lysenko, Lev Revutsky, Mykola Dremliuha, Yevhen Stankovych, Myroslav Skoryk.

Folk-rock and Folk-Pop music

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ukrainian folk songs and folk song elements began to be included in pop and rock music in the rock-oriented Kobza ensemble, Smerichka, Opryshky Medikus and many of the other ensembles. This was driven by the lack of Ukrainian pop songs of the time. In time the genre of folk inspired pop music became significant, particularly inspired by the popularity of the Byelarusian group known as Piesnari.

Of the Ukrainian groups the longest surviving and most significant was the group known as Kobza.

Western music inspired by Ukrainian folk song elements

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? is a folk song of the 1960s written by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson. Seeger found inspiration for the song while on his way to a concert. Leafing through his notebook he saw the passage, "Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they've all taken husbands. Where are the men, they're all in the army." These lines were from a Ukrainian and Cossack folk song referenced in a novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don. Seeger adapted it to a tune, a lumberjack version of "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill". With only three verses, he recorded it once in a medley on a Rainbow Quest album and forgot about it. Joe Hickerson later added verses four and five.

Carol of the Bells

See Carol of the Bells.


The song summertime by George Gershwin was inspired by the Ukrainian lullaby "Oi khodyt' son" which was included in the repertoire of the Koshetz choir in its North American tour.

See also


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