Solo piano works of Myroslav Skoryk Lecture-concert by Dr. Viktor Markiw, pianist University of New Haven

November 1, 2008

Partita #5 (1975)
Three Extravagant Dances for Four Hands (1998)

by Lavrentia Turkewicz

New York. On Saturday, November 1, the Shevchenko Scientific Society hosted a lecture–concert presentation by Dr. Victor Markiw on the theme “Solo Piano Works of Myroslav Skoryk.” This lecture preceded a concert which took place later in the evening at the Ukrainian Institute of America as part of the MATI series, honoring the composer’s seventieth anniversary.

Dr. Victor Markiw, professor of Music at the University of New Haven, received his MFA in Piano Performance from New York University, where he studied with Volodymyr Vynnytsky, Vladimir Feltsman and Paul Ostrovsky. In 2007, he acquired his doctoral degree in Musical Arts from the University of Connecticut. His dissertation was entitled “Myroslav Skoryk: Life and Solo Piano Works” (167 pages).

Following a bilingual introduction by Vasyl Makhno, chairman of the Society’s Publications Committee, the program began with an exhilarating performance of Skoryk’s jazz-driven “Three Extravagant Dances for Four Hands.” (1998). Accompanying Dr. Markiw was his colleague from the University of New Haven, Professor Albert Celotto.

After the performance, Dr. Markiw proceeded with a reading of excerpts from his dissertation, beginning with a biographical sketch of the composer, which revealed that Myroslav Skoryk, born July 13, 1938, is the son of amateur musicians, his mother—a chemist who played the piano, and father—a historian-ethnographer who played the violin. During their exile in Western Siberia (1947-1955), Skoryk studied piano with a student of Rachmaninov (Valentyna Kantorova, LT). Upon their return to Lviv, he continued his musical education, eventually graduating from the Lviv Conservatory, where he studied with Stanyslav Liudkevych (1879-1979), Roman Simovych (1901-1984), and Adam Soltys (1890-1968). In 1960 he continued with postgraduate studies at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Dmitri Kabalevsky. After graduating in 1964, he returned to Lviv where he taught at the Conservatory for two years; thereafter he moved to the capital where, at the Kyiv Conservatory, he has been teaching composition and contemporary harmony techniques to this day. In recent years, Mr. Skoryk has been living in both cities where he currently holds the posts of Professor and Dean in the Department of History of Ukrainian Music; Chairman of the Ukrainian Center of Music at the P. I. Tchaikovsky National Academy of Ukraine in Kyiv; and Professor and Dean of Composition at the Mykola Lysenko Music Academy in Lviv.

Dr. Markiw continued with a discussion of the stylistic development of Skoryk’s music, saying that the tendency among composers in the second half of the twentieth century was to seek “their own style by experimenting with a variety of musical possibilities.” Consequently, Skoryk’s musical output since the early sixties included symphonic, chamber, vocal and piano music which was inspired not only by Ukrainian folk music but also jazz, a style from which the ban was lifted in the post-Stalin era.

As a student, Skoryk was taught in the traditions of such Ukrainian composers as Mykola Lysenko, Stanislav Liudkevych, Lev Revutsky and Boris Lyatoshynsky; on the other hand, his affinity for jazz leaned towards those elements as evident in the musical works of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Drawing a bridge between the two traditions, Dr. Markiw stated that Skoryk’s “rhythmic practice relies heavily on syncopation which is an inherent attribute of both jazz and Ukrainian Carpathian folk music.”

Viktor Markiw, Albert Celotto Viktor Markiw, Albert Celotto

In the mid-seventies, Skoryk began exploring a “new method” of composing not seen previously in his works, which he labeled “Stylistic Games.” In Dr. Markiw’s words, “Skoryk begins to step away from folk influences; however, this does not mean that he abandons folkloric writing altogether, but that these elements become more or less subsidiary.” As the first of such works, the Partita No. 5 (1975) is not only Skoryk’s longest composition for piano, but it also bears a different character from his earlier works.

Prior to performing the innovative composition, Dr. Markiw discussed its historical background, after which he provided an analysis of the piece.

Polystylism, as the new technique came to be officially known, appeared with the rise of postmodernism at the end of the twentieth century. According to Skoryk, the new movement was not only “very fashionable” but also, it “declared the possibilities of unification of the un-unified, a paradoxical cohabitation of musical styles contained in a work covering diverse extremes of musical material borrowed from different centuries and styles.”

A feature of music which has evolved is the concept of tonality. With regard to his own music, Skoryk claims that he is influenced by “a classic style which germinates from Prokofiev, Bartók, Szymanowski, and Shostakovich.” He also mentions Ravel, Debussy and Prokofiev as the major influences on his creativity, stating that “in the music of these composers, we see traditional ‘old tonal music’ with brilliant findings in modal structures and new harmonic revelations.”
In Skoryk’s view, “classical” refers not only to “the folkloric basis contained in many works of these composers,” but also to all the techniques which had existed concurrently during the twentieth century, such as the later neo-classical works of Stravinsky, or Alban Berg’s expressionistic mixture of tonal structure with dodecaphonic elements.

Viktor Markiw Viktor Markiw

Similarly, according to Dr. Markiw, Skoryk’s harmonic language can be summarized as the juxtaposition of tonal and atonal practice; furthermore, his style “is based on the foundation of tonal principles of the music of the past, however, not excluding occasional references to dodecaphonic and serial music, also with influences from electronic and minimalist music.”

In the Partita No. 5, the “Stylistic Games” technique is initially implicated in the work’s “In Modo Retro” heading and constitutes, in Dr. Markiw’s words, “a conglome
ration of various stylistic hints and genres of composers like Bach, Ravel, Chopin, and Strauss.” Thus, within the work are represented all styles of the past in juxtaposition with their twentieth-century counterparts, from the Baroque to the twentieth-century.

Quoting directly from other composers or evoking other styles, Skoryk uses contrasting elements within individual movements-such as tonality vs. dodecaphony; Ländler vs. Vienna waltz; Soviet anthem vs. Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture; banal romantic sentimentalism and parody; or creates, in Dr. Markiw’s words, “an eclectic fusion of neo-baroque and neo-romantic manners.”

Skoryk also uses cross-reference technique, borrowing stylistic elements from earlier movements, which, according to Dr. Markiw, “is in itself a form of quotation.” Then, he unifies the work in the finale by again repeating elements from former movements. As opposed to Schnittke who uses quotations as a means to create sharp contrast, Skoryk is able to integrate all parts stylistically in his own language.

One of the cross-referenced “classical” procedures which appear both in the neo-Baroque “Prelude” and the “Chorus” movements is what Dr. Markiw calls “the tritone substitution to the dominant.” This distinct trait of Skoryk’s compositional technique follows a tradition of the Ukrainian school which frequently uses the semitone interval. Here, the semitone emerges as the tritone which resolves to the dominant.

In his introduction, Dr. Markiw cited Joseph McLellan, the music critic from The Washington Post, who wrote that “He [Skoryk] should be better known in this country; he is an original, a composer with a distinct identity, a mastery of many idioms – jazzy, folk-style and moderately avant-garde – that he uses to shape works embodying piquant contrast, convincing climaxes and sometimes impish wit” (The Washington Post, (Washington), 26 February 2000, sec. C, p. 4).

As a pianist, Dr. Victor Markiw has performed on stage, radio and television. In the future, he plans to popularize the music of Myroslav Skoryk through lecture-concerts, articles, and his own CD recordings.