Lviv Organ Art: History, churches, music, and personalities

May 31, 2020

Olena Matselyukh is an organ performer for the Lviv Organ and Chamber Music Hall, as well as a soloist of the Lviv and Rivne Philharmonic orchestras. She has concertized throughout Ukraine, as well as continental Europe. In 2017 Olena Matselyukh opened the Bach Festival in Brno, Czech Republic, and Wrocław, Poland. In Poland, she has performed at several other festivals, including “Music in Old Kraków.” Matseliukh has recorded CDs—Benedictus and Amazing Grace—as well as recordings of the works of composer Bohdan Kotyuk—Reflections and Mood and Spirits—and the compact disc Syrinx with Ihor Matselyukh on the pan flute.

Matselyukh is trained as a musician and a scientist, and her research in the domain of the organ is regularly published in Ukrainian and foreign journals. As a doctoral student of the oldest university in the Czech Republic, Moravian Palacký University in Olomouc, she has researched her doctoral dissertation on “The Sacred and profane in the organ creativity of the composers of Ukraine and the Czech Republic.”

Olena Matselyukh was artistic director of the VI. and VII. International Festivals of Organ Music “Diapazon,” which took place in the Lviv Organ and Chamber Music Hall in October 2016 and July 2017. For the Lviv Philharmonic, she is the founder and director of the international summer festival “Pizzicato e cantabile” and the international festival “Music in Old Lviv.” She is the producer and co-organizer of the international festivals of organ music in Rivne and Chernivtsi—“Musica viva Organum 2018.”

The origin of the organ and organbuilding in Lviv, Ukraine

Christianity played a fundamental role in the formation and development of Ukrainian society. The existence of an organ in Ukraine is noted on a fresco in Saint Sophia’s Church, founded in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise.1 In western Ukraine, the organ and instrumental music played a major role in the church.

In 1240, Kyiv was destroyed during the Tatar-Mongol invasion, and the grandson of Yaroslav the Wise, Prince Roman, united the Halychyna and Volyn principalities into a new unified state, which became Kyivan Rus. Thus, western Ukraine became a center of the cultivation of Christian artistic and musical traditions. The son of Roman, Danylo Halytskyi, founded the city of Lviv, which he named after his son Lev. In Dorogychin (Polissya Volyn), Prince Danylo received the royal crown, which was subsequently inherited by Leo.

Historians associate the introduction of the organ to Lviv with the reign of King Lev and his wife, Hungarian Princess Constance. Queen Constance invited monks of the Dominican order to Lviv, and the Dominicans brought an organ to the city.

The first mention of Lviv organist Peter Engelbrecht is found in the archives of the Latin Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1405. The organ tablature of Lviv musician Luke (d. 1532), dated 1530, is the oldest example of organ music notation in Eastern Europe. The tablature is now kept in an archive in Warsaw, Poland. Leszek Mazepa, a researcher of Lviv music history, lists the names of twenty-two musicians from the fifteenth to the first half of the sixteenth centuries, pointing out that in Lviv at that time organists were also virginalists, harpsichordists, and musicians playing all manner of keyboard instruments, including the regal and positive organs.2

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, court organists Bartholomew Cavinsky, Jakob Leydens, and the brothers Stanislav and Jan Kindlarsky were also organbuilders. They created instruments not only for Lviv and the Lviv Kingdom, but also exported them abroad.

According to researcher Jerzy Golos, Mykhailo Sadkovskyi built a new organ for the Dominican Church of Corpus Christi in Lviv between 1765 and 1766. This is one of the most prominent names in Lviv organbuilding of the eighteenth century.3

Lviv organ builders of the nineteenth century

The leading Lviv organbuilder of the nineteenth century was Jakub Kramkovsky (18th century–ca. 1840). He built the three most prominent organs of the era for Lviv, found in the Franciscan Church (25 stops, 1806), the Dominican Church (26 stops, 1808), and the Bernardine Church (33 stops, 1812).

Roman Dukhenskyi (ca. 1800–ca. 1870) started a career as an organbuilder in Warsaw and Krakow, and by the 1830s he had already built organs for the Jesuit monks in Stanislav and Lviv. Among the most interesting instruments he built was a two-manual organ for the Carmelite Church.

The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene was founded in Lviv in 1615. It was built on Holy George Mountain outside Renaissance Lviv and was regularly strengthened, rebuilt, and expanded as a defensive stronghold. While it is known that the church housed organs, no information about the first organs has survived.

Today this Baroque edifice functions in a twofold manner: as a Catholic church and as an organ hall. Lviv organist Antony Clement (ca. 1837–ca. 1897) built an organ in 1863 in the old village of Vovkiv (14 miles from Lviv), which was moved to St. Mary Magdalene Church in 1930. Subsequently, this organ was moved to the Catholic church of the town of Bohorodchany. In its place in 1936, the firm Rieger Kloss installed its Opus 3375, which remains the largest in Ukraine.

Among the Lviv organbuilders who worked at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were Romuald Bochensky, Jan Grocholsky, Tomasz Fall, and Bartholomew Zemiansky. All of them were professionally trained in either Leipzig, Vienna, or Kraków.

There is also a close connection between Lviv and Czech organbuilders, as evidenced not only by the organ of Saint Mary Magdalene Cathedral, built in the Moravian Krsno, but also by the presence of students of the most prominent Lviv organbuilder, Jan Sliwinsky—in particular, Rudolf Haase and Franciszek Gajda, who came from the Czech Republic.

Among the Lviv organbuilders is the family of Zebrovsky,4 with the last generation represented by the brothers Aleksandr and Kazymyr. Notable instruments include the organ of the Bernardine Church (33 stops, 1898), which was destroyed in the 1960s by Communists, though the façade still serves as a decoration of the church interior.

Among Kazymyr’s notable work is the organ of the Armenian Catholic Church, as well as an instrument in the Dominican church. With the advent of the Communist regime after the Second World War, this organ was destroyed. The pipes and the façade were saved thanks to the efforts of young enthusiasts. Now they decorate the concert hall of Stanislav Liudkevych, home to the Lviv Philharmonic.

Jan Sliwinsky (1844–1903) and his organ factory in Lviv

Little reliable information about Jan Sliwinsky’s early years has survived.5 He was born in the town of Pistyn in Pokuttia and at the age of nineteen went to Warsaw and participated in the January uprising of 1863. It is likely that the repercussions that befell the perpetrators of the anti-Russian uprising forced the young man to flee Warsaw. At first Sliwinsky headed to Vienna and then moved to France, returning to his homeland thirteen years later. From advertisements that he later published for the sale of organs, one can make a fairly integral picture of the life of the most prominent Lviv organbuilder.

From his earliest years as a child, his sphere of interests included organ construction. In his printed catalog, he wrote, “My love and enthusiasm for the organ arose at a very early age. From my youth I tried to learn as much as possible about the structure and function of the organ. I constantly felt the need to acquire knowledge in this profession.” Elsewhere in the same catalog, the master recalled his woodworking and joinery training.

Such a way to approach building organs was quite natural for a beginner. Woodworkers and joiners have long been highly valued for their skills in construction of musical instruments. After finishing an elementary education in his homeland (most likely in Lviv), young Sliwinsky went abroad, which meant leaving Halychyna. From documents describing the participants of regional organ exhibitions, one can infer that natives from Halychyna who worked outside their homeland participated in the exhibition process on an equal footing with the local masters of organbuilding. Most often, these were Halychyna natives who worked in France or in Vienna.

There is no information as to where Jan Sliwinsky continued his studies, but there is evidence that he worked for Aristide Cavaillé-Coll for several years. Between 1872 and 1876, Sliwinsky worked at Le Vigan (in the department Gard), where he independently built a twelve-stop organ for the Church of Saint Pierre.

The acquired experience allowed him to become a manager of one of the offices of the Cavaillé-Coll firm outside Paris for a few years. After his marriage, Vincent Cavaillé-Coll, Aristide’s brother, left the leadership of the office of the company in the city of Nîmes in the south of France, and Jan Sliwinsky was subsequently appointed manager.

Most likely, Jan Sliwinsky’s business in France was not successful, because in a year and a half, his branch sold only two organs. Jan Sliwinsky thus returned to Halychyna and started his own business in Lviv.

From its inception, Jan Sliwinsky’s firm was popular both in Lviv and throughout Halychyna. Some of the first organs he built for Lviv were located at Saint Mary Snizhna and Saint Kasimir Under the High Castle. Another important work for the firm was the radical restructuring of the organ in the Garrison Church of Saints Peter and Paul in the center of Lviv, which was under the leadership of Jesuit priests. In his price lists, Sliwinsky identified the following: four-stop organs were sold at 650 zloty, and large ones—up to thirty stops and three-manuals—for 12,000 zloty. Each instrument was custom designed and built. The acoustics of the church in which it was to be installed were studied as well.

Organ factories were highly successful around this time. Whether Roman Duchensky’s firm was still functioning is unknown, but the firms of Romuald Bohensky and Antony Clement, which worked simultaneously with the factory of Jan Sliwinsky, never achieved any such scope nor such publicity in their activities.

Around 1888, Jan Sliwinsky bought a house at Copernicus St., 16 to serve his growing business. It was rebuilt for the new owner by one of the most famous Ukrainian architects of Lviv, Ivan Levinskyi (1851–1919).

Organs built by Sliwinsky were installed relatively far afield: from Leipzig to Tbilisi, from Chisineu to Vilnius. But, of course, the vast majority of orders came from regional Halychyna parishes. In 1900, for the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk), a two-manual and pedal, twenty-four-register instrument was installed.

Among Jan Sliwinsky’s seventy-four organs built for installation in Eastern Halychyna, only two instruments function today: one is in the Latin Roman Catholic cathedral in Lviv, and the other is in the city parish church in Sambir. Together with the ones in Western Halychyna, where the instruments were much better preserved (particularly in Krakow, Tarnow, Rzeszów, and Zamość), Jan Sliwinsky built more than 110 organs.

In the 1890s, this organbuilder also started selling pianos, with plans to eventually manufacture his own. The realization of this plan was thwarted by an accident he suffered in 1903. While tuning an organ he fell from the scaffolding and never recovered. He died in pain and was buried in the Lychakiv cemetery (field 51) in Lviv.

Jan Sliwinsky’s organs were notable for their quality construction. Selected varieties of wood were chosen that naturally dried well. The winding mechanism of the instruments was simple and reliable, and each register received copious air. For his large organs, the master used pneumatic machines similar to the Barker system, which allowed the easy coupling of manuals and registers with each other.

In his catalog, Jan Sliwinsky wrote: “The mathematical dimension of each pipe (the organ labial tube) has been brought to such perfection that it is possible to get the desired tone at once. This is my secret, which I learned during years of long studies.”

Music education in Lviv

With the arrival of the first organs in Lviv came the issue of how to train organists to play them. Again the initiative to teach organ performance was undertaken by the Dominican Fathers. In 1495, in the town of Belz, 62 miles north of Lviv, was founded a school for organists. As early as the beginning of the sixteenth century, the students of this school worked as organists in Lviv churches.6 Leszek Mazepa, who has carefully studied the documents of available archival collections, states: “At the end of the sixteenth century, the best music program was found at the chapel of the Dominican Church, where in the years 1587–1595 several organists and several trumpeters worked simultaneously, and from 1623 there was also a church choir.”7 A new Lviv school for organists was founded in 1841 by Franciszek Bemm. The instruction was expected to last two years, and the school was designed to house fifteen to twenty students.

The Halychyna Society of Saint Cecilia, founded by Franz Xavier Mozart, brought about a change in the music school system in Lviv. The youngest of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sons, he dedicated twenty-eight years of his life to the musical culture of Lviv. The Society of Saint Cecilia supported professional activities of Lviv musicians and created an organization of mutual aid for organists,8 initially led by Father Leonard Soletsky. These two societies became the initiators of the founding of the Halychyna Conservatory.

The Golden Age of organ art in Lviv

Lviv was the only Ukranian city that could boast of organ art and organbuilding at a rather high level in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fifty different organs sounded daily in Lviv churches. Lviv factories and individual workshops were busy building organs not only for Halychyna, but also for sacred edifices in various European cities. Along with the daily use of organs at Mass in Lviv churches, organ concerts were frequently presented. There were concerts by international artists in the Catholic churches of Saint Elizabeth and Saint Mary Magdalene. Saint Elizabeth’s organ was larger, though Saint Mary Magdalene had excellent acoustics and housed a more technically advanced instrument.

Organ music in Lviv is inseparable from the Catholic liturgy. At the end of the eighteenth century Lviv’s Protestants began to encourage use of the organ, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Evangelical church, located at the beginning of Zelena Street, began to host organ recitals. At the same time, Lviv composers who created music for the organ began to skillfully combine deep spirituality with secular elements in their compositions.

Formation of the Lviv Organ School

As organbuilding in Lviv began to flourish in the middle of the eighteenth century, Lviv organs were sufficiently sophisticated to satisfy the performing needs of organ literature as well as improvisation. The best-known composers of the Lviv Organ School were educated in European capitals, primarily in Vienna, Prague, and Paris. The influence of French composition is particularly noticeable in the creative work of Mieczysław Sołtys and Tadeusz Mahl. One can also note the influences of post-classical Viennese masters and the German Leipzig school. In addition, there are influences from Warsaw and Kraków.

Piano technique of the nineteenth century provided a significant foundation for the curriculum of the modern Lviv Organ School and its representatives in particular. Notable is the role of piano virtuoso Karol Mikula, and later, composer, pianist, and teacher Tadeusz Majerski. Lviv organist and composer Andriy Nikodemovych as well as pianist and organist Samuel Daych started their performance careers as pianists.

The creativity of Lviv composers who wrote music for the organ during the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries is less known to the general public. Unfortunately, it is still weakly promoted in Ukraine, and this problem still continues for modern Ukrainian organ composers.

Mieczysław Sołtys (1863–1929)

Mieczysław Sołtys played a special role in Lviv’s music milieu. He was born and died in Lviv, although his years as a mature professional musician and composer were connected with Vienna and Paris.4, 9 Sołtys was a composer, conductor, pianist, organist, teacher, and publicist. He began his music career at the Conservatory of the Halychyna Music Society, where his mentor was the founder and director of the Society and the Conservatory, virtuoso pianist, composer, conductor Karol Mikuli (1819–1897).

According to Halychyna tradition, Sołtys simultaneously received another education, studying at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Jan Kazimierz Lviv University. Beginning in 1887, he studied music composition at Vienna Conservatory (Das Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien) and later at the Paris Conservatory, where he mastered organ and counterpoint with Eugène Gigout and composition with Camille Saint-Saëns.

After his completion of studies, Sołtys returned to Lviv in 1891 and became professor at the Conservatory of the Halychyna Music Society. He taught musical forms and conducting, as well as piano and organ. At the same time, his reputation as a music critic and publicist grew. Sołtys became the editor of several Lviv periodicals, such as Artistic News, Our Art, People’s Diary, and Lviv Courier.10

The formation of public opinion in the musical sphere of Lviv in the early twentieth century was based on the unsurpassed authority of Professor Sołtys. He was not only a notable composer and organist, but also a researcher of organ art. One of his most famous essays was the article, “The New Organ in the Bernardine Church.”

Tadeusz Majerski (1888–1963)

Another teacher, composer, and pianist who associated with Lviv was Tadeusz Majerski. A Lviv native, he studied philosophy at the university, and at the Lviv conservatory (1905–1911) studied piano and composition under Ludomir Różycki (1883–1953). In 1920 at the Conservatory of the Halychyna Music Society, Tadeusz Majerski was named a professor of piano. In 1927 he founded the Lviv Trio, with which he toured Europe, and he acted as a critic and publicist in the Lviv press. In the 1930s, Majerski was one of the first avant-garde composers to use dodecaphonic technique.

In 1931 Majerski founded a society of music and opera admirers in Lviv, and in 1939, with the arrival of the Soviets, he became one of the first professors of the Lviv State Conservatory. Majerski is referred to by Andriy Nikodemovych, who recalls: “When I was studying composition, I was assigned to the piano class of Professor Tadeusz Majerski. Getting to know this great personality and musician was a turning point for me. Piano classes with him helped me cure my injured arm, and I started playing again. A few years later, I finished my piano course and, thanks to my professor, started to perform as a pianist.”11

Majerski did not betray Lviv even in the Soviet era when communist ideologists accused him of formalism, for which he was persecuted and subjected to political repression.12 Majerski concentrated his compositions on purely instrumental, non-programmatic music. Along with avant-garde features in some of these works, folkloric inspirations are also found. Among Majerski’s compositions are Four Works for Organ, recorded on compact disc by Valery Korostelyov of Lviv in 2007.

Tadeusz Mahl (1922, Lviv–2003, Kraków)

Organist and composer Tadeusz Mahl combined the sacred and profane in a flexible and convincing way. Mahl lived in Lviv from birth until 1946, but he never stopped loving the city of his youth throughout his life. Here his aesthetic views and his maturity as a composer were formed. In Lviv, he wrote his first works, among which the oratorio Stabat Mater (1945) stands out. His love for Lviv was evident throughout his life, so much so that he dedicated his symphonic poem My City (1991) to Lviv, and his Sixth Symphony (1997) was in a sense inspired by Lviv. Evaluating the role and significance of Tadeusz Mahl’s creativity, Polish scholars refer to him as a representative of the group of Lviv-Kraków composers.13

Mahl’s works for organ solo and ensemble with organ occupy the most prominent place in his compositional output. Undoubtedly, the impetus of the formation of Mahl as an organist and composer was studying at the Lviv Music School (in particular under Adam Sołtys), as well as his time as organist at Saint Elizabeth’s Church in Lviv.

At the end of the Second World War, Mahl moved first to Szczecin and then to Kraków. French musical culture exerted a decisive influence on Mahl’s compositional style. At the end of the 1950s, as a scholarship grantee, he left for Paris. But he faced a choice: either follow the fashion of the avant-garde (which then prevailed in Poland) or seek his own way.14 Mahl’s choice did not fall on the rejection of traditions through a radical renewal of musical language, but on a renewed comprehension of post-Romanticism in organ sound. In his Parisian studies he focused on César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns, Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, Gabriel Fauré, and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Among the creative corpus of Mahl’s works are six symphonies, four symphonic poems, and nine concertos for various instruments with orchestra. This includes Concerto No. 6 for organ and two orchestras—a big band and a string orchestra. Nevertheless, his seven organ concertos, twenty-two works for organ solo, and a Requiem for mezzo-soprano, baritone, mixed choir, and organ (1981) stand out among Mahl’s output.15

The creative life of Tadeusz Mahl can be divided into three periods:

1. The neoclassical period (1940s–1950s), including his first Concerto for Organ and Symphony Orchestra (1950). This work, according to Bronisław Rutkowski, is a vivid example of how difficult it is to combine a multi-timbral organ palette with orchestral sound. Only in tutti sections are these self-sufficient antipodes found in a common language. Therefore, the critic even suggests titling this work Sinfonia Concertante;15

2. The sonoristic period (1960s–1970s), in which Mahl refers to various musical instruments in the genre of concert, but again the organ holds a central place. Among his works of this period is a triple concerto for two pianos and organ (1971);

3. The postmodernist period (after 1975), in which Mahl gives preference to religious motives or to the elements of Podhale folklore. During most of this period, he composed for organ alone. In these works, one can detect a maneuvering between profane essence and sacred spirituality.

According to researchers, Mahl’s creativity in organ composition takes its roots in improvisation.13 “His concertos are marked by an unconstrained narrative, contrasts between quick passages and meno mosso, which are most often associated with ritardandi and accelerandi, the contrast of sequences of toccata-like or fast sequences, recitative ad libitum, and cadenza constructions”—a professional characteristic of the formal and structural layout of this composer’s language given by the researcher of organ music R. Koval.15

The creativity of Mahl occupies a very special place in contemporary music and is important not only for Ukrainian and Polish cultures. Critical notes of Tadeusz Mahl, as well as his publications on the development of organ art, have been published in Lviv and Kraków. This is mentioned in the publication Society of supporters of Lviv and the south-eastern lands. The latest information on this subject was published in Kraków in 1995.16

Andriy Nikodemowych (January 2, 1925, Lviv–January 28, 2017, Lublin, Poland)

Ukrainian-Polish composer, teacher, pianist, and organist Andriy Nikodemovych was a leading creator of religious music among Eastern European contemporary composers.17, 18 He was born in Lviv, where he lived, worked, and composed until 1980. His compositional output includes choral, orchestral, and chamber music, as well as works for organ and various ensembles. He composed nearly forty spiritual cantatas.

Andriy Nikodemovych spent half of his creative life in a country that led a ruthless and irreconcilable struggle against religion. He counted Lviv architect and professor of the Polytechnic Institute Marian Nikodemovych (1890–1952) as a relative. Prior to the Second World War, Nikodemovych studied piano and organ and was organist at the Carmelite sisters’ chapel from 1939 to 1940. From 1943 to 1947 he simultaneously studied chemistry at Lviv University and music subjects under the guidance of leading Lviv musicians—composition with Adam Sołtys and piano with Tadeusz Majerski. From 1947 to 1950, Nikodemovich was organist at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, and from 1951 to 1973 he taught composition, music theory, and piano at the Lviv Conservatory.

The first recognition of his compositional talent came in 1961, when he was awarded the third prize at the All-Union Composers’ Competition in Moscow. In the 1970s Nikodemovych was noted as one the most prominent composers according to UNESCO. However, having refused to renounce his religious beliefs, he was dismissed from his work at the conservatory in 1973 by Communist authorities and deprived of any livelihood, and the composer’s entire output was banned.

During the next seven years he earned his living giving private lessons. He moved to Lublin, Poland,16 and taught at University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska and at Lublin Catholic University (KUL). His creative achievements were acknowledged by the Award of Saint Brother Albert (1981), President of the City of Lublin (1999), the Polish Composers’ Union, and the Minister of Culture and National Heritage (both in 2000). In 2008, Andrzej Nikodemowicz [Polish spelling] became an honorary citizen of Lublin.

Eventually, the independent Ukrainian State fully rehabilitated the name and work of this Lviv citizen. In 2003, the Lviv Music Academy gave Nikodemovych the title Professor honoris causa. His works are once more heard in the concert halls of Lviv and other cities of Ukraine. He returned to Lviv several times to participate in concerts. In April 2016, the fourth festival of classical music “Andrzej Nikodemowicz – czas i dźwięk” (“Andriy Nikodemovych – Time and Sound”) was held in Lublin.18 His religious works were performed for five evenings. The festival opened with his cantata for alto solo and small orchestra Słysz, Boże, wołanie moje (Hear, my God, my appeal). Sacred music remained an integral feature of his creativity until the end of his life.

Organ music by Bohdan Kotyuk

Bohdan Kotyuk (b. 1951) is a versatile and creative sacred music composer.19, 20 Kotyuk started writing music as a schoolboy, and his first mentor was a friend of his parents, Andriy Nikodemovych. At the Lviv Conservatory, he studied with Stanislav Lyudkevych (form, analysis, and folk art), Roman Simovich (instrumental study and instrumentation), Anatoly Kos-Anatolsky (polyphony and dramatic opera), Stephania Pavlyshyn (music history and musical-theoretical systems), and Desideriy Zador (composition).

For Kotyuk, spiritual music and sacred themes occupy a significant and prominent place, conditioned by family traditions and family members. Among the influential people in his life are Archbishop Samuel Cyryl Stefanowicz (1755–1858); doctor of philosophy, historian, ethnographer, and one of the founders of the Prosvita Society in Lviv, Julian Tselevych (1843–1892); Father Ivan Huhlevych; religious scholar, historian, doctor of philosophy, professor Hryhoriy Yarema; and the grandmother and teacher of Kotyuk, opera singer Olha Huhlevychivna-Yarema.

From Kotyuk’s first attempts at composing, spirituality and religious rites formed an inseparable integrity. He has written a variety of vocal and instrumental compositions, among which is the church cantata Chiesa, as well as spiritual songs and psalm settings. In the last decade he has turned to organ compositions for use in the church.

However, his spiritual works are not interpreted by the composer in a ritual-religious sense, but rather as a musical embodiment of the ideology of a biblical text. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has noted, “Spiritual music of Ukrainian composer Bohdan Kotyuk is a new word in the contemporary interpretation of the role of music in the church.”20

In many cases, Kotyuk supplies brief essays to explain his concepts to his audience. This approach is followed in his collection of music pieces for wind and string instruments, Aulos and Kithara, as well as in his concert pieces, Monaco, Drive, Pit-Stop, and DJ. The composer has added his comments to his symphonic poems for organ, Sanctus, Bethlehem (with narrator or children’s choir), and Lauda nostra, as well as to organ works, Benedictus, Jericho – Fanfare, Adagietto “Tet-a-Tet,” Alleluia Prayers, and the epitaph, Way to Heaven.

The organ works by Bohdan Kotyuk can be divided into five groups:

1. The first group consists of purely sacred music, corresponding to the requirements of religious rituals. These works, though performed in concert, can be quite legitimately incorporated into liturgy. These include Sanctus, Benedictus, Alleluia (or “Praise to the Lord”), Laudatis (or “You are Lord of Honor”), and Ave Maria for pan flute and organ;

2. The second group is programmatic religious music: Jericho – Fanfare and the symphonic poem for solo organ Bethlehem; as well as works for soloists and ensemble accompanied by organ, Queen of the Angels, Christmas Carols for Joseph, Rejoice, Jordan, and Behold the Heart. To the same group can also be conditionally attributed the work for pan flute and organ, Mysteries of Dionysus;

3. The third group consists of works that, though deprived of a specific program, call forth certain associative allusions. First of all there is a collection for organ pedals Step by Step, which consists of four pieces: “The Step of the Faraoh,” “Canzona di Venezia,” “Sema –
The Dance of the Sufi-Dervish,” and “The Slalom – Zugspitze.” To this third group might also belong Adagietto “Tet-a-tet” for organ and celesta (ad libitum), as well as the trio for the pan flute, harp, and organ, Eolian Harp;

4. His concerto for organ Dona nobis pacem is in a classification of its own. The work is in three parts, which is rooted in the composer’s thoughts and feelings on the aggression and war in the East of Ukraine. These are contemporary philosophical reflections about the eternal theme of war and peace;

5. His transcriptions for organ include fragments from Richard Wagner’s operas published as a separate collection; W. A. Mozart’s operatic arias for soprano and organ; and Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns for organ solo.

Kotyuk’s traditional Missa solemnis consists of six parts. Mentioned above, Sanctus and Benedictus, respectively, constitute the fourth and fifth parts of the Mass. Kotyuk interprets these texts as an impulse to the formation of independent organ compositions. Therefore, in concert performance Sanctus and Benedictus are stand-alone compositions.

Benedictus is lyric and at the same time an elevation of the “Song of Gratitude” the Prophet Zechariah sang at the birth of his son, Saint John the Baptist. Kotyuk’s Benedictus is a psalm of gratitude composed for the organ.

Bohdan Kotyuk’s Sanctus for organ is not just the words taken from Isaiah 6:3: “Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, the whole earth is full of your glory!” This is the viewpoint of a person in the twenty-first century for whom “the holiness and glory of the Lord” penetrate both the spaces of the universe and the elementary particles of the nucleus of the atom. They are also in the secret depths of human consciousness and subconsciousness. According to its emotional charge and deep essence, Kotyuk’s Sanctus is very similar to the poem “Deus Magnificus” from the collection by Bohdan-Ihor Antonych, Great Harmony (1932).

Laudatis (or “The Praised One”) for solo organ is a hymn in which the composer first of all addresses the Creator. Lauda Nostra (or “Our Song of Praise”) is a symphonic poem for solo organ, a majestic composition in which the author skillfully combines the principles of symphonic development with purely organ-related techniques.

In his creativity the composer provides historical and religious content through music. Kotyuk’s attention is attracted to those historic places that have an important bearing on the history of Christianity. Among the different themes are distinguished two: the first one is connected with the Old Testament and the city of Jericho, which became the final destination of the Israeli people led by Moses to the Promised Land. And the second one is the city of Bethlehem, in which the Savior, Jesus Christ, came into the world.

Jericho is the oldest city in the world and has been continuously populated for eleven thousand years. In the Bible, this city is referred to as a symbol of majestic achievements. In these events, fanfares on the ritual Jewish shofar played a special role. By means of the loud fanfares of Joshua, the commander crumbled the impenetrable walls of the city of Jericho, the first fortification on the West Bank of the Jordan River in the Promised Land, to which Moses brought his people (Joshua 6:1–27).

The fall of the walls of Jericho has symbolic significance. The composer seeks to draw a parallel between Biblical history and the symbolism of the influence of music (in particular, organ fanfares) on the destruction of stereotypes and misunderstandings between people with the help of sacred music.

In the New Testament, Jericho is the symbol of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8). The Holy Spirit led Jesus after his baptism in the Jordan River through the desert to Mount Qarantal, overlooking Jericho. In one of the caves of this rock in solitude, praying and reflectioning on his mission on earth, Jesus spent forty days fasting and standing against the temptations of the devil. Mount Karantal (Mons Quarantana in Latin, Quaranta meaning forty) is also called the Mount of Temptation (Luke 4:12). Kotyuk’s Jericho –
is a sonic attempt to convey the greatness of spirit and man’s faith in the triumph of the Lord’s intentions through the organ.

Kotyuk composed a symphonic poem for organ entitled Bethlehem (with narratator or children’s choir). Bethlehem was the royal seat of King David. It was from this royal family that came Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and guardian of Jesus in his youth. After the accession of Judea to Syria, the emperor Octavian Augustus (63 BC–14 AD) ordered the governor of Rome in Judea Quirinium to carry out a census. This took place in the Holy Land just at the time when Jesus was born. The path of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem became a journey that was conditioned by the regulations of the census. God’s great love of mankind manifested itself in the birth of his Son, Jesus, and the long-awaited message about the Savior: “Today, in the city of David, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born to you” (Luke 2:11).

The impressive symbolism lies in the name of the city of Bethlehem: ית‭ ‬לחם [Beth-lehem] is a “bread house” in Hebrew; بيت لحم [Beit-Lahm] is a “house of meat” in Arabic. The difficult path through the Jewish desert to Bethlehem, the lack of accommodation for the pregnant Mary, and the birth of the Savior in the manger, the rise of the leading star in the sky, showing the way for the shepherds to the newborn Son and the Three Magi—this dramatic biblical history was drawn by Kotyuk into the program of Bethlehem.

The work has distinct dramatic sections. The texture of the first fast section with the highlighted tonal foundation that should be associated with the Arabic east is an image of a desert, but the composer also puts into this image a deep philosophical content. This is not only the desert symbolizing the compulsory wanderings of the Holy Family, but also a desert that overwhelms human souls in their inability and reluctance to give an adequate assessment of their own sinfulness. It was to reveal the essence of people’s sin that the Lord sent his Son among people for the sake of enlightenment and for the redemption of their sins. And these sins Christ took upon himself through his crucifixion.

The second image, contrasting with the melismatic briskness of the desert image, is the pompous grandeur of the cities and temples built by the hands of the people. The symbolism of this image in the symphonic poem is in excessive haughtiness and inaccessibility for the common man of Jerusalem’s strongholds, which the Holy Family was passing by, and the closed doors of Bethlehem’s buildings, which failed to open before the mother of the future Savior.

The vivid contrast in Bethlehem is the episode of the birth of the Savior. The optimistic nature of this episode is the bright hope of mankind for the possibility of salvation. However, anxiety and doubt overwhelm this composition; the desert continues to be the devouring trap from which it is so difficult for mankind to break through for millennia. The deep sacral content of Bethlehem is a kind of philosophical credo of Kotyuk, a composer for whom the Spirit, spirituality, and high moral values form a single whole.

All of the above-mentioned works have been written by Bohdan Kotyuk during the last ten years in his creative collaboration with organist Olena Matselyukh. They constitute part of her repertoire and are performed at organ concerts at the Lviv Hall of Organ and Chamber Music, in the Lviv Regional Philharmonic, and when she tours Ukraine and abroad. They are also performed at the concerts of touring organists from different countries of the world.


The names and achievements of composers and organists of the Lviv Organ School should rightly occupy a worthy place not only in Ukrainian musicology, but also in the history of world music and culture. This is especially true of the depth of sacredness and its interpretation in the conditions of modern innovative technologies and textual multi-interpretations.

Modern Ukrainian organ art has only recently begun to regain its rightful status. Ukrainian musicology still lacks specialists in religious ritualism, which provides an insight into the world of the sacred. It is this factor of sacredness that greatly inspires composers’ music for the organ. Such professional knowledge would allow many contemporary Ukrainian composers to better understand the boundaries of the sacred and profane in organ music. Using these important categories in the analysis of organ music must become an integral part of the apparatus of the musicologist-researcher.


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Photo: Cathedral of Saint Mary Magdalene, Lviv, Rieger Kloss Opus 3375

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