Who Inspired Today’s Popular Music Composers of Ukraine?

Popular music composers create popular music. Today, popular music can include all about opera and best classical music performances. Did you know that famous song writers are often a poet and music composer combined?

Popular music composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk, became part of the most popular music repertoire in Ukraine and beyond, because as a songwriter he wrote popular classical music. Interestingly, Ivasiuk’s music was never copyrighted, and, therefore, belongs in the sphere of royalty free classical music.

Volodymyr Ivasiuk learned how to compose music in Lviv, Ukraine. At the time, this geographical area was under Soviet rule. Today, Lviv boasts an opera house, a philharmonia, an accredited music academy, as well as, many a music venue featuring opera music, classical music concerts and popular music.

Discover a Legend Among Popular Music Composers


The Founding Composer of Ukrainian Popular Music – Volodomyr Ivasiuk

Among popular music composers, Volodymyr Ivasiuk (1949-1979) (Ukrainian = Володимир Івасюк) deserves a special place of honour.

Born on March 4, 1949, Volodymyr Ivasiuk became a popular music composer by the age of 22. His life was cut short 8 years later in the spring of 1979. To this day his death is shrouded in mystery.

At age 6, Volodymyr Ivasiuk began attending a local music school (1956-1966).

At age 14, Ivasiuk strated studies on the violin and piano (1963).

At age 15, Ivasiuk composed his first song set to a poem written by his father, Mykhailo Ivasiuk (1917-1995) (Ukrainian = Михайло Івасюк). Popular music composers Ivasiuk's father was a professor of Ukrainian literature at Chernivtsi State University (1964).

At age 17, Volodymyr Ivasiuk committed a 'crime'. During an outing in a local park, he and 4 of his friends, decided to put a hat on Lenin's bust. What happened next varies in accounts. But, suffice it to say that Lenin fell and was partially damaged. For his 'crime', Ivasiuk was had his head shaved, incarcerated for 15 days in a holding cell and sentenced to community service (1966).

A Popular Music Composer’s Childhood
A Popular Music Composer’s Childhood (reference)

At age 18, Ivasiuk submitted a composition to a regional song contest under a pseudonym. He was not allowed to participate in any official events due to the 'crime' he had committed earlier that year. Despite the ban and, probably, due to the pseudonym, Ivasiuk's song won 1st prize (1966).

At age 19, Volodymyr Ivasiuk enrolled in the Chernivtsi State Medical Institute (1967-1972).

At age 21, Ivasiuk composed the hit Chervona Ruta (The Red Ruta Flower). The song was performed for the first time at a televised open-air concert from the central square of Chernivtsi on September 13, 1970. The song Chervona Ruta was slated to become this popular music composers signature composition.

At age 25, Volodomyr Ivasiuk began his formal music studies as a composer at the Lviv Conservatory of Music (currently: Mykola Lysenko Lviv National Music Academy) having by then successfully completed his medical studies (1974).


Can Popular Music Composers Change the Course of History?

In 1971, the central authorities in Moscow made the decision to have a Song of the Year contest. (Russian = Песня года, Ukrainian = Пісня року). Accordingly, since this was the Soviet Union (1922-1991), the festival was held in Moscow. The aim was to create a televised festival of popular music that would revolutionise the Soviet music scene.

The first Song of the Year festival was recorded on December 22, 1971 at the central studios of Ostankino – the main state funded and controlled television station. The entire programme was broadcast in prime-time on January 1, 1972 (a new window will open) across the entire Soviet Union.

Volodymyr Ivasiuk, a medical student with a 'criminal' past, who spoke, composed and sang in Ukrainian, was on his way to Soviet fame. International recognition among popular music composers would follow (and, by some accounts, even be the cause for his death).

l-r V.Zinkevych, N.Yaremchuk, V.Ivasiuk Perform The Red Ruta Song
l-r V.Zinkevych, N.Yaremchuk, V.Ivasiuk Perform The Red Ruta Song


In Memory of a Popular Music Composer

Among poets an elegy is a sad poem written for someone who has died. Among music composers, an elegy is a piece of music composed in memory of a colleague.

Oksana Herasymenko is a contemporary composer of Ukraine. She has popularized the national bandura instrument. Additionally, Herasymenko composed An Elegy to the memory of popular music composer, Volodymyr Ivasiuk (1949-1979). As you listen, you can hear the strains of the famous Chervona Ruta (The Red Ruta Flower) tune.

Performed on June 11, 2009 at the Lviv Philharmonia by the «Lviv Virtuosos» Chamber Orchestra, bandura solo by Taras Lazurkevych and Oleh Sozansky. Conducted by Myron Yusypovych.


Can Medical Doctors Become Popular Music Composers?

Popular music composers often are multi-talented. Volodymyr Ivasiuk was no exception.

  • A medical doctor – who completed his medical studies at the Lviv Medical Institute (currently: The Danylo Halytsky Lviv National Medical University). At one point, Ivasiuk had planned a career in pathophysiology.
  • A poet – who wrote the words, as well as the music, to some of his most popular songs.
  • An artist – who painted and composed numerous portraits, landscapes and cartoons.
  • A musician – who created a new trend in Ukrainian popular music.

As another popular music composer, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk (Ukrainian = Святослав Вакарчук) of the contemporary music group Okean Elzy (Ukrainian = Океан Ельзи) stated at the unveiling of a monument to Volodymyr Ivasiuk in Lviv, Ukraine on December 20, 2011:

Of all contemporary popular music composers, Volodymyr Ivasiuk was the first who through his compositions, brought Ukrainian music to the attention of the international community. Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, December 20, 2011

A medical doctor, a poet, an artist and a musician among popular music composers. Among Ukrainian popular music composers, Ivasiuk remains an inspiration.

Commemorative Coins in Honour of Popular Composer Ivasiuk
Commemorative Coins in Honour of Popular Composer Ivasiuk


A Popular Music Composer's Death – Suicide or Murder?

The death, funeral and grave site of popular music composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk is shrouded in mystery and controversy. But then, it seems that more frequently than not, the death of popular music composers has an element of intrigue.

April 24, 1979, was the last day Volodymyr Ivasiuk was seen in Lviv by his family, friends and acquaintances. On that day, he had arrived in Lviv in the early morning hours from Khmelnytskyy, a city 250 km from Lviv. While in Khmelnystkyy, he had been a member of a judging panel in the 1st Republic Contest of Popular Music Artists.

Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Grave in Lviv, Ukraine
Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Grave in Lviv, Ukraine

On that fateful day according to some eyewitness accounts, Ivasiuk received a telephone call at his place of residence in Lviv, then a part of the UkrainianSSR and left – conceivably to meet whoever had called him. According to other reports, he was last seen at the Mykola Lysenko Lviv State Conservatory of Music (currently: Mykola Lysenko Lviv National Music Academy) from where he left to meet up with friends. In either case, after that day, Volodymyr Ivasiuk's family never saw him alive again.

On May 18, 1979, three weeks later, Volodymyr Ivasiuk's mutilated body was found on the outskirts of Lviv hanging from a tree in the Brukhovychi Woods. At that time and to this day, the official death certificate states «asphyxiation. Hanging from a noose (suicide)». No one believes this!

Many years later, Neonila Bratun (?-2007), a family friend, recalled the days following the discovery of the body. It was she who accompanied Volodymyr Ivasiuk's mother, Sofiya Kariakina-Ivasiuk (Ukrainian = Софія Карякіна Івасюк), to the morgue to identify her son's remains. According to Bratun's recollection, Sofiya Ivasiuk had a difficult time identifying her son's body because his face was completely disfigured, his eyes gouged out, his deformed fingers broken and his body covered in bruises.

Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Funeral – May 22, 1979
Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Funeral – May 22, 1979

Volodmyr Ivasiuk's funeral on May 22, 1979, became a mass event. And this, despite attempts by the Soviet authorities to:

  • delay and cancel trains to Lviv,
  • announce compulsory staff and party meetings,
  • forewarn (and make good on their treat) that people would lose their jobs.

In later years, Lubomyr Krysa (Ukrainian = Любомир Криса), Volodymyr Ivasuk's brother-in-law, recalled the funeral as one of the first mass demonstrations against the Soviet regime.

Volodymyr Ivasiuk's funeral became a mass event. His friends carried his casket from the apartment to the cemetery. Along the entire route, people held hands, creating a living corridor…

An additional 20 years would need to pass before Ukraine regained its independance. But, on that fateful day when a popular music composers remains were laid to rest – the seeds of revolution had been planted and the life and music of a popular music composer laid the groundwork.

text by: Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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