Roman Turovsky-Savchuk

“Clamor, clamor, clamor in the forest,
the fog is covering the fields,
The fog is covering the fields, the fields.
A mother is sending her son away:
Go, my son, go away from me... “

leaf At the age of seventeen I was transplanted from my birthplace of Kiev,
Ukraine, to New York. A dreamy European city in front in front of my eyes
was replaced by New York, with all its severity of lines and colors,
unforgiving, yet intriguing. I’ve painted since my childhood, learning visual
precision and honesty, developing a firm faith in harmony, beauty and
perfection. My new reality was rough and fearsome. And I knew that I was
being transformed. My new reality brought new simplicity and roughness into
my work. I painted nudes, craving love, music and spiritual fulfillment. All of
these eventually came, bearing happiness for the emigre/exile/refugee,
transforming him into an American:

leaf Come back, my son, come back to me, my boy,
So I would wash your head.
-Mother, my head could be washed by rains,
And my hair shall be combed by feral winds...

leaf There has always been music in my family. My father is an artist-painter,
but he also was a fine classical baritone in his younger
days. Our house was always full of interesting guests, of all
kinds of arts. The grown-ups were infinitely more interesting
than children of my own age. The former were bearers of the
historical weight of the place where I was growing up. Their
sense of history intoxicated me, inexorably, forever, even though
I was unaware of it at the time. It manifested itself much later in
my music.

leaf I naturally studied painting from an early age, and it would
always remain my main calling. Inexplicably I remained
indifferent to music, in spite of being surrounded by it, until the
age of 14, when I had an epiphany upon hearing “Trauermusik
beim Tode Siegfried” in Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung”. It
opened the floodgate of music. I went on to study Painting and
Music after coming to New York. There I studied lute with
Patrick O'Brien, who also taught me the basics of harmony and
counterpoint. I began composing for myself during the 1990’s,
concentrating on the Baroque idiom and my chosen instrument,
the Baroque lute. This instrument doesn’t tolerate gratuitous
dissonance, and my compositions naturally took on the style and
character of the Baroque Era.

leaf Descartes once said that when he was a seminarian he was told
by one of his professors that if one gets a really good idea, it must
be immediately ascribed to a long-dead authority. Mythopoeia
ran in my family, so I decided on a whim to invent a mysterious
and previously unknown historical figure to which I would
ascribe my compositions as genuine Baroque music, and
miraculously they were taken as such. In the mid-1990's I wrote
out some pieces in a nice Baroque hand, signed them
“Sautscheck”, the German transmogrification of the second half
of my surname, and sent them to some overseas lutenists, total
strangers at that, without a return address or explanation. The
music was clearly in a Baroque style, but not always in character,
being grim and morose as would have befitted the music of an
entirely different era. Then I lost track of all this for some 5+
years. Eventually the rumors of mysterious and interesting lute
music treacled back to me, so now, armed with a PC and internet,
I produced some "paramusicological" mythology, explaining the
range of styles from 1680 to 1840 with four generations of
purported composers, all from the same family. This caper later
resulted in a few musicological scandals, which gave me some
professional reputation of a competent “baroque” composer, a
modicum of respect from lutenist-colleagues, while causing
considerable irritation for the few detractors, who were oblivious
to the “literary mystification/hoax culture” prevalent in Europe
since the late-18th century. After many flame-wars and a few Op-
Ed accusations of Ossianic immorality (some accusers were
oblivious of the quotations from Beethoven, Reger or Giazzotto
that I'd used in a Baroque context...) I've earned some great
friends for whom music's quality is paramount to its pedigree.
Not least of these are Luca Pianca (the founder of Il Giardino
Armonico), who generously included my pieces in his concerts at
several international festivals, and Robert Barto, who is featured
in several of my video installations.

leaf Then came along other momentous developments. One was the proliferation
of internet, which gave me a possibility to connect with many colleagues
worldwide, and then my renewed interest in Ukrainian musical culture in
general and its Baroque period in particular.
Ukrainian folk music is unique in many respects. The vast majority of it is in
the minor keys: the happy music is more often than not still in minor, only in a
faster tempo. It is also probably the best documented of all folk music, with
many compendia collected since the 18th century. It had a period of being
fashionable in Western Europe ca. 1800, and it left its mark on some
composers, not least Beethoven. The literary qualities of its texts are
astounding, their imagery profound. Its texts are often hair-raisingly violent,
as well as breathtakingly lyrical. This music is powerful. I didn’t choose it: it
chose me. This reconnection with Ukrainian music was a true epiphany, from
which I, as a displaced individual elicited a sense of total rootedness in that
old World, paradoxically in harmony with my American identity gained in
tribulations of emigration .

leaf My familiarity with existential angst was counterbalanced with happiness
found in cultural memory, the memory of old songs amid new forms: bridges,
highways and skyscrapers of the New World. It later found expression in
several video-installations for which I also composed and produced the
soundtracks. These installations were built around a clear central principle,
according to which each sequence represented an increment in the voyage
through forbidding space, in which the only available means to remain afloat
were certain personal cultural memories, remnants or fragments of beauty in
the decidedly unbeautiful universe. In my case these means were the auditory
memories of my early childhood, specifically the memories of polyphonic
laments sung by girls while crossing the river in the evening in order to milk
the cows grazing on the other side.

leaf “Many are called, but few are chosen”. In 2000 I undertook some research into
the history of Torban, the Ukrainian variety of the lute. The literature for this
instrument did not survive, as it was largely an oral culture, and so I began to
use Ukrainian melodies in my compositions that I intended to serve as
reconstructions of this lost musical microcosmos. In time I began to
experiment with progressively earlier musical styles, early Renaissance and
late Mediaeval, in combination with those Ukrainian folk melodies that were
archaic in character and could easily be manipulated using the compositional
techniques of the 15th and 16th centuries. The milkmaids’ choirs of my early
memories were a perfect match to diminuitions and variation cycles for lute in
the style of Joanambrosio Dalza, Francesco da Milano or John Dowland. This
project has been nearly ten years in the making, with over 500 pieces to its
credit. Initially I called these pieces “Cantiones Sarmaticae”, and these were
later augmented with “Cantiones Ruthenicae” and “Cantiones
Sarmatoruthenicae”, “Balli Sarmatici” and “Balli Ruteni”, in a nod to
“Sarmatism”, a cultural movement in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in
the 16th - 19th centuries.

leaf Each of these cycles was progressively more adventurous and complex, so I
later gave them the collective title of “Mikrokosmos”, in an insolent lutenistic
challenge to Bela Bartok’s homonymous keyboard cycle. In the process of
composition I discovered not only multiple structural similarities between
Ukrainian dance melodies and Renaissance dances from Western Europe, but
also the evidence that some late-Renaissance melodies still survived in the
Ukrainian folk music. I was also struck with the Mediaeval conductus-like
sound of the folk polyphony of the Polissya region of Ukraine, from which my
family came. These observations became inspirations, and the music flowed,
in strict style, but with unusual cadences and forbidden intervals of the land.
Such were my dialogues with Time.

leaf This music has gradually earned respect from lute players, and many
colleagues who were total strangers to me, connected only by internet, began
to perform these pieces, record them, and eventually film them for YouTube,
when that service became available. Among these musicians I should mention
Robert Barto, Luca Pianca, Rob MacKillop, Christopher Wilke, Angelo
Barricelli, Stefan Lundgren, Ernst Stolz, Daniel Shoskes, Stuart Walsh,
Jindrich Macek, Trond Bengtson, Elio Donatelli, Maurizio Manzon, Edward
Durbrow, Fernando Lewis de Mattos, Francesco Tribioli, Valery Sauvage,
Mathias Rosel, Olesya Rostovska, Julia Fedorova, Konstantin Shchenikov and
Eugene Kurenko, inter alia. Most of them I have not met in person to date. The
most amazing and rewarding aspect of it all was the totally unexpected
appreciation of Ukrainian music by the musicians who had absolutely no
familiarity with Ukrainian culture. I was equally astounded at the sensitivity
with which they interpreted this material. I also had several collaborative
electro-acoustic projects with Dutch avantgarde composer, lutenist and
carillonist Hans Kockelmans, who also wrote a number of “contreparties” to
my scores.

leaf All of these projects remain “works in progress” and in the meantime I have
put all my music on the Web, for any lutenist’s free use. The projects
involving Renaissance Lute in the Ukrainian context may be found at
http://www.torban.org/mikrokosmos.html, and the Baroque Lute project at
http://www.torban.org/torban4c.html .

leaf In 2003 I made the acquaintance of Julian Kytasty, the finest traditional
Ukrainian epic singer and kobzar-bandurist in the Western Hemisphere. We
became good friends, and he later also became my teacher. He eventually
asked me to accompany him in those of his projects which were centered on
the Baroque period, and occasionally to sing in them. We have had very
unusual concepts for our concert programmes, drawn from material rarely
touched nowadays, such as songs about violent historical events, evil and
treachery, marital and erotic mayhem, penitential chants and psalms, songs
about the miseries of war in the land that was split between 2 empires
(Russian and Austro-Hungarian) and whose inhabitants were forced to kill
each other senselessly by callow foreign royalty.

leaf In 2008 Julian and I received an apprenticeship grant from the New York
Council on the Arts, which enabled us to work together for two years in depth
on the traditional epic style and the repertoire, which by then had become one
of my main interests. Through Julian I also met Nina Matvienko and Mariana
Sadovska, two great Ukrainian folk singers of our time. I also made many
virtual friendships with great folk singers, notably with Natalya Polovynka
and Volodymyr Kushpet.

leaf In the spring of 2009 I undertook a journey to Kiev, Ukraine after a 30-year
absence. There I had good fortune of meeting Taras Kompanichenko and
Eduard Drach, the finest carriers of the epic singer–kobzar tradition in
Ukraine, and was able to adapt some of their repertoire to the Baroque lute for
my own use. They also inspired several variation sets on Ukrainian melodies
in Baroque and early Classical styles.

leaf After the period of fakeloric music artificially imposed on Ukraine during the
Soviet era there is now a real revival of the epic tradition in Ukraine, with two
Kobzar Guilds established in Kyiv and Kharkiv, and many talented young
musicians are studying not only practical music, but also lutherie as well.
There is also a revival afoot of the traditional folk polyphony, and there are
several excellent choirs specializing in that repertoire, notably “Bozhychi”,
“Hurtopravtsi”, “Drevo” “Strila” and “Korali” as well as ensembles that
specialize in Ukrainian early music. Two of these led by Taras
Kompanichenko, “Sarmatyka”, and “Chorea Kozatska” and one by
Kostyantyn Chechenya. All these groups face many difficulties in the cultural
wars stemming from the three centuries of forced Russification of Ukraine, as
well as hostility from the commercial media and music establishments and the
large Russian minority, which still harbors anti-Ukrainian sentiments. But the
groups active in authentic folk music are multiplying, and there are grounds
for cautious optimism that this music will live on.

leaf Finally I would like to offer the reader a short list of important
Ukrainian ethnomusicological internet resources:

leaf Sincerely,
Roman Turovsky-Savchuk



leaf Роман Туровський-Савчук  — американський композитор-лютнист та маляр. Народжений в Україні, з 1979 року живе в Нью-Йорку. Його роботи відбивають водночас американську реальність та українську культурну пам’ять. Наразі він завершує низку відео-інсталяцій та серію програм за його музикою для голландського радіо). Зразки робіт Романа Туровського можно побачити на його веб-сайті  http://turovsky.org