Nina Gerasymova-Persydska: Until we take on something it is unknown to us, and we can’t wish for that

Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli on Unsplash

One of the last interviews of the musicologist Nina Gerasymova-Persydska, documented by her pupil Ivan Kuzminskyi. It was first published under the title “Dialog with a Teacher” in Scientific Dialogues with N. O. Gerasymova-Persydska, editor Iryna Tukova, in 2017

One of Nina Gerasymova-Persydska’s main ideas for life and work was communicating with colleagues, friends, and students, and discussing new ideas and interesting music. Those who had an opportunity to study with Nina Oleksandrivna, were familiar with her unique manner of communication. First what impressed her interlocutor was a feeling that Nina Oleksandrivna was indeed listening to you. That’s why you were trying to listen to yourself more carefully and your additional internal editor would turn on. After speaking with Nina Oleksandrivna, your sense of awareness would not disappear but would always be there when you tried to write. It was as though Nina Oleksandrivna was present and you were having a conversation with her.

Nina Oleksandrivna was your main critic. Listening carefully to her thoughts and reactions, you could apply that thinking to your own thoughts. Nina Oleksandrivna’s sharp mind and extensive knowledge helped you to orient yourself more quickly in complicated situations, not only related to the musical world. For my generation as well as for those prior to mine the first meeting with Nina Oleksandrivna most often happened through her books when we, still being Music Academy (Conservatory) students, read her books, copied her articles hoping to find a new revelation, enlightenment, and a point of reliance.

Nina Oleksandrivna’s work had a massive influence on many musicians, and not only Ukrainian. That influence was of a light character. It was not visible from the outside, but it penetrated souls reliably and irrevocably. It woke up unknown thoughts and questions in curious ones and new images and feelings in dreamers.  Thanks to Nina Oleksandrivna’s work we were introduced to heritage of far and forgotten generations of our ancestors, to their dignity and enlightenment. We were becoming even more rooted in our own music culture, saw its richness and strength, and realized that that culture passed a long and complicated way. It was like a resurrection of Phoenix bird.

I am convinced that many readers would like to learn about Nina Oleksandrivna’s visions of the future of early Ukrainian music and discover something new and unexpected from her memoirs. Those themes were the main ones in my conversation with her.

Ivan Kuzminskyi: Every researcher has their own unique way of professional development. When did you first become interested in early Ukrainian music?

Nina Gerasymova-Persydska: My teacher, Onysiya Yakivna Schreyer-Tkachenko instructed me to explore the partbooks of partesny concerts (partesny from Latin partes – parts, voices; Ukrainian Baroque polychoral and polyphonic concerto genre). Onysiya Yakivna had connections with our library and especially cared that our library collection wouldn’t get lost during the war (World War II). Her wish was that ancient music was revived and heard by people. As a result, she requested that a handful of young teachers would also explore the partbooks of partesny concerts. Despite quite a few teachers being assigned this task, I was the only one that continued with the research.

In your opinion, why was Schreyer-Tkachenko ignited by exploration of early Ukrainian music?

It is obvious why. She was a historian, taught history of Ukrainian music and studied early Ukrainian music. Onysiya Yakivna was one of those people who felt the sharp need for widening knowledge of Ukraine. She probably had the same opinion concerning contemporary Ukrainian music, but I didn’t get the chance to have those conversations with her. We talked a lot about music in general and about early music, but not as early since maybe back then she wasn’t that interested.

Nina Gerasymova-Persydska with her mother

Were there any classes or special courses on the history of Ukrainian music when you studied at the conservatory?

God forbid, there was nothing like that. There was History of Ukrainian music where, like at other educational institutions, the emphasis was mainly on modern times. Our times (20th century), previous times – 19th century, 18 century – it was all more difficult. There were known works by the most popular composers, like Bortnyansky, Berezovsky but we were not introduced to more ancient materials.  In any case, I don’t remember nothing like that.

It was like this. Onysiya Schreyer-Tkachenko went to Poland to represent Ukraine on international conference and then she got interested in developing further knowledge of early Ukrainian music. Before the war (World War II) Onysiya Schreyer-Tkachenko studied manuscripts at libraries in Ukraine and Russia, where she learned about the partesny collections.  She herself published a few partesny works. She became interested in them and prepared them to be published but, probably later she didn’t have enough recourses to proceed. Onysiya Yakivna and I had many conversations on different topics during my first years at the conservatory. It was not the case that she chose me particularly, but it just happened that I continued (with those studies that she suggested).

Why did you keep doing that?

Just because I was told to do that. I went to look at what the partbooks of partesny concerts were. It was all completely unknown to me because frankly speaking we were not shown anything like that at lessons. My mind was a blank slate when it came to this topic. I took what the library staff brought me and started bit by bit looking through collections. I looked through absolutely all of them.

Moreover, I was thinking about how to organize them. I didn’t know how to do that. When at first, I received the collections, I couldn’t understand what they were all about. It was crucial to gain a closer look. I was looking at every collection separately, but it turned out that there was no point in considering each partbook separately and you had to look at it as a whole.

What was the next stage? How did you decipher partesny works?

To say decipher would be an exaggeration because you can’t say that it was written in hieroglyphs. I would put partbooks in a front of me and started writing. I would write down a short part of the first voice and then would continue on to the next voice. If you were writing down one voice part till the end you could end up with errors as everything would “move” (shift). You had to write down bit by bit which created a bundle of nerves. And where there are nerves, one can make a mistake.

The most important thing was that I got partesny collections and started working. And so, a year passed. I couldn’t do everything, so I only did a part of it. Then I asked quietly: Is it ok if I stop doing that? Ivan Lyashenko told me no (colleague-musicologist, former rector of Kyiv Music Conservatory), – and that I must continue. And then the work started coming along and partesny music got interesting and desirable for me. I can’t say how exactly it turned out that way.

After you compiled partbooks in a score, did you give those works to someone to perform?

No! What do you mean? Nobody wanted to perform them not only back then but also 10, 20, even 30 years later. I never even explored such an option. I just wanted to tell my department, where they treated me with respect, of those concerts.

In general, at first partesny works can strike one as not interesting because you must tune in a special way. I did not feel particularly proud that I found something. But I needed partesny music and I wanted it to exist.

Were they interested in your studies in Poland?

Yes, they were because they were familiar with that (type of music) and had experts in early music. I couldn’t personally make them interested. The music that was performed only once must have got them interested. When in 1969 I first arrived to II Early Music Congress Musica Antiqua Europae Orientalis, Sveshnikov’s (Russian choir conductor) choir sang First Very Early Morning (Snachala dnes pourtu rano, parody partesny concert from 18th century by anonym composer). That work was deciphered by Onysiya Schreyer-Tkachenko.

Everybody was delighted but it wasn’t a discovery for anyone. Poles have their own early music. When it comes to interest, there were others who got more interested in partesny works, for example, Bulgarians and Serbs who didn’t have their own polyphonic choir music at all. They loved what they had but it was still just a monody.

Nowadays, scholars have a whole arsenal of new technology for searching information and its interpretations. How could you in your times collect so much information and analyze it? Were you passionate about that work?

Yes, of course, it was a passion. What else if not a passion. It was my love. I would come to the library and the whole world would disappear. The silence would come. Whatever you say, a lot was done, 700 works. I haven’t rewritten them all but have rewritten for example everything that was in Serbia. I learned a lot, but I had to teach myself everything. When I sat at the Museum of History, there were no conditions for learning. The people there were mostly researchers who worked at the museum. Managers were the friendliest. You could ask them questions.

I was looking for water marks (on paper) but most partbooks didn’t have them. I didn’t know the liturgy structure at all. How could I know it since I grew up in the USSR? Who would teach me and who would tell me? I was even looking for a priest so that I could ask him a simple question because no one would be able to answer a difficult one. I found only one lady who said that she knew one priest. And that priest was very old. He didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand him because a priest and a scholar have completely different ways of thinking.

What are your thoughts regarding that there is a whole movement of early music and that people started to get interested in it?

I think it’s a more complicated question. It concerns our attitude towards culture. Something started responding to our spiritual needs. Now people have a desire to learn about the music in early times. They like old music, and they understand it.

I am not sure why, but this is very good. It is the opposite to how things were previously. Before it was scary and rapid. Now things have changed, we live in quieter times. I’ve noticed that music has become cordial as well. Such a shift occurred at the turn of the century.

How do you see the prospects for the development of early music in Ukraine?

Experience teaches us that until we take on something, it is unknown to us, and we can’t wish for that. Have you known that you would be interested in partesny works? No, but you’ve come to that. Now we have more of what been before that. There was even more that we could’ve imagined.

What our researchers have written so far is not enough, especially for a wider audience for whom we should introduce this music differently, like maybe make a movie. Most important, is that researchers of early Ukrainian music understand the value of their work. And if we talk to people, later there will be more supporters of Ukrainian early music.

Nina Gersymova-Persydska (12/23/1927 – 12/08/2020) was a musicologist,

cultural expert, social activist, and a teacher. She held a Doctor of Science in Arts (1978). She was a professor (1979), Head of the Department of Early Music at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of Ukraine (2000–2019), academician of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine (2000), Honored Artist of Ukraine (1997), recipient of the Order of Merit “For Merit to Polish Culture” by the Ministry of Culture and Art of Poland (2006), laureate of the Mykola Lysenko Award (1990), winner of the Great Gold Medal by the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine (2002), recipient of 1992 Achievement in 20th Century Award by the International Biographical Center (IBC), Cambridge, Great Britain, 1992-1993 Woman of the Year Award by the International Biographical Center (IBC), Cambridge, Great Britain, etc.

She was a member of the National Union of Composers of Ukraine, International Musicological Society (IMS), SEC, Musica Antiqua Europae Orientalis (MAEO), General Secretary of Ukrainian National Committee of International Music Council (IMС, UNESCO), Relation Coordinator of International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) etc.

She was born in Kyiv. Her father was Oleksandr Gerasymov, and her mother was Olena Kaplanovska.

She graduated in 1951 majoring in music history and music theory (class of L. Revutskyi), in 1952 in piano (class of A.Yankelevich), and in 1954 she finished her postdoctoral studies from the Kyiv State Conservatory (now: National Academy of Music of Ukraine named after Tchaikovsky). In 1955, she defended her PhD thesis on the topic Folk Song Origins of Ukrainian Soviet Symphonism. In 1978 she finished her doctoral dissertation on the topic Partesny Concert in Ukraine in the 2nd half of the 17th – 1st half of the 18th Century and its Place in the Culture of the Era.

From 1950 to 2020, she was a teacher, senior teacher, associate professor, and professor at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. In 2000, on her initiative, the Department of Early Music was created at the National Music Academy of Ukraine, which she ran until 2019.

She had more than 160 publications, including monographs and articles on the history and theory of partesny singing in Ukraine and Russia, sheet music editions of partesny concerts and motets, an incisive catalog of partesny concerts of the Manuscript Institute of the National Library of Ukraine, articles on the problems of space and time in the music of the 20th and early 21st centuries, etc. She gave talks and lectures at scientific forums in Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, Spain, France, USA, Switzerland, and other countries. She created her own research school of Ukrainian medieval studies.

Translated by Lesya Lantsuta Brannman

About the Author

The Claquers is a Ukrainian online magazine devoted to classical music that unites a group of music critics with the mission to foster a critical conversation about art music in Ukraine and beyond. The Claquers organization was founded in June 2020 by musicologist Stas Nevmerzhytskyi and three colleagues: musicologist Dzvenyslava Safian, music theorist Liza Sirenko, and cultural critic Oleksandr Ostrovskyi.

The publication’s provocative name suggests the context in which The Claquers was conceived. After two previous generations of proactive critics who had careers in education and cultural promotion, classical music criticism was limited to either positive reviews or no reviews at all. A fresh and uncensored eye on events in classical music life in Ukraine was needed to shake up the musical community and complete the country’s classical music ecosystem.

Unlike in western Europe and North America, art music audiences in Ukraine are much younger. The collective of writers with The Claquers is also young, and has taken on the task of explaining to these new listeners why a long tradition of classical music in Ukraine exists, and how it became a part of today’s cultural life. As a group The Claquers considers its main goals: to educate about contemporary classical Ukrainian music, to build bridges with popular culture by publishing about diverse musical genres and other arts (such as music in literature or in film), to expand the critical tools of music criticism with audio podcasts, and to cultivate audiences abroad via an English version of the website.

The Claquers was made possible by generous funding that enabled its establishment and is sustained by the generosity of donors on Patreon. This singular and engaged Ukrainian online hub devoted to classical music continues to engage people in this music and invite new authors.

Stas Nevmerzhytskyi (ФОП Станіслав Невмержицький), individual proprietor

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Location of a individual proprietor:
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