Ukrainian Baroque music in Venice The vocal ensemble “Partes” is going to present the examples of a unique partes concert genre

Ukrainian baroque music will be performed in Venice, Italy. The vocal ensemble Partes” (belongs to the art platform “Open Opera Ukraine”) is going to present works by Ukrainian composers of the 17th and first half of the 18th century —  examples of a unique genre of partes concert, based on a synthesis of Western European and local traditions. The performance will take place in the Cathedral of La Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari on May 1 (8 p.m.).

Why is the Ukrainian Baroque tradition so special?

Partes are the gate to the world of centuries-old Ukrainian music culture. They are polyphonic (from 4 up to 12 voices) choir compositions. The word “partes” comes from the word “part”, or party in the vocal score. Ukrainian partes singing was a radical 17th-century novelty since polyphony was added to monophony, traditional for Eastern Rite church music. This tradition naturally blends into the European context. Comparison of partes concerts with the Italian (Venetian polychoral compositions), German (Heinrich Schütz), Polish (Marcin Mielczewski) music has been the focus of musical studies and discussions. Meanwhile, partes music bears national peculiarities, making it possible to speak about the Ukrainian version of Baroque music.

Composer, singer, conductor and music theorist Mykola Pavlovych Dyletsky (?1630–1690) was a key figure in this movement. For a long time, he was known only as the author of the theoretical treatise “Musical Grammar”. And only in the second half of the 20th century, Ukrainian researcher of baroque music Nina Gerasymova-Persydska has found several of his musical works.

Dyletsky’s music has gone a difficult way for its listeners. In Soviet times, it was neither performed nor recorded due to its religious content and church assignment. Changes began after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Ukraine’s independence. Today, Ukrainian scientists and musicians are actively working to restore this heritage. In the archives, they also find numerous partes of anonymous composers. But in the Kyiv partes collection of manuscripts alone, not more than 10 per cent of the materials have been processed.


How do Ukrainian musicians work with partes music tradition now?

Open Opera Ukraine’s research and performance of partes is an important step towards opening this music tradition to the whole world. The project “Musica sacra Ukraina” was inaugurated in June 2019 with a concert of Mykola Dyletsky’s compositions “Kyiv Citizen”, held at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv (architectural monument of Kyivan Rus).  Next year, “the Musica sacra Ukraina: Partes Dimension Laboratory” was launched, bringing together specialists in baroque music culture (musicians, scholars and music curators). The result of the laboratory was the recording of 13 partes concerts, several of which were deciphered by researcher Yevgeniya Ignatenko specifically for this project.

Nataliya Khmilevska, artistic director of the project, says: 

“Similarly to the West European Baroque music, partes rests on the declamatory, I dare say – “rhetoric” style of singing. It provides for the conscious delivery of narratives of the text at different levels – from the conveyance of purely decorative effects to diving into deep religious and philosophic attitudes. This prompts understanding of the integral dramatic composition of a piece differently and opens up the infinite variety of the possible versions of interpretation, none of which will ever be exhaustive and “genuine”. This is a process of continuous immersion, where understanding of the slightest details changes the integral picture of perception.”

In 2021, the project team toured Ukrainian cities and sang partes for listeners in Chernihiv, Ostroh, Kryvyi Rih and Severodonetsk. A new concert in Venice will be the first presentation of the project for international listeners. This would become the beginning of the public’s acquaintance with an unknown and beautiful page in the musical history of Europe.

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