Carols and Epiphany Carols have come to us from pre-historic times. However no one today mentions the ancient Roman mythical calendae -the embodiment of new-year celebrations, nor the Slavic god-figure or the divinified feast of the sun returning to summer - Kolo, or Koljada, in whose honour our ancestors sang ritual koljadky (secular carols). Today our nation, together with others, has come, following the star of Bethlehem, to the stable where was born on earth the Pre-eternal Creator, in order to present to Him, like the biblical wise-men, its songs, traditions, culture - all of its best cultivated throughout millennia. Today we understand caroling to be spiritual treasures, presented by nations at the feet of their Saviour.
Ukrainian Christmas traditions may be considered among the richest in the world. They reflect achievements of a greater than five thousand year old culture, impressive in the musical and contextual diversity of its songs, and in the number of its carols and epiphany carols, a number that is impossible to ascertain. In every Ukrainian village tens or hundreds of original Christmas songs arose, inasmuch as all of Ukraine sang incessantly throughout the festivities from Christmas through to the Epiphany (from the evening of the 6th to the 19th of January, by the new calendar).
The 12-day celebrations begin with a festive church service on the Eve of Christ's birth, only after which the first carols are to be heard - treasures of church-folk culture, veritable pearls of theology, which in poetic form reflect evangelical essence. These same songs resound in homes after the familial Christmas Eve dinner. Groups of carolers - boys, girls or children - each in their turn visit households, greeting on the occasion of the birth of Him, Who «came this day from heavens, to save all His people», relating in uplifted-festive, lightly-flowing and energetic-dynamic songs biblical events - unchanging yet ever new, like revelations. Further, with the subjects of carols are developed and appear new personages, which at times come out of primeval antiquity.
As if from an inexhaustible fountain burst forth multi-voiced songs, interwoven with unique Ukrainian humour, lyricism and dramatism, depicting the peaceful way of life of Ukrainians, the depths of their historic-heroic heritage and religious-philosophic thought. Caroling is accompanied with joyful games, humour, many rites and traditional nativity scenes (with puppets or staged representations on the theme of Christ's birth). On the eve of the 13th of January - the evening before «Basil's» day (as folk parlance calls the day commemorating St. Basil the Great) which is also New Year's day - to the carol repertoire are added Epiphany Carols - festive new-year songs of felicitation with inserted refrains: «Oh! Grant God!», «Bountiful eve, good eve - to good people for their health!», sprinkling the household with seeds and well-wishing salutations: «For your luck, good health! God give good rye, wheat and all sort of grain! And for us - give us a flat cake!» and the like.
The creative genius of our folk formed a unique, innate only to itself poetical-musical form of carols. Many of them have entered the treasury of the world's finest Christmas works of art, and dressed by composers into a rich musical frame, they shine in hitherto unseen colours.
The compact disc presents traditional and contemporary arrangements of Christmas songs. The traditional is represented by the romantic composers. The best known of them Kyrylo Stetsenko (1882-1922) - a distinguished composer, choirmaster, teacher, critic, priest; author of 3 Liturgies, a Memorial Service (Panaxyda), a large number of individual church works and a cycle of 50 carols. Ostap Nyzbankivs'kyj (1863-1919) - composer of choral works, piano pieces, solo songs. He was born in Western Ukraine (Stryj region), where he founded several well-known men's choirs. Therefore most of his carols were written for men's choir. Michael Hajvoronskyj (1892-1949) - composer, conductor, poet; was born in Western Ukraine (Sub-Carpathian region). Author of works for symphony orchestra, instrumental chamber and choral works (close to 40). Until his emigration to America (1923) he led the orchestra of the legion «Sichovi Stril'tsi», and then became the main Kapellmeister of the Ukrainian Galician Army. Author of army (strilets'ki) songs and carols with characteristically Carpathian folklore flavour.
A pleiade of contemporary arrangements make up the greater part of this presentation. Zenoby Lawryshyn (born 1943) - composer, pianist, conductor. Born in Western Ukraine (L'viv region). Received a brilliant education at the Royal Conservatory and University of Toronto. Performed as pianist and conductor of secular and church choirs. Author of symphonic, chamber, piano and a large amount of church music. Isbtvan Marton (1923-1966) - lived in Carpathian Ukraine (in Western Ukraine), over twenty years he headed the Hungarian folklore ensemble. As a composer he worked in various genres, mainly for symphonic orchestra. On the disc is a carol, which is a fragment of his «Christmas Suite». Ivan Nebesnyj (born 1971) - a composer of the new generation of the Kyiv school, works in various classic genres, experiments with electronic instruments. Actively participates in arrangements of folklore, including also carols. Alexander Jakovchuk (born 1952) - author of 4 symphonies, an opera, a ballet, church works and 65 arrangements of folk songs, exceptionally popular even to today. From 1994 he lives in Toronto. Hanna Havrylec (born 1958) writes music in all genres, one of the most well-known among choral composers, in whose creative output there are many arrangements of folk songs for a various kinds of choirs. Lesia Dychko (born 1939) - patriarch of choral culture in contemporary Ukraine. First in the Slavic world, after nearly a century of Bolshevik taboo on church music, to write a Liturgy (she has written three), besides this she is author of a choral opera, cantatas, ballets. Innovational experiments she has introduced into her choral compositions, attaining genuine heights of world class. Valentyn Sil'vestrov (born 1937) - composer of the famous «group of the sixties», avant-garde, exceptionally popular in Europe and the world. Until recently primarily known as a composer of symphonic and instrumental music, in the past several years he has written so many beautiful choral works (among which are songs for the Liturgy and Vespers, spiritual songs) that he has rightly entered the ranks of the most eminent choral composers. On the disc we present the author's original Christmas songs on folk and anonymous texts.
One more group of arrangers - Volodymyr Jakymec, Victor Hrytsyshyn, Orest Ortyns'kyj and Marta Lozyns'ka - are practicing musicians, singers and conductors, who create their own arrangements for enriching the repertoire of their ensembles.
Christmas songs with their processions, games and theatrics illustrate live fragments of past and contemporary life, and this is a great treasure of spiritual and esthetic worth, of which Ukraine may be proud.