Viktor Stepanovych Kosenko (Ukrainian: Віктор Степанович Косенко; 23 November O.S. 11 November 1896 - 3 October 1938) was a Ukrainian composer, concert pianist, and educator born in Saint Petersburg. Regarded by his contemporaries as a master of lyricism, his first compositions were markedly influenced by the works of composers such as Alexander Scriabin, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and his compatriot Mykola Lysenko.
Kosenko's life is conclusively divided into three distinct phases, in Warsaw, where he studied with renowned teachers Mikhail Sokolovsky and Iryna Miklashovskaya, in Zhytomyr, where he began teaching piano and music theory at the Music Technicum, later becoming director of the Zhytomyr Music School, and finally in Kiev, where he devoted more time to symphonic compositions such as his Heroic Overture, which brought him due recognition in the world of Soviet music. A true artist in the very sense of the word, he was a leading figure among the broad-minded artistic collective of the 20th-century Ukrainian music.
Kosenko's legacy is filled with romantic feeling and intonations of Slavic folk songs and Western-European influences. His vocal, chamber and symphonic works are among the most important pieces of that time in Ukraine. He composed over 100 compositions for piano among waltzes, preludes, nocturnes, sonatas and mazurkas, in a total of about 250 musical works such as his symphonic Moldavian poem, violin and piano concertos, trios and string quartets during his short musical career. His vocal compositions include a large number of ballads, choral and folk arrangements as well.
Life and career:
Early life and education:
Kosenko was born on 23 November 1896 in Saint Petersburg, into the large family of a major general named Stepan Kosenko. His family moved from Saint Petersburg to Warsaw in 1898, where later he would encounter the best of world musical classics while listening to the performance of famous musicians such as Fritz Kreisler, Ferruccio Busoni, and Pablo Casals. His mother Leopolda played the piano, sang and composed as well. Like this the young Kosenko grew up in an environment filled with musical compositions such as those by Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Ukrainian and Russian folk songs.
When Kosenko was about five or six, he began to pick out familiar melodies on the piano, as he had absolute pitch and a good musical memory. He would attempt to improvise, showing signs of his musical potential early on. At the age of nine, he was able to play Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata from memory, as he heard his older sister Maria practicing this piece. It was she who then gave Kosenko his first lessons at the piano. But his formal training in music began in 1905 with private piano lessons from professor Yudytskiy, with whom he studied for two years. From 1908, his abilities continued to develop under the guidance of Aleksander Michałowski, then professor at the Warsaw Conservatory.
In the summer of 1914, Kosenko was preparing to enter the Warsaw Conservatory to study piano. However, with the beginning of World War I, the family was forced to leave Poland. In 1915, he was admitted to the upper-division piano class at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he amazed the committee members by his sight-reading abilities just by looking over the score, putting it aside, and playing from memory, as well as a natural aptitude for musical transposition. Over the years, he continued studying composition and music theory under Mikhail Sokolovsky, piano with Iryna Miklashovskaya, and playing as concertmaster at the Mariinsky Theatre. During this time, he received positive evaluations from Alexander Glazunov, director of the institution, who wrote that Kosenko had "great pianistic and compositional abilities, and perfect pitch." Professor Miklashovskaya also gave a good feedback, saying that he was a "talented musician, very modest and well-behaved." During his studies, Kosenko wrote poems, preludes, and mazurkas for piano. His music is characterized with stylistic musical characteristics of Romantic and post-romantic directions, which features a combination of the European tradition with a national Ukrainian element.
After graduating from the conservatory in 1918 Kosenko joined his family in Zhytomyr, at that time the cultural center of the Volyn province. The following year he began teaching piano classes and music theory at the Music Technicum, later becoming director of the Zhytomyr Music School. In February 1920, Kosenko married Angelina, née Kanepp, His love and deep admiration for her was such that he used to write to her almost everyday and was disappointed if for any reason she could not reply to him as fast as he wished. The pieces created between 1919 and 1924 convey deep lyrical feelings, hence the reason he dedicated almost all of his output to her.
In September 1922, Kosenko gave his first concert, attended by his family and close friends, traveling to Moscow the following year to meet with composers and musicians. By this time he was allowed by the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians to have his first piano compositions published.
This period that Kosenko spend in Zhytomyr was one of the richest in his musical career for he perfected his own artistic style in instrumental, vocal and chamber music; genres in which he was very active at that time. There, he authored a large number of piano pieces, over twenty romances, violin and cello sonatas, works for children, and music for plays. He was also heavily involved in a myriad of musical activities such as the creation of a music society, concert appearances, the organization of his piano chamber trio, vocal quartets and even a symphony orchestra, besides serving as accompanist player for different ensembles in the musical life of the city.
In 1921, Kosenko and his fellow musicians founded the Leontovych Musical Society. In September 1922, he gave his debut in Zhytomyr, performing his own compositions. Two years later, he was invited to Moscow for a recital at the Association for Contemporary Music, where he met with composers and musicians. During this period, Kosenko's piano works were published for the first time. He then performed as a virtuoso pianist in recitals and formed a piano trio along with violinist Volodymyr Skorokhod and cellist Vasyly Kolomyitsev, giving over one hundred free concerts throughout Ukraine between 1923 and 1929.
In 1927, Kosenko was invited by the Association of the Proletarian Musicians of Ukraine to give a concert in Kharkiv, the capital of the Ukrainian SSR at the time. This same association invited him again in 1928 and 1929. Kosenko began giving concerts in Kharkiv, Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, and nearby cities. The programme of the concerts included compositions by Ukrainian composers Borys Lyatoshynsky, Levko Revutskiy, and Pylyp Kozytskiy.
Creative conflicts with the new Stalin regime prompted his move to Kiev, where he was offered a position at the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama as a chamber musician and musical analyst in 1929, followed by a promotion to music professor in 1932. Kosenko originally taught piano and chamber ensemble classes, and a year later, he also began teaching a specialized course on analysis of form in both the historical-theoretical and compositional departments. The school was later reorganized, the music classes being transferred to the Kiev Conservatory, where he taught from 1934 to 1937, while the rest of the school became the National University of Theatre, Film and TV. However, during this time, he did not abandon his performing and composing activity, which he loved so much.
He was often invited to be in the juries of musical performance competitions as a well-known performer and respected pedagogue. This included a trip to Moscow in 1931, Kharkiv in 1933, and Leningrad in 1934. This period became a time of mature work for Kosenko, who had established himself in the world of Soviet music. His output began to include new genres, particularly his Heroic Overture for symphony orchestra. Kosenko also arranged Ukrainian folk songs and in 1936, the first compilation of Soviet folk songs was arranged with his participation.
Kosenko spent most of his life in Zhytomyr, living in poverty, to which he seemed largely indifferent. After being persuaded by the Soviet Government of the time to share his living quarters with members of other families, and frequently bringing in people from the streets to whom he gave food and money, he was given a small three-room apartment on the second floor of an old building at Mikhaila street in Kiev, to where they all moved thanks to his wife's insistent requests to the Soviet Ukrainian Government in order to recognize Kosenko's efforts in popularizing genuine Ukrainian nationalist music. Finally in 1938, the sick Kosenko was personally awarded the Order of the Red Banner by the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev.
Despite the medical treatment that he was receiving at the time, Kosenko lived for only 42 years, dying on 3 October 1938 of kidney cancer, a condition apparently linked to the unsanitary conditions in which he and his family had lived for so long. He was buried at the Baikove Cemetery in Kiev. His wife Angelina continued to promote his music long after his death. Kosenko left for posterity his unfinished opera Marina, and dozens of works such as his 24 Children's Pieces, Op. 23, composed in 1936, a treasury of teaching which turned Kosenko one of the first successful Ukrainian composer in children's music.
During his time as professor of the Kiev Conservatory and the composition of his symphonic Moldovan poem, which he never heard performed, Kosenko was already deeply interested in learning and gathering information on Moldavian folk-music. Being a cross between the late-Romantic period and the national musical style of his country, his music shows no direct indication that any specific folk song was used in his compositions. Kosenko used then melodies, harmonies, dorian, lydian and phrygian modes, so linking his work with Ukrainian folk tunes. Some of these elements involved doubling melodies in thirds, sixths and tenths, using "open" fifths, and pedal points.
Kosenko dedicated much of his attention to children, too. During the 1930s, part of his output was focused on the most demanding and impartial audience. His first compositions for children, entitled Four Pieces for Children for fortepiano (1930), were written specifically for the Ukrainian Soviet fortepiano repertoire, demonstrating his understanding of child psychology and deep knowledge of the main objectives of a teacher. Next, was his Collection of Children's Pieces for fortepiano (1930). His Twenty Four Pieces for Children for fortepiano (1936) followed, becoming one of the most popular collections for children, even until today.
Kosenko's compositional talent was recognized early on. As a student of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the young composer's main focus was to become a performing pianist, only composing music when he was required to do so in theory classes. However, this changed when professor Mikhail Sokolovsky singled out Kosenko's romance "Careless wind" set to text of Konstantin Balmont as an example of his students' work.Alexander Glazunov also noted the talent of the composition. This situation inspired Kosenko to study theory of composition, analysis of musical form, and instrumentation in more depth. He consequently began to spend more time composing.
Kosenko debuted his music in Zhytomyr in 1922. To expand his horizons, he travelled to Moscow in 1924, where he met Nikolai Myaskovsky, Alexander Goedicke, and Felix Blumenfeld, who supported the young composer. There his works were published for the first time.
In Kiev, the composer's circle of artistic acquaintances grew. He became closer to artists such as composers Borys Lyatoshynsky and Levko Revutskiy, and singers Ivan Patrozhynskiy and Maria Litvinenko-Volhemut who all highly evaluated both his musical and pedagogical activity. Levko Revutskiy wrote, "Kosenko is a true master of high culture. He belongs to artists, around whom is created an artistic atmosphere, which is a living, momentous and active stimulus for creative work." Ukrainian writer Pavlo Tychyna, whose work Kosenko also set to music, highly valued the artistic contributions of the composer, saying of him: "The reflection of his creative soul has permanently left sunny illuminations on my biography."
The government of Ukraine valued Kosenko. In 1935, he gave a radio concert of his compositions live from his apartment. Following his death in 1938, a complete collection of his works was published.
Influences and style:
Kosenko was popular not only as a composer, but also as an outstanding pianist who had a wide range of activity. When he began his career in Zhytomyr, he was recognized as a virtuoso when he began to invest time into performing, both as a soloist and accompanist, besides composing and teaching. His contemporaries noted his playing style, brilliant technique, powerful artistic interpretation.
He was influenced by the musical environment in which he grew up. Because his mother and sister played piano, he was exposed to the piano music of Frédéric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Franz Schubert.
Aleksander Michałowski, Kosenko's piano teacher in Warsaw, was another major influence on him during his youth. With him Kosenko studied the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, and many other romantic-era composers. Michałowski also encouraged Kosenko to play in ensembles. Further early influences on Kosenko happened in Warsaw, where he attended the opera house and a variety a concerts, listening to performances by famous pianists Fritz Kreisler, Ferruccio Busoni, Pablo Casals,Josef Hofmann, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and the singing of Feodor Chaliapin, Leonid Sobinov, Antonina Nezhdanova, and Solomiya Krushelnytska. By the time he applied to study piano at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, he began to be noted for his sight-reading and transposition abilities.
Kosenko's reputation as a concert pianist brought him invitations to take part as juror in piano competitions around the Soviet Union. He also became a piano professor, teaching specialized piano and chamber ensemble classes in Kiev, first at the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama, and later at the Kiev Conservatory.
Kosenko organized a piano trio with violinist Volodymyr Skorokhod and cellist Vasyly Kolomyitsev, thus gaining popularity as a performer. The group gave over one hundred free concerts all around the Zhytomyr area, playing pieces by Mikhail Glinka, Anton Rubinstein, Sergei Taneyev, Alexander Gretchaninov, Georgy Catoire, and Robert Schumann. With the addition of other musicians they began performing the quartets, quintets and sextets of Alexander Borodin, Joseph Haydn, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Antonín Dvořák and others as well. He also performed as soloist in piano concertos of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Grieg with an orchestra made up of local instrumentalists.
Repertoire and performances:
Along with the European classics, Kosenko was also engaged in popularizing Russian and Ukrainian music by such composers as Levko Revutsky, Boris Lyatoshinsky, Mykhailo Verykivskiy, and Pylyp Kozytskiy, thus gaining the sympathy of the Ukrainian Soviet government. When he debuted his own music to the public in 1922, his concert was divided into two sections. In the first, the programme consisted of music by Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, and in the second he performed his own compositions, which remained as part of his repertoire in many subsequent concerts.
During time in Saint Petersburg, Kosenko worked at the Mariinsky Theatre as an accompanist. Upon graduation from the conservatory, he moved to the capital of the Volhynian Governorate, Zhytomir, where besides composing and teaching, he invested a lot of time into performing, both as a soloist and accompanist as well.
Following the successful debut of his music, Kosenko began to make many trips to perform his own music to places such as Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, and Moscow. In 1928, he accepted an offer from the Philharmonic of Ukraine to do a tour with singer Oksana Kolodub to the Donbass area. Following his move to Kiev, he continued to actively perform. He gave his last concert in 1935, when he performed his own music with bass singer Ivan Patrozhynskiy and soprano Maria Litvinenko-Volhemut. The concert was broadcast live on the radio from his apartment on Pidval'na street.
Heroic Overture (1932),
Moldavian Poem (1937),
Violin Concerto (1919),
Piano Concerto (1928),
Sonata for cello and piano Op. 20 (1923),
Sonata for violin and piano (1927),
Classical Trio (1927),
Sonata for viola and piano (1928),
Songs, choruses, and folksong arrangements
I'm Sad (1922),
Speak, speak (1922),
I Am Here, Inezilya (1936),
Three Preludes Op. 1 (1910-1915),
Four Preludes Op. 2 (1911-1915),
Three Mazurkas Op. 3 (1916-1923),
Three Etudes in E major Op. 8 (1922-1923),
Consolation Op. 9 (1921),
Fantastic Poem Op. 11 (1921),
Two Poem Legends Op. 12 (1921),
Sonata for Piano No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 13 (1922),
Sonata for Piano No. 2 in C-sharp minor, Op. 14 (1924),
Sonata for Piano No. 3 in B minor, Op. 15 (1926-1929),
Eleven Etudes in the form of old dance Op. 19 (1922-1923),
Two Concert Waltzes Op. 22 (1931),
Twenty Four Pieces for Children (1936),
The Last Port (1934),
Piano Music Vol. 1, Eleven Etudes in the Form of Old Dances, Op. 19 Natalya Shkoda - Toccata Classics,
Viktor Kosenko: Piano Music Vol. 2, The Complete Piano Sonatas / Natalya Shkoda - Centaur Records,
Violin Concerto: Orchestrated by Alexei Gorokhov, Kiev Chamber Orchestra. Alexei Gorokhov (conductor & violin) - Melodiya (1980),
Violin Concerto: Orchestrated by Heorhiy Maiboroda, Symphony Orchestra of the National Radio Company of Ukraine. Anatoly Bazhenov, Volodymyr Sirenko
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license