Bezborodko Oleg. Biography
Stefania Turkevych (1898-1977) was born in L’viv, one of the cultural epicenters of Galicia. During her lifetime, Galicia was part of the Austrian Empire, then Poland, then part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This region bore the marks of Austrian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish influence and would soon witness the rise of the Soviet state. Turkevych’s father and grandfather were priests, and her mother was a pianist. Turkevych herself played piano, harp, and harmonium.1 Her prodigious talent led her to study in Vienna (1914-16; 1921-25), at the L’viv Conservatory (1918-19), and at the Prague Conservatory and the Ukrainian Free University in Prague (1930-34). Her early education was remarkably cosmopolitan.
Turkevych’s compositional language is unique.
Although one can hear the technical influence of Schoenberg and can detect certain expressionist tendencies, her music is generally quite lyrical, with occasional folk influence. This is typical of Turkevych’s style: she walks the line between tonality and expressionism—especially in her art songs—occasionally incorporating elements of pointillism and impressionism.
Turkevych displayed an early proclivity for composition. During her time at the L’viv Conservatory, she composed a series of liturgical works for the choir at St. George’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.6 Shortly after marrying the rising Ukrainian-German expressionist painter Robert Lisowski in 1925,7 Turkevych moved to Berlin and studied composition privately with Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Franz Shreker (1878-1934). Turkevych earned a PhD in Musicology from the Ukrainian Free University in Prague in 1934, becoming the first woman from Galicia to receive a doctorate. Her boldly nationalistic dissertation was entitled “Ukrainian Folklore in Russian Operas.” She is now considered Ukraine’s first female composer.8 Immediately after receiving her PhD, Turkevych returned to L’viv, where she taught at the L’viv National Music Academy (sometimes called the L’viv Conservatory). She maintained this position until 1939, when she began working as a coach and accompanist at the L’viv National Opera alongside her sister, Irina Martynec (an opera singer). It was here that the two sisters met prima ballerina Daria NyzankiwskaSnihurowycz, who would become an important co-collaborator both in Ukraine and on Canadian soil more than 30 years later (for the premiere of Turkevych’s 1969 operaballet, Серце Оксани).