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Alexander Shchetynsky

Know Yourself
Symphony for Mixed Choir a cappella

Text: Hryhoriy Skovoroda and other sources (in bookish Old Ukrainian, Old Slavonic, Ancient Greek, and Latin)

Know Yourself cover

Hryhoriy Skovoroda is a Ukrainian poet and Christian mystical philosopher of 18 century, the person of the highest level European education who has developed his original philosophical system. For this choir symphony I have chosen the texts from his philosophical treatises and some fragments from the Bible and Ancient philosophers quoted in Skovoroda's works. All the texts are used in their original languages, that is bookish Old Ukrainian (the language of Skovoroda's writings), as well Old Slavonic, Ancient Greek and Latin. These texts outline the main subjects of Skovoroda's philosophy, the following among them:
- the division of the nature into three worlds: the great world (external), the small world or microcosm revealed in the human being, and the symbolic world or the Bible;
- the priority of the spirit over material substance, and the spiritual life of the man over rough material elements;
- mystical likening the Sun to the eye and the eye to the Sun;
- a dialectical coexistence of the weeping and the laugh, the hunger and the satiety, the light and the darkness;
- a titanic searching after sense of human existence, in which Skovoroda follows Plato with his famous appeal "Know yourself".

Skovoroda's philosophical writings strike not only with their universality and profoundness but also with their emotional and intellectual tension. In his texts the lofty philosophical abstraction intimately related to everyday life of a man. Out-of-body mysticism is shaded in warm and sincere love to the human being. This gave me the chance to search for the sound equivalent to the meditations of the philosopher. It turned out, that his scientific texts proved their inexhaustible potential for musical images. The music of the Symphony, however, does not contain superficial decorative elements that might depict this or that philosophical idea. The lofty style is preserved here. At the same time the music contains many stylistic and genre elements taken from various cultures that differ geographically and on time of the origin. They are elements of ancient and the new Orthodox Church singing, melodies of Ukrainian songs, as well as various music techniques. Diatonic and chromatic, clear and naive tonal fragments and dramatic dissonant episodes are incorporated into a new meta-style. The one movement Symphony bears some features of sonata form. It lasts about 35 minutes and is a demanding piece both for the performers and the listeners, similar to the writings of Skovoroda that require from the reader significant intellectual and spiritual efforts.

The Symphony was premiered on May 5, 2006 at the 4th Festival of Contemporary Sacred Music in Uzhhorod, Ukraine by the Uzhhorod Chamber Choir Cantus conducted by Emil Szokacz. The score is published by Acta Scientific Publisher.

Alexander Shchetynsky

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2006 by Alexander Shchetynsky