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Biography

Mykola Vitaliiovych Lysenko (Ukrainian: Микола Віталійович Лисенко, October 22 1842 – November 6 1912) was a Ukrainian composer, pianist, conductor and ethnomusicologist.

He was born in Poltava Oblast son of Vitaliy Romanovich Lysenko (Ukrainian: Віталій Романович Лисенко). Since childhood he was very interested in the folksongs of Ukrainian peasants and by the poetry of Taras Shevchenko. When Shevchenko's body was brought to Ukraine after his death in 1861, Lysenko was a pallbearer. During his time at Kiev University, Lysenko dedicated himself to collecting and arranging Ukrainian folksongs, which were published in seven volumes. One of his principal sources was the kobzar Ostap Veresai (after whom Lysenko later named his son).

Lysenko initially studied Biology at the Kharkiv University, studying music privately. On a scholarship given to him by the Russian Music Society he pursued further professional music studies at the Leipzig Conservatory. It is there that he understood the importance of collecting, developing and creating Ukrainian music rather than duplicating the work of Western classical composers. On his return to Kyiv he launched into the creation of Ukrainian themed compositions. His Ukrainophilic approach to composition was not supported by the Russian Music Society which promoted a Great Russian Cultural presence in Ukraine. As a result Lysenko severed his relationship with them, never to compose any music in the Russian language, nor allow any translations of his works into Russian.

In order to improve his orchestration and composition skills the young Lysenko traveled to St Petersburg where he took orchestration lessons from Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in the mid 1870s, but his furvent Ukrainian nationalism and disdain for Russian autocracy kept him from achieving success. He supported the 1905 revolution and was in jail briefly in 1907. In 1908, he was the head of the Ukrainian Club, an association of Ukrainian national public figures in Kyiv.

For his opera libretti Lysenko insisted on using only the Ukrainian language. Tchaikovsky was impressed by Lysenko's Taras Bulba and wanted to stage the work in Moscow, but Lysenko's insistence on it being performed in the Ukrainian language, not Russian, prevented the performance from taking place in Moscow.

In his later years, Lysenko raised funds to open a Ukrainian School of Music. His death was widely mourned throughout Ukraine. Lysenko's daughter Mariana followed her father's footsteps as a pianist, and his son Ostap also taught music in Kiev.

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