Belarus is a country of folk songs. Igor Luchenok, one of the most heartrending national folklorists, resides in Belarus. Written from the soul, with profound lyrics about grief and love, his songs resonate throughout Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Russia. The following article was written by his friend and famed Belarusian journalist, ALES KARLUKOVICH.
Llike to get together with Igor Luchenok at Pukhovichskaya, a spot about 40 miles outside of the Belarusian capital of Minsk. It is where both Igor Luchenok and I grew up. His first melodies came to him in the hollows of this land. Homelands, small cities and smaller villages, national songs, folklore and rural culture all influence Belarusian people.
Luchenok knows how characteristic and unique the spirit of Belarusian people is, having experienced the cultures of other countries and their people.
More than 400 of Luchenok’s songs received widespread recognition in the Soviet Union. Later, their popularity spread to the remaining post-Soviet nations and even to countries around the world. Many times over, the composer Luchenok won many different international competitions, including in Berlin, Helsinki, Milan, Moscow, and Havana.
Luchenok’s works consist of musical repertoire pieces for Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian performers and orchestras. Notably, Joseph Kobzon, Sofia Rotaru, Lev Leshchenko, the Bolshoi Orchestra named after P.I. Tchaikovsky, Pyatnitsky Russian Folk Chorus, and the Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra all incorporate masterpieces by Luchenok. Luchenok’s Belarusian compositions also reach foreign countries including Chile, Iceland, Poland,
Cuba, Cyprus, Japan, the U.S. and China. Luchenok not only stands as a musical figure, but as a cultural icon.
Mikhail Finberg, artistic director of the National Academic Concert Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, characterized Igor Luchenok: “He is our national figure, he is nationally valued. He is a composer who really knows how to create melodic Belarusian songs, so that they are not only sung, but loved.”
Luchenok began composing in the 1960s. While studying at the music conservatory, Luchenok produced the cantata Kurgan (The Mound) based on the eponymous poem by the Belarusian national poet, Yanka Kupala. Concurrently, Luchenok composed a second cantata, Soldier’s Heart, his first work on a military theme. Luchenok works in many different musical genres, but his pieces always center on the song. Without his extensive accomplishments, the musical and cultural life of Belarus would remain uncovered.
“Igor, what do you consider your greatest works?”
Igor answers in native Belarusian, which translates to, My Own Corner of the Earth, and Heritage.
These songs, accepted by most as folk tunes, are known by every Belarusian. This is not surprising, considering Luchenok traveled around the entire republic, visiting even the most remote villages.
“The origins of my work are legendary folk songs,” says the composer.
Luchenok himself adores folk songs, convinced that they are the backbone of national art. Each of his melodies finds its roots in popular culture and the customs and traditions of Belarusian people.
Belarusian natives often mistake Luchenok’s songs for legendary folk music. Luchenok enjoys a friendship with the famed Belarusian group named Pesnyari (in translation, the Crooners). This group found international success and was the first Soviet group to perform in the US in December 1976. For a decade, Luchenok and the group have collaborated.
And where do they find the music for the songs and lyrics they create? Both the members of the group and Igor Luchenok traveled to the most far-reaching corners of Belarus. Admirers listen to the words and sounds of the song, and more importantly, how the pieces are sung. At first, Vladimir Mulyavin, the band’s famed singer, did not know the Belarusian language. Almost intuitively, Mulyavin, formerly a rock musician, shifted his music to encompass folk melodies. At that time, Soviet officials disapproved of the use of electric guitars to convey folk arrangements. Mulyavin and Luchenok together changed the face of traditional music. They did not reinvent the wheel, as many countries already enjoyed “country” music. Even so, this genre still remained unexplored in the Soviet Union. In those days, musical performances followed a blueprint. Groups displayed the same costumes, similar faces, personalities and temperaments. And then Pesnyari burst on to the scene with bizarre outfits, long hair and laid-back attitudes. And even more… the music! With gorgeous voices and unusual rhythms, the band conquered a huge country, and then the world.
Igor Luchenok impacted Belarusian society as well as many nations. And, as I walk through small and obscure Pukhovichskaya, I ponder about the power that a simple Belarusian tune carries.
And I rejoice that the talented Igor Luchenok created music for the entire world.
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