All in the first month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a choral work asking God to protect Ukraine by a noted Estonian composer was written, set to music, rehearsed and performed for the public within three weeks’ time. The war began Feb. 24, and the premiere, in Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn, was March 10. A remarkable turnaround time, especially for classical music. The performance embedded above was uploaded to YouTube March 25.
“Because of the heartache about what is happening in Ukraine, composer Erkki-Sven Tüür wrote the song ‘To Ukraine’,” said the Estonian Music Information Centre In a news release dated March 10, when the song went into rehearsal. “The work for mixed choir uses texts from the book of Isaiah and Habakkuk.”
The song is lovely — and the performance is powerful. It’s everything you’d expect in Estonia, which shook off Soviet domination about the same time as Ukraine and where people have no illusions about Russian intentions toward the former Soviet republics.
The text comes from the Old Testament prophets Habakkuk — “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, Who establishes a city by iniquity! — and Isaiah, who said “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; / Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness […]” A refrain — “God protect Ukraine” — separates the scriptural passages.
Tüür said when the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, he dropped everything.
“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he told EMIC, “I have been furious, distressed and in pain. […] I wanted to compose something to provide immediate and direct spiritual support to people in Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom and suffering from the power of incredible evil.”
The first performance, according to an EMIC fact sheet, was March 15 by the chamber choir Collegium Musicale of Tallinn. Endrik Üksvärav conducted, and it was broadcast by Estonian Klassikaraadio. The choir first got the music on March 9, so it was a hurry-up job all the way around. The performance embedded at the head of this blog post, by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, was recorded by Estonian Public Broadcasting and put up on YouTube Friday.
It’s a powerful, lovely piece of music, and it deserves an international audience.
There’s more about Erkki-Sven Tüür in his Wikipedia profile and his website at https://www.erkkisven.com/. Classically trained in composition at the Tallinn Academy of Music, he fronted a popular Estonian rock band in the early 1980s, returned to classical music in 1984 and, quoting Wikipedia, “with the advent of perestroika soon found an audience in the west.” He has written nine symphonies and a boatload of chamber music and choral works.
A PDF file of the sheet music (in Ukranian) is attached to EMIC’s March 10 press release.
Also in the press release is Tüür’s complete statement on “For Ukraine,” which is powerful in itself and gives more details on the song’s composition:
“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I have been furious, distressed and in pain. One of the extensive works I am currently working on inevitably became different in its character and meaning, as far as I have been able to write it. However, I wanted to compose something to provide immediate and direct spiritual support to people in Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom and suffering from the power of incredible evil. I searched for suitable texts, but then my wife suggested to look at some sentences in the letters of the prophets from the Old Testament. And indeed, it was there that I found these condemnations written down thousands of years ago, against falsehood and evil. Alternating with these texts sounds – “Protect, God, Ukraine”. I would like to thank Andrii Vytvytskyi for sending me the Ukrainian translations of these verses.”
Scriptural passages are as follows:
- Habakkuk 2:12 (New King James Version). Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
Who establishes a city by iniquity!
- Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV). Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
- Isaiah 33:1 (NKJV). Woe to you who plunder, though you have not been plundered;
And you who deal treacherously, though they have not dealt treacherously with you!
When you cease plundering,
You will be plundered;
When you make an end of dealing treacherously,
They will deal treacherously with you.
[Published March 27, 2022]