Ukrainian Folk Song: The Night is so Moonlit: Ніч яка місячна

The Night is so Moonlit is a Ukrainian folk song composed by Mykola Lysenko a nineteenth century composer to the lyrics of a poem written by Mykhailo Starytsky, a contemporary of Lysenko’s. It has subsequently become one of Ukraine’s most popular folk songs and has been performed by some of Ukraine’s most reputable singers. The most touching of the existing recordings has to be that of Dmytro Hnatyuk. His rich baritone voice slices through the accompanying bandura to create resonant feeling of reflection.

We join the songs narrator just as he is in the throws of persuading his young lover to come down to the grove, even if only for a minute. He tries to facilitate her impending decision by assuring her that her feet will not get wet against the dew, as he will carry her. She will not be cold, as he will draw her close and warm her with his heart, which is rather fittingly aflame.

Although, this music was eventually composed and written down, it is rooted in the Ukrainian folk tradition of transmission. This song is more than just a symbol the marriage of a love poem and music. It is the culmination of a rich tapestry of history. Maybe this is why it resonates so profoundly even today with Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike. There is something essential about this music that means we are drawn to it. One explanation for this is that the music is organic. It has come from the people and is maintained by the people. It is in a sense truly democratic. It is neither entirely joyful, nor entirely sad and encapsulates an area of human emotion that only the best music can capture.

Whilst it is popular today, Ukrainian folk music has had to struggle in recent times to make its mark on Ukrainian identity. In 1934 under the soviet regime the scholarship of musical instrumentation was prohibited because it was deemed to be too particular to Ukrainian national traits. Folk music instruments were considered to be too Ukrainian, a notion that the Soviets where reluctant to foster.  However, Ukrainian folk music transcends barriers of nationality. They are an access to higher truths. This song then can be considered to be more than just a song; it is the universal language that touches whoever takes the time to listen to it.

The art of song and indeed of singing plays an important role in this language. Singing when done properly is not just activity of the voice box and throat but an all inclusive bodily activity. Singing properly requires the whole body just as it requires freedom, a sense of interiority and an understanding of self. The singer, when he or she performs, sacrifices his or her self to the audience. It is an act of giving which is universally recognised (when done well!).

Therefore, do not be mistaken into thinking that The Night is so Moonlit is just a pleasant Ukrainian folk song. It marks the culmination and continuation of a culture, an identity and the breaking down of barriers.

By Ambrose Connolly