Sopilka

The Ukrainian chromatic recorder

The music of the Ukraine features many unique instruments. Prominent amongst these are the bandura, the torban and sopilka. In its most sophisticated form, the sopilka is a fully chromatic internal duct flute. Like the recorder, it was developed from the six-holed pipe, but it represents a separate and far more recent evolutionary branch to the recorder. Whereas the recorder has holes for the thumb of the upper hand and for the little finger of the lowermost hand, the chromatic sopilka has holes for all ten digits: thus there are two thumbholes, one for each hand. In addition to being fully chromatic, the modern sopilka is highly expressive and capable of astonishingly rapid playing. A skilled sopilka performer can mimic a variety of sounds found in nature, including birdcalls and insect noises.

Modern tenor sopilka, front

Modern tenor sopilka, rear

Traditional forms of the Ukrainian duct-flute with 5-8 finger holes (Денцівка, denchivka) were usually diatonic, with a range of two and a half octaves. The earliest-known example found in Ukraine is a mammoth-bone flute from the Paleolithic Period. The denshivka is known from the Princely era of the Kyivan Rus’ and is depicted on an 11th-century fresco in Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral. In folk tradition it was commonly the instrument of shepherds or part of trio ensembles and various wedding bands. Prominent performers in modern times have included Ivan Sklyar, Y. Bobrovnykov, D. Demenchuk, and V. Zuliak.

Folk Music Concert, Kiev 1926

The chromatic ten-hole fingering system was developed in 1967 by instrument maker Dimitro Demintchuk and patented in Moscow in 1980. This fingering system has been applied to other members of the sopilka family — the piccolo tuned in F, prima in C, alto in G, tenor in F, and bass in C. Sopilkas have been made in wood, metal, plastic, and ebonite. Today, the sopilka is heard most often in folkloric instrumental ensembles recreating the traditional music of the various sub-ethnicities in western Ukraine, most notably that of the Hutsuls of the Carpathian Mountains.

Ukrainian Medley, featuring Maksim Popichuk (sopilka, ocarina, panpipe)

Bukovinian Folk Melodies & Dance, featuring Maksim Popichuk (sopilka)

The sopilka has found a place in Klesma music, too.

S’em Sorok, a Jewish song about a train from Odessa due at seven forty, but which arrives much later when “the flame of Odessa is on fire”. Played by the Lemon Bucket Orchestra (Toronto, Canada), a Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super Band featuring an unnamed sopilka player.

Pop groups have also made use the instrument in their performances. The first to do so was the folk rock group Kobza.

More recently, the sopilka has found its way into the music of Eurovision 2004 winner the mononymous Ruslana, folk-rock band Haydamaky, Ukrainian-Canadian speed-folk band Kubasonics, electro-folk band ONUKA, and other contemporary bands which explore Ukrainian themes.

The 2022 Eurovision contest in Turin was won by the Ukraine Kalush Orchestra whose performance of Stefania incorporates traditional folk instruments, including the telenka (an overtone flute played with one hand controlling its open end) and the beat-boxing tenor sopilka player Vitali Duzhik.

In a sense the sopilka has evolved from a folk instrument to a become something of a national symbol, nowhere better demonstrated than by leader of the band KoraLLi, Myshko Adamchak, and his Rock Sopilkar project. Myshko has become something of a celebrity of late for his solo sopilka performances on the Ukraine front where he is currently doing military duty as an ambulance paramedic.

Arkan, a traditional Hutsul dance performed by Myshko Adamchak (sopilka) with the band KoraLLi and Orchestra

The sopilka is increasingly heard in renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary music (much of it familiar to recorder players) performed by players such as virtuoso sopilka player Bozhena Korchynska and Bozhena Gamar, both from Lviv. There are many videos featuring their playing on YouTube, amongst them the following:

Ciaccona by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1620–1680), performed in the Organ Hall, Lviv by Bozhena Korchynska (sopilka) and Berhard Hofstötter (lute)

Trio-sonata by Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński
(fl. 1692–1713), performed by Bozhena Korchynska (sopilka),  
Radosław Kamieniarz (violin) and Irmina Obońska (organ )

Concerto in A minor (originally for oboe) by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), RV 461, performed by Bozhena Gamar (sopilka) and Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra of the Vasyl Barvinsky Music College, Drohobych, conducted by Roman Bagriy

Fantasie, Op. 37 by Ernest Krähmer (1795–1837), performed in Katowice (2015) by Bozhena Korchynska (sopilka) and Marek Toporowski (piano). Originally for the csakan (keyed recorder). Krähamer was born in Lviv.

Sonata Oj, litaje sokolonko by Marek Toporowski, Part 1.
Dedicated to Ukrainian Maidan 2014. Performed by Bozhena Korchynska (sopilka), Irmina Obońska (piano),  Krzysztof Firlus (double bass).

Toccata: Lullaby for a Colibri (humming bird) by Markus
Zahnhausen, performed by Bozhena Korchynska (sopilka)

Korchynska  has been the initiator of a new model of sopilka developed in collaboration with her compatriot, recorder maker Eugene Ilarionov.

Modern chromatic sopilkas by Eugene Illarianov (2003)

Like recorders, sopilkas of different sizes can be played together as a consort. Myroslav Korchynsky (1941–2021), composer, teacher, accordionist and sopilka player, established the Lviv School of Professional Sopilka Performance at the Mykola Lysenko National Music Academy. He was also the founder of the first professional ensemble of sopilka players, Dudalis, in 1980 which, now in its fifth generation, continues to perform as Quartett Dudalis at the  Lviv Myroslav Skoryk National Philharmonic.

Take Five! by Paul Desmond (arr. Andrij Jackiv) performed by Dudalis

There is even a double-bass sopilka. The Folklore Orchestra of the Ukrainian Society of the Blind in Kamyanets was founded in 1964 by a very talented and completely blind musician Borys Gulashevsky. Together with fellow musician Peter Tsinkalov, they constructed a series of keyed bass sopilkas of different sizes for the orchestra ranging from a bass in G 98 cm long, a bass in C 1.44 m long, a bass in G 1.87 m long, a contrabass in C 2.61 m long, and a contrabass in E 2.95 m long. Two sets were made: one was taken to Russia by Gulashevsky; the other remains where it belongs in Kamyanets. These giant instruments add a unique depth to the sopilka orchestra’s sound. 

Valentin Yasinsky playing the double-bass sopilka

The Folklore Orchestra of the Ukrainian Society of the Blind, Kamyanets

Fingering Chart

References

  • РОМАН Є. ДВЕРІЙ [Roman Y. Dverij]. 2008. Школа гри на хроматичніу сопілці. [Method for Playing the Chromatic Sopilka]. Parts 1–3. Centre for Creativity of Children and Youth of Galicia, Lviv. Part 2 is available online at https://dokumen.tips/documents/dverij-sopilka-shkola-gry-chast-2.html

    Parts of this publication were published in the form of lessons in the magazine Україна [Ukraine] (1984–1985), and the newspaper Зірка [Star] (1987–1989), etc., which greatly contributed to the spread of performance among a large circle of devotees of Ukrainian folk music.
  • Віталій ГОРБУЛЕНКО [Vitali Gorbulenko]. 2016. СОПІЛКА БІЛЬША ЗА СОПІЛКАРЯ [A sopilka bigger than its player]. Газета Подолянин [Podolyanin Gazette], 1 February 2016. http://podolyanin.com.ua/culture/10544/
  • Божена Корчинська [Bozhena Korchynska]. 2020. Запис онлайн-форуму сопілкарів [Record of the Online Forum of Pipers]. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRn2qvS60ik&t=22s
  • Божена Корчинська [Bozhena Korchynska]. 2021. Пастушка у двірцевих шатах [A Shepherdess in Royal Robes: A History of Professional Solpika Playing.] YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jrKRhaQoqU
  • Bozhena Korchynska. 2016. Ukrainian Chromatic Recorder. YouTube: https://youtu.be/b30ApRaqJ0Q
  • КОРЧИНСЬКА-ЯСКЕВИЧ [Korchinska-Yaskovich], Божена Мирославівна [Bozhena Myroslavivna]. 2017. “ВИТОКИ І СТАНОВЛЕННЯ ПРОФЕСІЙНОЇ СОПІЛКОВОЇ КУЛЬТУРИ В ПРОСТОРІ УКРАЇНСЬКОГО ІНСТРУМЕНТАЛІЗМУ [Origins and formation of professional association culture in the context of Ukrainian Instrumentalism].” Dissertation. Lviv: National Music Academy M. Lysenko. УДК 78.481. https://lnma.edu.ua/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/diss_korchynska.pdf.
  • Maksim Popichuk. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MaksimPopichuk
  • Danylo Husar Struk, ed. 1993. Encylopedia of the Ukraine. Vol. 5. University of Toronto Press.
  • Sopilka. In: Laurence Libin (ed.) 2014. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 4. 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York. Page 557f.
  • Wikipedia. 2021. Sopilka. https://www.wiki.de-de.nina.az/Sopilka.html
  • Wikipedia. 2022. The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lemon_Bucket_Orkestra

Little Solomia from Dnipo plays her ‘sopilka’ to raise money to support the brave defenders of the Ukraine

Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2022. Recorder Home Page: Snippets: Sopilka. Last accessed 26 June 2022. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/sopilka/