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Loeb Music Exhibition Explores Mazepa Myth

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"Charles XII of Sweden and Ivan Mazepa after the Battle of Poltava" by Gustav Cederström (1845 - 1933). A new exhibition at Loeb Music focuses on representations of Mazepa in various art forms.

November 24, 2009 – In the three centuries since his death in 1709, the story of Ivan Mazepa assumed the mantle of legend, inspiring dozens of composers, artists and writers. A new exhibition at Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library traces the roots of the Mazepa myth, through dozens of scores and opera libretti, as well as art and literature.

Entitled “Hetman of Ukraine Ivan Mazepa (1639-1709): The Cultural Legend,” the exhibition, which opened earlier this month, was timed to coincide with an international conference organized by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) to mark the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava. Mazepa, who fought with Swedish King Charles XII against Russian Tsar Peter I in the battle, is today hailed as a national hero in Ukraine and one of the earliest advocates for an independent Ukraine, but is derided as a traitor in Russia for opposing the Tsar.

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The idea for the exhibition came from Ukrainian Research Institute Associate Director Lubomyr Hajda and Olha Aleksic, Jacyk Bibliographer for Ukrainian Collections, exhibition curator and Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library Sarah Adams explained.

“Particularly during the 19th century, Mazepa had become a cultural figure throughout much of Europe – his life story was represented many, many times in opera, art and literature,” Adams said. “HURI staff were able to find 17 operatic settings of the Mazepa myth, a number of which are in Loeb Music’s holdings, so they approached us with the idea of the exhibition.”

“It was a natural progression from planning the exhibit for the conference around Hetman Mazepa as a historical figure to an exhibition featuring the representation of the Ukrainian leader in works of world culture,” said HURI Associate Director Lubomyr Hajda. “This exhibit was a natural candidate for an interdisciplinary, multi-genre approach that could best be executed in collaboration with other University departments. Because of the importance of musical materials for the project, the beautiful venue, and the collegiality of the staff, the Edna Kuhn Loeb Music Library became the natural site for the exhibit.”

Among the items which will be included in the exhibition: several scores and libretti taken from Loeb’s collections, including operatic settings by 19th century composers Nerini, Grandval, and Gianella, along with several books from Widener Library, as well as prints, artwork and photos. The wealth of Mazepa-related material surprised even Adams.

“I’d heard of the Tchaikovsky opera, but I had no idea there were so many musical settings for the Mazepa myth,” she said. “I don’t think most music scholars would know how often his story has appeared, both in music and other art forms. This exhibition is the story of broadly-based multidisciplinary scholarship the music library wants to support.”