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13-9 Bulgarian Music


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

13-9 Bulgarian Music

(by Zdravena Maldjieva)
The professional development of Bulgarian Music started relatively
late, compared to other European cultures - around 1860. The first
artists working in that field organised groups, performing their own
arrangements of folk melodies, usually for an a'cappella choir. The
most significant contributions to Bulgarian music began after 1900.
Although disputable, the following classification is the most used by
musicologists today: first generation (till 1944), second generation
-approximately till 1970, third generation - after 1970. There are
three basic types of musicians representative of the Bulgarian culture:
composers, performers and folk musicians ( usually they are combining
the creation and the reproducement of original music, based on folk
melodies ).
The first major figure among the composers in the first generation
is the "Patriarch (title of an important position in the Ortodox Church,
equivalent of the Pope in Roman Catholic Church) of Music" Dobri Chris
tov. He was also the first theorist of the Bulgarian Musicology. As all
major musicians from the first generation he was educated abroad.
Although he was a student of French composer Paul Duka, he didn't adopt
his relatively contemporary techniques and musical language, but mostly
worked in arranging folk tunes for choirs with more or less "classic"
harmony and structure. Despite the simplicity of his art, he was a very
influential teacher for younger musicians. Around 1920 - 40 there
were some composers, who created more sophisticated art as Veselin and
Andrei Stoyanov, Pancho Vladigerov, Lubomir Pipkov and others. The
brothers V. and A. Stoyanov worked in a folk-like style, using irregular
meters, typical melodic configurations and quart-quint harmonies.
Andrei Stoyanov was mostly occupied with piano literature, while Veselin
worked in all major genres. A very important figure was Dimitar Nenov,
a composer and a virtuoso piano player (like Andrei Stoyanov), who was
accused of formalism and bad influence on young communist musicians after
1944. Unlike the other major composers of this time Pancho Vladigerov
didn't use any original folk melodies and rarely used folk-type tunes.
A Bulgarian Jew, born and educated in Switzerland, he adopted the impres-
sionist style, typical for a significant part of the Western European
music. He was the most internationally recognised Bulgarian composer,
for example Herbert von Karajan performed Vladigerov's third piano
concerto on his graduation recital.
That period was productive and successful for performers as well.
With the support and financial help from the monarchist institution and
specially Tsar (king) Boris III many opera houses were established.
The opera art became really popular and Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna were
cities with internationally famous opera houses and opera stars. In the
bigger cities were gathered first professional orchestras with very high
quality of the participants. People enjoyed performances by worldly
famous virtuosi like Sasha Popov and Nikola Kozarev.
The folk music in that period didn't involve professional musicians
and was performed in smaller places mainly, but it never lost its po-
The beginning of the second period (second generation) was the
Soviet invasion and the so-called "revolution" in Bulgaria. The new
government quickly established their new ideology, which was believed
to be progressive and basically was denying everything, achieved before,
because of its connection with the monarchy. Very harmful for all
musicians, that period was crucial for composers. Some genres were cla
imed to be retrogressive, while others (like oratorio) to be new and
purifying for people. The best composers remain silent for the first decade
of that period. There are some exceptions. For example, Lubomir Pipkov
who was a talented and educated musician was "oriented" quickly and star
ted the foundation of the socialistic realism music. He worked mainly
in vocal music, operas and oratorios with text, suitable for the new
authorities. For other composers, who weren't that adaptive, began a
hard period. The communist party, following the example of Russian
Communist party, started to determine the rules for "good, valuable"
art and labeled with formalism everything more contemporary, than it
was believed to match the new soul of people ( In Russia - the opera
"Lady Macbeth from Mtsenskaia Gubernia" from Schostakovich). In
Bulgaria started a real autodafe for the "enemies" of the people. The
scores and records from the Sofia Radio were burned and many other
library collections were destroyed. Priceless works like D.Nenov's
"Spring" and Lazar Nikolov's Second Symphony are lost forever. Nenov
was fired from the Music Academy and died soon after that. Nikolov
was forbidden to be performed, Vladigerov and V.Stoyanov didn't create
anything of global importance any more. New composers started to work
and to write hymns for the party, all new holidays and communist Cong-
resses. In the same time, composers like Parashkev Hadjiev and Vasil
Kazandjiev tried to keep as neutral as possible and wrote music based
on ancient legends or old Bulgarian history.
Performers from that period were mostly working abroad. Very
talanted singers - Boris Christov, Nikolai Ghiaurov, Christina Morfova
and many others transferred to major European theaters and performed
only occasionally in Bulgaria, which was a reason for the decline
of the opera houses. Some virtuosi piano players like Vaisenberg and
Milcho Leviev also left the country. Major conductors like Dobrin
Petkov were neglected for other (faithful to the party conductors) like
K. Iliev.
Folk music was believed to be close to the real virtues of the
communists, unlike the expressionistic or minimalistic art. Folk ensembles
were in development. One of the most important musicians working in
arranging of folk melodies was Philip Kutev. This groups had a big
importance for the acceptance of the Bulgarian culture abroad. Still
they are among the most popular Bulgarian artists in Europe and America.
Around 1970 and later was born a new generation of Bulgarian musici
ans. People got tired of being ruled in their art views and some
composers like Tsenko Minkin and Stefan Dragostinov started to create
a more liberated and free art, close to the modern Western European
tendencies. Both composers won international prizes for their works.
Recently after the collapse of the communist party, the composers felt
free to experiment with the modern musical means.
Some young performers like Aleksandrina Pendanchanska, Josif Radi-
onov, Angel Stankov, Emil Naumov and others gained the recognition of
the audience.
The folk music continued to spread abroad and now cd's like "The
Mystery of Bulgarian Voices" are in the top charts of many record
The new period was also the establishment and development of Bulga
rian Pop music. Now there are artists working in many styles, like
hard rock, heavy metal, rap, funk and other.
The overall tendency is of development and progress again, after
big decline through the communist era in all genres and styles.


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