Music of Bulgaria


Bulgarian music is part of the Balkan tradition, which stretches across Southeastern Europe, and has its own distinctive sound. Traditional Bulgarian music has had more international success than its neighbors due to the breakout international success of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, a female choir that has topped world music charts across Europe and even farther abroad.

Bulgarian vocals are said to be "open-throated", though this is actually a misnomer. Singers actually constrict their throats to amplify the voice's focus and strength, giving it a distinctive sound.

Folk music

Regional styles abound in Bulgaria. Dobrudzha, Sofia, Rodopi, Thrace and the northwestern Danube shore all have distinctive sounds. Folk music revolved around holidays like Christmas, New Year's Day and the Feast of St. Lazarus, as well as the unusual Nestinarstvo rites from Strandzha, where villagers fell into a trance and danced on hot coals as part of the feast of Sts Konstantin and Elena. Music was also a part of more personal celebrations, accompanying weddings and the departure of young men for military service.

The most important state-supported orchestra of this era was the Sofia-based State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances, led by Philip Koutev. Koutev has become perhaps the most influential musician of 20th century Bulgaria, and updated rural music with more accessible harmonies to great domestic acclaim.

The distinctive sounds of women choirs of Bulgarian folk music is partly because of their unique harmony and polyphony, where a singer appears to be singing two notes at the same time. In addition to Koutev, who pioneered many of the harmonies, and composed several songs that were covered by other groups, (especially Tedora), various women's vocal groups gained popularity, including Trio Bulgarka, consisting of Yanka Roupkina, Eva Georgieva, and Stoyanka Boneva, some of whom were included in the "Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices" tours.

During the Communist era, some musicians lived outside the state-supported music scene. Without official support, wedding bands were also without official limitations on their music, leading to fusions with foreign styles and instruments. Thrace was an important center of this music, which was entirely underground until the mid-1980s when a triennial music festival was set up near Stambolovo (hence the genre's current name, Stambolovski orkestri) and artists like Ivo Papasov, Sever, Trakiîski Solisti, Shoumen and Juzhni Vetar became popular, especially clarinetist Ivo Papasov

Folk Instruments

Bands frequently use instruments that commonly include: The Gaida: (A traditional goat-skin bagpipe); The Kaval: (An end-blown flute that is very close to the Arabic "Ney" as well as the Turkish Kaval); The Gadulka: (A Bulgarian style bowed string instrument close to the "rebec"; The tapan: (A large drum that is hit with a beater ("Kiyak") on one side and a thin stick ("Osier") on the other); The tambura (a long-necked lute used for rhythmic accompaniment as well as melodic solos)

These were the instruments chosen by the Communist government to be used in new orchestras following World War 2. The new professional musicians of traditional Bulgarian instruments soon reached new heights of innovation, expanding the capacities of the gaida (Kostadin Varimezov and Nikola Atanasov), gadulka (Mihail Marinov, Atanas Vulchev) and kaval (Nikola Ganchev, Stoyan Velichkov). Other, factory-made instruments had arrived in Bulgaria in the 19th century, and included the accordion. Bulgarian accordion music was defined by Boris Karlov and later Gypsy musicians including Kosta Kolev and Ibro Lolov. In 1965, the Ministry of Culture founded the Koprivshtitsa National Music Festival, which has become an important event, held once every five years, showcasing Bulgarian music.

Folk Dances

The most distinctive feature of Balkan folk music is the rhythms, which are built using combinations of 2/16 and 3/16 notes, forming various combinations of 'quick' and 'slow' beats. A number of basic folk dances use a distinct combination of these notes, similar to how the waltz in western music consists of 3/4 rhythm. However, due to the ability to combine 2/16 and 3/16 notes in various combinations and permutations, a wide variety of different rhythms can be obtained. For example, 6/16 can be built using two 3/16 notes, or three 2/16th notes. Following is a list of some Bulgarian folk dances, along with their rhythms. Bulgarian is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, so transliterations into the Roman alphabet will result in minor variations of spelling (e.g., Paidushko and Padushka)

Paidushko Horo (2-3 or 5/16) Men's dance; Ruchenitsa (2-2-3 or 7/16) A couple dance; Daichovo Horo (2-2-2-3 or 9/16) A circle dance where a leader calls what various the circle should do next; Triti Puti (4/4) Line dance which is quick-quick-slow, but it is 2-2-4; Elenino Horo (3-3-2-3 or 11/16) A line dance; Gankino or Kopanica (2-2-3-2-2 or 11/16) A line dance; Acano Mlada Nevesto (2-2-4-2-3 or 13/16) A line dance, where the first slow is actually 4/16 instead of 3/16;  Chope Dance (2/4) Men's dance, often accompanied with bagpipes and drums; Buchimish (2-2-2-2-3-2-2 or 15/16) A line dance

Sometimes musicians build long sequences in their songs, so a rhythm of 21/16, for example, is not unheard of. Many of the men's dances are formed by each man holding the belt or sash of the man on either side. These belts are typically fit loosely around the waist so that each person can move easily within the belt, while the overall line can stay together. Although there are basic steps that make up the dance, certain people may improvise variations, often forming a competition between the dancers. These variations must result in the same movement as the rest of the line, but may consist of additional or slightly different steps. For example, the basic Paidushko dance consists of a series of four hop-steps (actually, lift-steps) to the right, followed by a series of four steps to the left where the right foot crosses in front of the left foot on the quick beat, then weight is transferred onto the right foot, which pushes the dancer to the left on the slow beat. Finally the line moves backwards using four hop-steps, and the dance is repeated. Variations might consist of alternating the right foot in front of and behind the left foot, forming a basic grapevine dance step. Another variation might be that instead of hop-steps backwards, a dancer might use a series of scissor steps and end with a pas-de-bas step.




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