Monday, June 14, 2010

Having a Blast with Diko Iliev.....

Today we're going to have a blast with the music of Diko Iliev, a Bulgarian composer of dance music for brass bands, who lived from 1898 to 1984.

The first time I heard a piece by Diko Iliev, I was blown away (literally) by this fiery and passionate music. While exploring the Balkanfolk website, I heard some samples of his work and decided this CD was something I absolutely had to have.

It so happened that the CD took nearly two months to get here because I ordered it during the festive season in Bulgaria. Everyone there must have been celebrating Diko Iliev's 110th birth anniversary. In the photo above it reads (translated into English, for the Cyrillically challenged): "Masters of Bulgarian Folklore, Diko Iliev, Dunavsko Horo."

Who was Diko Iliev and why is he the soul of modern Bulgarian folk music? Not many people in the United States have heard of him, but everyone in Bulgaria knows who he is, and holidays and festivities would be unthinkable without the lively and vibrant music of this composer.

Brass band music is a common element in many cultures; for example: Germany (Bavaria), Serbia, Macedonia, Turkey, Romania, and even in the United States and Latin America.

First of all, here's his most famous piece: Dunavsko Horo (Danubian Horo) which has become the unofficial national anthem of Bulgaria. Both are in this New Year in Sofia 2007 video. After the countdown they play Mila Rodina (the official Bulgarian anthem), and right after, Dunavsko Horo. (note: this was a very special event celebrating the admission of Bulgaria to the European Union, the fireworks are in perfect time with the music!)

And here is the actual dance:

A celebration in Bulgaria would be unthinkable without a group of people getting together to dance horo and rachenitsa. Horo is a dance done in an open circle or a line, and means "chain dance" in English. The dancers hold hands or each other's belts and are linked like a chain.

This group dances Svatbarska (wedding) rachenitsa,composed by Diko Iliev, (as part of a medley of several dances, including kopanitsa and pravo, the first one is the rachenitsa).

For more on the rachenitsa, read:

Diko Iliev had an interest in music and dance from a very early age, especially the brass band music popular in northwestern Bulgaria, where he grew up. At the age of 13,he left home to study music with a military brass band. He composed his first piece at the age of 19, the Iskarsko Horo.

Diko Iliev lived in Oryahovo, a town on the Danube, for many years. He was the bandmaster of a regiment in nearby Kozloduy. Aside from that he composed music for various events, and taught music to the children of the town. The people of Oryahovo thought so highly of him that they named a square in the center of town in his honor, and his house is now a museum.

Here is the river that inspired him, at sunset, as seen from Oryahovo, from a site called "Bulgaria in 360." What is amazing about it is that you can zoom and rotate the picture, and almost get inside it. The view is magnificent!

Here is a video of the Danube as seen from Oryahovo on YouTube. The surreal music adds some charm to it, although it's not by Diko Iliev.....

The Bulgarian National Radio featured a segment on him recently (in German), with lots of music.

Diko Iliev composed about 70 works. Most of his music is based on Northern Bulgarian motifs such as the elenino, the daichovo, and the pravo. The majority of his work consists of marches and Bulgarian folk dances. He did, however, experiment with other genres, such as waltzes and tangos but his real love was horo and rachenitsa.

This is why the people of Bulgaria love his music, and it became the soul of a nation.

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