Saturday, December 3, 2011

Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Dances

Musicians from the beginning of time have been there to express the mood and the musical feelings in the air for whatever's going on in that particular culture. It's the greatest joy as a musician to be able to translate that, be part of something and watch the scenery around you.
Trey Anastasio

In today's post we'll explore music by classical composers who were inspired by folk dances from the Balkans.

The Romantic Period in classical music, which took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a time of musical nationalism, and composers from several countries used folk motifs as part of their compositions. Some famous examples from the 19th century include Brahms (who wrote 21 Hungarian Dances); Smetena (his folk opera The Bartered Bride is very popular to this day), and Franz Liszt, who wrote a set of Hungarian Rhapsodies.

There were also composers in Balkan countries who wrote music based on folklore themes; most of them they are unknown in the States, except for George Enescu, who did quite a bit of traveling. He gave concert tours in the United States and Europe and spent his final years in Paris, France, after the Communist takeover of Romania. They had confiscated his home in Bucharest, and he never went back.

This video of Romanian Rhapsody #1, composed in 1901 by George Enescu features some beautiful scenery from his homeland. The work was based on songs and dances from Romania; it's a very dramatic and beautiful piece. Although it's a bit long (14 minutes) it's worth a look and listen.

The next piece is by Bulgarian composer Petko Stainov (1896-1977). Stainov composed a number of works based on Bulgarian folk dances, this one is  Rachenitsa (Thracian Dance). The concert commemorates a Bulgarian holiday, March 3, 1878, celebrating the liberation of that country from Ottoman rule.

The last video is of a kolo (circle dance) from the folk opera Ero s onoga svijeta (Ero the Joker). The composer, Jakov Gotovac, was a native of Croatia. When the opera made its debut in 1935, Croatia was part of a larger entity, Yugoslavia.

I heard the orchestral version of the kolo many years ago on a New York classical music station and maybe once or twice. I searched for it on YouTube using the words "folk opera Yugoslavia kolo," since had no idea who the composer was, and I had forgotten the name of the opera, but I recognized the music when I heard it.

This is the lively finale from Ero the Joker, Zavrsno Kolo, done in true Croatian style, with tamburitza accompaniment.

There is an article on Wikipedia about Jakov Gotovac, click here for information about his life and music.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Having a Blast with Diko Iliev (Bulgarian composer of the 20th century who wrote music based on folk dances)

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa (national dance of Bulgaria)

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  1. Beautiful pieces Katley... much enjoyed!

  2. Love the Romanian Rhapsody. The tune is alost exactly the tune of The Irish song you might know

  3. Checked out that Irish song, was it the Dubliners "I'll Tell Me Ma?

  4. You leave out several such as Béla Bartók, Antonín Dvořák, even Tchaikovsky

    2 of Antonín Dvořák's Slavonic dances were based on Serbian music/dances. This is one: