Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Birthday Celebration and a Source of Inspiration: The Music of Diko Iliev

Where words fail, music speaks.
Hans Christian Andersen

Today's post features the music of one of Bulgaria's favorite composers, Diko Iliev, whose birthday falls on February 15th. He was born in 1898 in Karlukovo, Bulgaria.

Although he died in 1984, his music is very much alive especially during celebrations in Bulgaria. Many of his compositions are based on folk dances and are arranged for brass and woodwind instruments. Unfortunately, he is virtually unknown here in the States.

Let's start with a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, composed by Diko Iliev. This is a short and powerful piece played by the Velingrad Brass Band. Turn up the volume, this will blast you right out of your chair.

At the age of 13, his parents sent him to study music with a military brass band. The bandmaster recognized his talent early on, and at 19 he composed his first piece, Iskarsko Horo.

Diko Iliev saw time on the battlefield during the Balkan Wars and World War I, as well as World War II, where he was a military bandmaster for the Bulgarian army. He was stationed for a long time in Oryahovo, a town on the Danube, the River of Many Names, where he composed his most famous and popular piece, Dunavsko Horo. You will hear it in this video and see what inspired the music.

The name of the video translates to Bulgaria, Where are We? The narration (in Bulgarian, no English subtitles) describes the town of Oryahovo, in part, though the eyes of a child. It is very well presented, with beautiful scenery, especially along the river. Even if you don't understand the language, it's a pleasure to watch. It is a bit of summertime in the middle of winter, which has been especially bad in Europe this year (so cold that the Danube froze over in Bulgaria.)

Although Diko Iliev's music is associated with celebrations, his life was marked by tragedy. His first child died of tuberculosis at the age of 14, and near the end of his life, he went blind and had to leave Oryahovo to live with his daughter. He wasn't officially recognized by the Union of Bulgarian Composers until a year before his death, partly because he was primarily a self-taught musician.

Diko Iliev is remembered as the soul of a nation and and in his music you hear the voice of Bulgaria, loud and clear. Happy Birthday!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev a post with lots of music and dancing.

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev (Dunavsko Horo in its different manifestations)

Diko Iliev had an interest in music from Latin America, especially the tango and the rumba. From what I've seen on the Universe of YouTube, Bulgarians have a fascination with Latin dancing. Read more here:

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  1. Such beauty to come out of a hard life. Once again Katley you have my foot tapping!

  2. I have just come across your blog, intersting stuff, congrats! I have been in Bulgaria many times already and have also seen Bulgarian folk in action (esp. at weddings). Modern adaptations of Balkan folk music have produced excellent works (ex.: from Deep Forest and Peter Gabriel), potentials are there. The only problem is the current massive spreading of its worst side in the country (pop folk) .. which eventually leads you to hate real cool folk as well

  3. Tracie, thanks so much for stopping by!. Oftentimes the best talent comes from pain and tragedy, for example, Beethoven wrote his best music when he was completely deaf.

    Taraleshdude, welcome! Thanks for visiting, and I hope you will stop by often. I couldn't find much in English on Diko Iliev so my research is based on Bulgarian translations via Google. Glad you enjoyed, and I will check out that YouTube link.

    BTW I've listened to chalga and actually like some of it, but I don't consider it genuine folk music, it is a different genre altogether.