Thursday, April 5, 2012

Variations on a Theme by Petko Stainov: Rachenitsa Travels to Guatemala

Today's post is another cross-cultural adventure, in which the Bulgarian folk dance, rachenitsa, travels to Guatemala.

When I was a teen, my mom's best friend was a fixture at my house. Marta was from Guatemala, and she and my mom often danced our living room. Their favorite record was an album of Guatemalan folk dances played on the marimba and they never tired of it.

The marimba is a percussion instrument which looks a lot like a xylophone, and is the national instrument of Guatemala.

For more on the marimba check out this link from Wikipedia. This instrument is believed to have originated with the Maya Indians, who live what is now the Yucat√°n in southern Mexico, and in the countries of Guatemala and Honduras. Unlike the indigenous people of the Caribbean, who were nearly wiped out from European diseases, the Maya Indians have survived to this day and so has their culture. The Spanish were never able to completely suppress it.

My mom and her friend especially loved this piece, Chichicastenago, written in honor of a town in Guatemala, and played on a marimba.

You may be asking "what do marimba and Chichicastenango have to do with Bulgarian rachenitsa?"

You will find out why when you watch this video, taken in the studio of the Bulgarian National Radio, where you will see Petko Stainov's most popular piece, Rachenitsa, played on three marimbas, with drum and tambourine accompaniment. By the way, the rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria. The national dance of Bulgaria is being played on the national instrument of Guatemala. How cool is that?

Petko Stainov wrote music based on folklore themes. (The rachenitsa is subtitled "Thracian Dance.") In that respect, he had something in common with another Bulgarian composer, Diko Iliev. Stainov went blind at the age of eleven, Diko Iliev (1898-1984) lost his eyesight not long before he died. It is said that the blind depend more on their hearing than people who can see.

The main difference between the two is that Stainov was classically trained and wrote music for orchestra, whereas Iliev was self-taught and his primary focus was on Bulgarian folk dances. Stainov lived from 1896 to 1977, so he was a contemporary of Diko Iliev. Stainov was a native of the folklore region of Thrace (famous for the dance Pravo Horo). His home town was Kazanlak, in the Valley of the Roses.

The next video is of the original Stainov orchestration. The date celebrates the liberation of Bulgaria on March 3, 1878.

And finally, the Stainov Rachenitsa played on an instrument very popular in Bulgaria, the accordion. The accordion is not native to Bulgaria, but supposedly was created in a German-speaking country. The Bulgarians loved it and integrated it into their folk music.

If you enjoyed this you may also like The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa.

There is a connection between folk music from Bulgaria and folk music from Latin America.

If you like the accordion, read about The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music.

Have a Blast with Diko Iliev. I guarantee you'll enjoy it.

This post is dedicated to my mom's Guatemalan friend, Marta, who passed on in 1998 of breast cancer. She was only 57 years old.

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