Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mandolins, Marimbas, and Bulgarian Folk Music

Today's cross-cultural adventure explores Bulgarian folk music played on instruments from Italy and Central America.

The first piece is by Diko Iliev, who composed music based on folk dances from northwestern Bulgaria. This dance is a  Daichovo Horo titled Bilka.  Daichovo has an odd rhythm: quick-quick-quick-slow. The accent is on the first beat, but the fourth is the longest. For you music theorists out there the top number in the time signature is a nine.  Balkan music is well-known for its irregular rhythms with a combination of quick-slow beats. 

Here's the traditional orchestration for brass band to use as a frame of reference:

The next video is the same piece played by the group Prima Visione, and arranged for mandolin orchestra.  The mandolin is an instrument most commonly associated with Italian music; this is quite an unusual combination.  This version of Bilka has a quieter, gentler sound than the brass band.

The marimba is a a percussion instrument related to the xylophone.  It is commonly associated with the folk music of the indigenous Maya people of the Yucatan in Mexico and the country of Guatemala.

Now things really start to get interesting. This video is of the Via Nova Percussion Group playing Bulgarian horo on several marimbas. Horo is a generic name for a folk dance from Bulgaria, in this case this one is a Pravo Horo.

The second set features three Bulgarian folk dances: LesnotoKopanitsa, and Pravo. The first two have odd time signatures; Lesnoto is in 7/8 (pineapple-apple-apple) and Kopanitsa in 11/8 (quick-quick-slow-quick quick).  The Pravo can either be in 2/4 or 6/8, this version is in 6/8.  If you look off to the side, you'll see the tupan player.  The tupan is a double-headed drum used throughout the Balkans.  He is the all-important rhythm section and keeps everyone else in line :)

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev: a short biography of the composer with lots of music!

Daichovo, Plain or Fancy: Take Your Pick (Several versions of a Bulgarian folk dance)

Variations on a Theme by Petko Stainov (a contemporary of Diko Iliev who also used folk motifs in his music). In this post, you'll hear different versions of his piece, Rachenitsa, along with some folk music from Guatemala.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Springtime Music by Diko Iliev

Today's post has a springtime theme with music by the Bulgarian composer Diko Iliev (1898-1984).
His works were based on folk dances from northwestern Bulgaria and arranged for brass orchestras. 

Although many people are familiar with his most famous piece, Dunavsko Horo, he wrote numerous other compositions which are not as well known.

The first is titled Пробуждане на Пролетта (Springtime Awakening.)  Although I like the scenery in this video, however, the "please purchase" annotation is a distraction.  My guess is that although many YouTubers are looking to make money from their videos, they are a bit more discreet about it.

By the way, I find commercials very annoying, and always skip though them when I can. The advertising business would go bankrupt the if the world were made up of people like me.

The next piece is Proletno Horo (Springtime Dance).  After a long, hard winter, everyone wants to dance outside.  The artwork is very appealing as well, it captures the essence of a Bulgarian village scene.  If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know in the "comments" section!

Same artwork, but a different piece of music this time, Maisko Utro, or May Morning. Iliev might have been inspired by a quote from William Shakespeare when he composed this piece: No doubt they rose up early to observe The rite of May; and, hearing our intent, Came here in grace of our solemnity.

I like spring because it's so colorful, and after the cold and dreariness of winter, it's good to see the trees dressed with beautiful blossoms and everything in brilliant hues.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dreaming of Spring in the Middle of Winter (a blog post written during the cold, snowy and harsh winter of 2010-2011).  If you like Bulgarian folk songs about flowers, this is for you!

Having a Blast with Diko Iliev ( a short bio of Diko Iliev with lots of music).

A Celebration for Diko Iliev's Birthday (more music  and lots of scenery from the town of Oryahovo, where the composer spent a good portion of his life).

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two Variations on a Macedonian Folk Dance: Bufcansko

One of my favorite folk dances is Bufcansko, from the Republic of Macedonia. The first variation is the one most commonly performed by recreational folk dance groups. It was one of the first dances I learned in Balkan class many years ago. If you listen closely to the music you can hear the clarinet played in the upper register. Some people consider the clarinet an "instrument of torture", but I happen to like it, and even took lessons many years ago.

The video mentions that the dance is from Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists since it split up into individual republics during the 1990's. Macedonia declared its independence in 1991.

The second video is a performance by a childrens' folk ensemble from Macedonia. Bufcansko is a women's dance (here it's done by a group of girls). They add a bounciness to the dance that is more pronounced than in the previous video, and they are a joy to watch. The instrumentation is different as well, it has a uniquely Macedonian sound in which you can hear the kaval (open-ended flute) the gaida (bagpipe) and the tambura.  The tambura is a string instrument, related to the mandolin. It's also popular in the Pirin region of Bulgaria, which shares a border with Macedonia.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bagpipe in Macedonian Folk Music

The Tambura in Bulgarian, Macedonian and Croatian Folk Music

Two Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance, Hora de Mina

Two Variations on a Bulgarian folk dance, Opas

You can also listen to music from two former Yugoslav republics here:

The River of Many Names, Part 5: The Danube in Serbian Folk Music

The River of Many Names, Part 6: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Taste of Albania at Balkan Music Night 2013

Balkan Music Night is an annual festival which takes place on the third Saturday of March in Concord, Massachusetts.

I have gone to Balkan Music night for the past three years and I am always delighted to watch the dance ensembles perform at this event.  There is also participatory dancing when the costumed groups aren't performing, and there are numerous bands that play for your dancing pleasure.

The performers represented different Balkan countries, such as Bulgaria and Serbia, but the most outstanding ensemble this year was an group of young Albanian dancers from Worcester, Massachusetts,Valle Tona. They had amazing energy and were a total pleasure to watch.

Albania is a country that doesn't make the news very often especially here in the United States. It is a country very different in culture and language than the other countries on the Balkan peninsula. 

First of all, they speak a language that is totally unrelated to Slavic, Latin or Greek.  Secondly, the country has had a history of isolation from the rest of Europe. Thirdly, unlike the other Balkan countries, Islam is the dominant religion, although there is s sizable population of Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.  The dance group Valle Tona is sponsored by St. Mary's Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Albanian music is very haunting and beautiful as you can see (and hear) in this video.

The group also performed Valle Kosovare, a lively dance done to pop-folk music.  I didn't record it this year, but here is a Valle Tona video from a church picnic, taken during the summer of 2011.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

A Romanian Festival with an Albanian Accent

Music is the Strongest Form of Magic: Balkan Music Night 2012

Balkan Music Night 2011: More Balkan March Madness

By the way, if you like trivia, the American author Laura Ingalls Wilder travelled all over Europe and lived for a while in Albania.  She is best known for the series of Little House books, an autobiographical set of novels about her childhood in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Read more about her here:

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