Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chestita Baba Marta! A Baba Marta Song (in English), the Martenitsa Folk Dance Group, and Some Cool Bulgarian Crafts

Photo: Martenitsa, by Katley Brown
In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.
Mark Twain

Today's theme is Baba Marta, and her symbol, the Martenitsa.

Winter in the northeastern United States was especially long, cold and snowy and everyone is looking forward to spring!  Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a deep freeze and think Baba Marta is unhappy with us because the cold and snow will last well into the first week of March.

The first song is by Jonathan Taylor, an Englishman who lives in Bulgaria. The video was taken after a particularly harsh winter.  You can see the deep snow and the meltwater coming off the roofs of the houses. Taylor asks Baba Marta (Grandma March) to have mercy on the Bulgarians and drive away winter.  You can find the lyrics here:

The next video features the Martenitsa Folk Dance Group from Stuttgart in Germany, and took place during a summer festival in 2008. They perform a medley of Bulgarian folk dances from different folklore regions of the country: Dobrudja, Pirin, Shoppe, and others.   I have noticed that Bulgarian folklore is very popular in Germany. It must be all those trips the Germans make every summer to Black Sea resorts.

The martenitsa is a much-loved symbol in Bulgaria; it heralds the coming of spring.  Traditionally, it's made from red and white yarn woven together to make a bracelet; tassels or male/female figures.  They are given to friends and family for good luck, and to ward off winter.  They are also associated with Baba Marta (Grandma March) who is very moody, she can either bring balmy springtime weather or freezing cold and snow.  That is why it's important to make her happy by wearing martenitsa on a lapel or on the wrist.

The last video was produced by the Bulgarian National Television in Rousse, and shows the many different types of martenitsa. It's narrated in Bulgarian,with no subtitles. If you like folk art it's worth a look. These creations are quite original. There are tassels, little men and women, a broom and even spiders.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Crossing the River Part Three: The Bulgarian Martenitsa and the Romanian Mărţişor

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Martenitsa (but were afraid to ask)

The Martenitsa Tree (a modern-day folktale)

A Dance for Baba Marta: Children's Celebrations in Bulgaria

Project Martenitza, a group from Australia, has been organizing Bulgarian, Romanian and Moldovan communities around the world to decorate Martenitsa Trees.  Read more about them here:

Check out my new blog Light and Shadow, and you will understand why I hate winter.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

The Cimbalom/Tambal in Romanian Folk Music

Today's featured instrument  is the cimbalom, which is the Hungarian name for the instrument known as the hammered dulcimer (in English) or tambal (in Romanian). It is a distinctive element of Romanian folk music, especially in taraf bands. I will use the words cimbalom and tambal interchangeably.

My daughter definitely thought the cimbalom was an instrument from Hell when I played the fourth video in this post. There are some people out there who absolutely despise tambal and in cases like that it can be useful as an instrument of torture.  Percussion instruments tend to have that effect on susceptible individuals. Keep that in mind when your neighbors have noisy late night parties this summer and don't invite you.

Here is a folk dance from Romania familiar to many: Hora de Mina. The bagpipe and the panpipes play the melody, and the tambal is the rhythm section.

The next video is of Toni Iordarce.  He was known in Romania as the "Paganini of the Cimbalom."  Unfortunately, he died at a young age (45) from diabetic complications. During the later years of Ceaușescu's brutal regime (he was executed on Christmas Day, 1989) there was rationing of food, fuel, and medicine.  The majority of Romanian citizens (except for Party functionaries) often went hungry, had no heat in their apartments during long, cold winters, and died from diseases easily treated or controlled in the West.  This was probably the case with Iordarce.

It is a pleasure to watch him play.

This is a folk tune made famous in an arrangement for violin by Grigoraş Ionică Dinicu, Ciocarlia, played on the cimbalom and accompanied by orchestra.

The musician is Victor Copacinschi and the video is from 1976. The video is in black and white.  Color TV broadcasts did not exist in Romania until 1983.

This is a sirba, a popular Romanian folk dance, played on tambal and accordion, from the region of Dobrogea (south-east Romania).

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Hora de Mina

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

Crossing the River, Music From the Romanian Folklore Region of Dobrogea

The Alien Diaries will be taking a short break.  The next post will be on or about March 1st. There are over 200 posts written over the course of nearly four will be sure to find something that you like.  Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Waltzing Through the Balkans

It is my personality alone that has brought back the waltz and made it a global craze.
Andre Rieu

Music from the Balkans is best known for its uneven rhythms and odd time signatures.

Western classical and popular music, for the most part, has an even number in the time signature. A notable exception is the waltz, a dance in 3/4 time.

The waltz originated as an Austrian folk dance, the Ländler, native to southern Germany (Bavaria) and Austria. The most renowned composer of waltzes was Johann Strauss, Junior; although the Viennese waltz did not begin with him. His father Johann Senior and his friend Josef Lanner took Austrian folk tunes and dressed them up for the sophisticated audiences in Vienna and its environs. Their music became part of the classical music repertoire worldwide.

Here is an example of a waltz borrowed from folk music, the Styrian Dances by Josef Lanner. Styria (Steiermark, in German) is a region in southeastern Austria; it shares a border with Slovenia, part of a country that no longer exists, Yugoslavia.

The fame of the waltz traveled far and wide throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it spread to Hungary, where Emmerich Kalman and Franz Lehar incorporated it into their operettas. It went further down the Danube, River of Many Names (Johann Strauss' most famous waltz was about it), into the Balkans, and even as far east as Russia.

The next waltz is from Croatia.  The  tamburitza orchestra gives it a distinctly Croatian sound.  I don't know if this is a folk tune or a piece that was composed. The recording sounds quite old. By the way, much of the music at folk dances comes from vintage recordings.

Diko Iliev, Bulgarian composer (best known for Dunavsko Horo), has a birthday this month on the 15th.  Although he composed many pieces based on Bulgarian folk dances such as daichovo, rachenitsa, elenino, and pravo, he wrote waltzes, too. The title of this one, translated from the Bulgarian is In the Vineyards Over Rabine.  I have no idea where Rabine is, but it is probably somewhere in Bulgaria, which is a big wine producing country.

In Bulgaria, February is the month of St. Trifon the Pruner (Trifon Zarezan); it is the time when the vintners get to work pruning the vines to make them ready for the next growing season. It it is also celebrated with lots of wine!

And finally, here is a very famous waltz from Romania by a composer who is practically unknown nowadays. Pop culture buffs will recognize this piece because it has undergone several incarnations.  One of them was  The Anniversary Song performed by Al Jolson (of classic movie fame), in The Jolson Story. The other was a song popular in Korea titled In Praise of Death. The woman who sang it died tragically at a very young age.

This version is the original, by a composer of Serbian descent who lived in Romania.  His name was Iosef Ivanovici and he was a bandmaster stationed in Galati. He had his first introduction to music when an elderly man gave him a flute.

He composed a number of pieces including hora, a dance based on Romanian folk tunes, and many other works, including waltzes, polkas, and marches. However, his best known composition was a waltz titled Waves of the Danube, also known under the German title Donauwellen.

By the way, the conductor in this video, Minseok Kang, ironically, is from Korea, and he conducts the Botosani Philharmonic Orchestra.  He is quite the character, and an excellent dancer!


My new blog Light and Shadow has now been launched! If you enjoy humor and satire, photos and poetry, stop by to visit!  I will be posting there about once a month. Eventually I plan to sell chapbooks of my poetry on this site, as well as feature anthologies where my work has been published.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Music

A Birthday Celebration and A Source of Inspiration (music by Diko Iliev)

Blessed Wine, Cursed Drinking:  A Look at St. Trifon, The Patron Saint of Vintners

The River of Many Names, Part 6: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs (if you like tamburitza music, you will love this)

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Variations on a Romanian Folk Tune: Hora Lautareasca

Today's theme is several variations on tunes with the name Hora Lautareasca.   Lautareasca is an adjective which describes folk music from Romania played by groups of Roma (Gypsy) musicians, called "lautari." It comes from lăută, the Romanian word for lute. As you will see (and hear) in the following videos, lautareasca music includes a wide variety of instruments, including brass and woodwinds.

First, let's have a look at the first Hora Lautareasca, performed by the Dunav dancers of Jerusalem in Israel. This was the only version I could find on YouTube with a dance attached to it.

Version two is performed by a brass ensemble very popular in Romania, Fanfare Ciocarlia. My Friday night group does a dance named Coconeasa to this tune; they have it on their master list as a Vlach dance from Bulgaria. The country of origin doesn't matter; music and dance in the Balkans have this thing for crossing borders.  I like it very much, and so do the commenters on YouTube.  One mentioned that this was so beautiful she would like it played at her funeral. Another described this piece as "music for weddings and funerals."

Here's another brass rendition of Hora Lautareasca. performed by the group Fanfare Transilvania.  Transylvania is the region of Romania best known for the infamous vampire, Dracula. He was an actual person (his real name was Vlad Tepes), and had a reputation for impaling his enemies on stakes. Dracula, the vampire, was based on Balkan vampire legends, and was a fictional creation of the Irish author Bram Stoker.

 I guess the term "lautari" can also include brass bands as well as traditional instruments. Traditional instruments in Romanian bands include violins, panpipes, cimbalom, and accordion. Some are more traditional than others.

Version four is the one my group dances to on Sunday nights. This one has a number of folk instruments: if you listen carefully, there's a trombone, violin, accordion, and cimbalom. The full name of this piece is Hora Lautareasca Din Dolj. Dolj is a region in southern Romania.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a video of the dance; the music will have to do.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

A Romani Potpourri (a variety of Romani tunes)

More Folklore and Pop Culture (how Count Dracula became a pop culture icon)

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