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Music of Bulgaria

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The music of Bulgaria refers to all forms of music associated with the country of Bulgaria, including classical, folk, popular music, and other forms.

Classical music, opera, and ballet are represented by composers Emanuil Manolov, Pancho Vladigerov and Georgi Atanasov and singers Ghena Dimitrova, Mariana Paunova, Boris Hristov, Raina Kabaivanska and Nicolai Ghiaurov.[1][2][3][4] Notable names from the contemporary pop scene are Lili Ivanova, Emil Dimitrov, Vasil Naydenov. The State Television Female Vocal Choir is the most famous performing folk ensemble in the country, and has received a Grammy Award in 1990.[5] Famous Bulgarian artists abroad are Sylvie Vartan, Philipp Kirkorov, Lucy Diakovska, Mira Aroyo, Mikhael Paskalev, Nora Nova, Vasko Vassilev and Ivo Papazov.


Bulgarian music uses a wide range of instruments. Some folk instruments are variants of traditional Asian instruments such as the "Saz" (Bulgarian tambura), or the kemençe (Bulgarian gadulka). More modern style instruments are often used in the modern dance music that was an offshoot of traditional village music.

Folk instruments

Bulgarian bands use instruments that commonly include:

  • The gaida, a traditional goat-skin bagpipe. There are two common types of gaida. The Thracian gaida is tuned either in D or in A. The Rhodopi gaida, called the kaba gaida, is larger, has a much deeper sound and is tuned in F.
  • The kaval, an end-blown flute that is very close to the Turkish kaval, as well as the Arabic "Ney."
  • The gadulka, a bowed string instrument perhaps descended from the rebec, held vertically, with melody and sympathetic strings
  • The tǔpan, a large drum worn over the shoulder by the player and hit with a beater ("kiyak") on one side and a thin stick ("osier") on the other
  • The tambura, a long-necked, metal-strung, fretted lute used for rhythmic accompaniment as well as melodic solos. It is not dissimilar from the Greek bouzouki.
  • The tarabuka or dumbek, an hourglass-shaped finger-drum. It is very similar to the Turkish and North African "darbooka" and the Greek "touberleki" (τουμπερλέκι).

Modern professional musicians soon reached new heights of innovation in using traditional Bulgarian instruments, by expanding the capacities of the gaida (Kostadin Varimezov and Nikola Atanasov), gadulka (Mihail Marinov, Atanas Vulchev) and kaval (Stoyan Chobanov, Nikola Ganchev, Stoyan Velichkov). Other, factory-made instruments had arrived in Bulgaria in the 19th century, including the accordion. Bulgarian accordion music was defined by Boris Karlov and later Gypsy musicians including Kosta Kolev and Ibro Lolov.

In 1965, the Ministry of Culture founded the Koprivshtitsa National Music Festival, which has become an important event in showcasing Bulgarian music, singing and dance. It is held once every five years, and the last festival was in August 2010.

Instruments used in Bulgarian wedding music

Instruments used in wedding music include: violin, accordion, clarinet, saxophone, drum set, electric bass, electric guitar, synthesizer soca.

Folk music

Regional styles abound in Bulgaria. Dobrudzha, Sofia, Rhodopes, Macedonia, Thrace and the Danube shore all have distinctive sounds.

Folk music revolved around holidays like Christmas, New Year's Day, midsummer, and the Feast of St. Lazarus, as well as the Strandzha region's unusual Nestinarstvo rites, in which villagers fell into a trance and danced on hot coals as part of the joint feast of Sts Konstantin and Elena on May 21. Music was also a part of more personal celebrations such as weddings.

Singing has always been a tradition for both men and women. Songs were often sung by women at work parties such as the sedenka (often attended by young men and women in search of partners to court), betrothal ceremonies, and just for fun. Women had an extensive repertoire of songs that they sang while working in the fields.

Young women eligible for marriage played a particularly important role at the dancing in the village square (which not too long ago was the major form of "entertainment" in the village and was a very important social scene). The dancing — every Sunday and for three days on major holidays like Easter — began not with instrumental music, but with two groups of young women singing, one leading each end of the dance line. Later on, instrumentalists might arrive and the singers would no longer lead the dance. A special form of song, the lament, was sung not only at funerals but also when young men departed for military service.

Bulgarian folk music is known for its asymmetrical rhythms (defined by the famous Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók as "Bulgarian rhythms"), where meter is not split in even beats, but in combinations of short (2 metric units) and long (3 metric units) beats, corresponding to the dancers' short and long steps. In European folk music, such asymmetrical rhythms are commonly used in Bulgaria, Greece, Norway and Sweden.

The most important state-supported orchestra of this era was the Sofia-based State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances, founded in 1951 and led by Philip Koutev. Koutev has become perhaps the most influential musician of 20th century Bulgaria, and updated rural music with more accessible harmonies to great domestic acclaim. In 1952, Georgi Boyadzhiev founded the group known today as the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, which became famous worldwide after the release of a series of recordings entitled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Their recording "Pilentse pee" can be heard sampled in the Billboard hit of Jason Derulo - "Breathing".[6]

The distinctive sounds of women's choirs in Bulgarian folk music come partly from their unique rhythms, harmony and polyphony, such as the use of close intervals like the major second and the singing of a drone accompaniment underneath the melody, especially common in songs from the Shope region around the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the Pirin region. In addition to Koutev, who pioneered many of the harmonies, and composed several songs that were covered by other groups, (especially Tudora), various women's vocal groups gained popularity, including Trio Bulgarka, consisting of Yanka Roupkina, Eva Georgieva, and Stoyanka Boneva, some of whom were included in the "Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices" tours.

Trio Bulgarka were featured on The Sensual World album by Kate Bush on the songs "Deeper Understanding", "Never Be Mine", and "Rocket's Tail".[7] In 1993 they appeared on another Kate Bush album, The Red Shoes, in the songs "You're the One", "The Song of Solomon", and "Why Should I Love You?", which also featured Prince.

Folk dances

Main article: Bulgarian dances
Bulgarian folk dances in Brussels, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva initiative

One of the most distinctive features of Balkan folk dance music is the complexity of its rhythms in comparison to Western music. Although it uses Western meters such as 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, Balkan music also includes meters with 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 beats per measure, sometimes referred to as "asymmetric meters". These can often be understood as combinations of groups of "quick" and "slow" beats. For example, the dance lesnoto ("the light/easy one") has a meter of 7 beats with emphasis on the first, fourth, and sixth beats. This can be divided into three groups, a "slow" unit of 3 beats and two "quick" units of 2 beats, often written 3-2-2.

Each basic folk dance type uses a distinct combination of these rhythmic "units". Some examples are: rachenitsa (7 beats divided: 2-2-3), paidushko horo (5 beats: 2-3), eleno mome (7 beats: 2-2-1-2), kopanitsa (11 beats: 2-2-3-2-2), Bucimis (15 beats: 2-2-2-2-3-2-2), and pravo horo, which can either be standard 4/4 or 6/8.

Some rhythms with the same number of beats can be divided in different ways: for example, 8-beat rhythms can be divided 2-3-3, 3-2-3, 3-3-2, 2-2-2-2, 2-2-4, 2-4-2, 4-2-2, or even 4-4. This brief overview is but a simplified summary; one that Balkan musicians themselves would not use; it does not capture the full subtlety of Balkan rhythms.

Selected discography of folk music

  • Music of Bulgaria – Original 1955 Recording (Nonesuch 9 72011). Early recordings of Philip Koutev and the Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic. This was one of Frank Zappa's favorite albums, and Bulgarian harmonies reportedly influenced the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.[8]
  • Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – (Nonesuch 9 79165 in the U.S.; 4AD Records CAD603CD in the UK). Featuring the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Choir. This is the world hit that introduced many to Bulgarian music. It is actually a collection of recordings by various artists and groups. A group that included some of these singers (and others) toured under this name.
  • Balkana The Music of Bulgaria – (Hannibal HNCD 1335). Many of the songs are by Trio Bulgarka or one of its members.
  • The Forest is Crying (Lament for Indje Voivoda) – (Hannibal HNCD 1342). By the Trio Bulgarka.
  • Two Girls Started to Sing ... Bulgarian Village Singing – (Rounder CD 1055). Field recordings.
  • Bulgarian Soul – Bulgarian operatic mezzo Vesselina Kasarova sings Bulgarian folk songs with the Cosmic Voices from Bulgaria. Songs are arranged by the Bulgarian composer Krassimir Kyurkchiyski and accompanied by the Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra.

Selected folk artists


The tradition of church singing in Bulgaria is more than a thousand years old, and can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. One of the earliest known musical figure (composer, singer and musical reformer) of Medieval Europe Yoan Kukuzel (1280–1360), known as The Angel-voiced for his singing abilities, has Bulgarian origins.

In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, there are two traditions of church singing:

  • The second tradition is rooted in choral church music, established during the 19th century, when Russian choral church music began to have an influence in Bulgaria. During the 19th and 20th century, many Bulgarian composers created their works in the spirit of Russian polyphony. Today, Orthodox music is alive and is performed both during church worship services and at concerts by secular choirs and soloists.

The following list shows contemporary Bulgarian choirs and singers that have a repertoire rooted in orthodox music:


Popular music


Some of the most popular artists include:


Main article: Chalga

Chalga (Pop-folk) is a contemporary music style that combines often provocative Bulgarian lyrics with popular Eastern European and Turkish music. It is the Bulgarian version of the corresponding variations in neighbouring countries such as Greece (Laïkó), Serbia (Turbofolk) or Romania (manele).

Chalga-influenced "Folk" music

A subgenre of chalga music, referred to as "folk music" or "wedding music" is often mistaken for Bulgaria's traditional music. "Folklor TV", "Planeta Folk" and "Tiankov TV" are TV stations specially for this style. Performers such as Slavka Kalcheva, Nelina, Ivo Papazov, etc. are often labeled as "folk artists", although they have not been influenced much by traditional Bulgarian music. This subgenre is rather a mixture of synthpop, chalga and gypsy music with Bulgarian wedding motives. Yuri Yunakov, a Bulgarian Romani saxophonist, is one its creators with clarinetist Ivo Papazov. The album New Colors in Bulgarian Wedding Music highlights his amalgamation of traditional Bulgarian music with more modern elements.

During the Communist era, some folk musicians lived outside the state-supported music scene. Without official support, wedding bands were also without official limitations on their music, leading to fusions with foreign styles and instruments. Thrace was an important center of this music, which was entirely underground until 1986, when a festival of this music, which became a biennial event, was inaugurated in the town of Stambolovo, and artists like Sever, Trakiîski Solisti, Shoumen and Juzhni Vetar became popular, especially clarinetist Ivo Papasov.

Popular Pop-folk artists




Rock, Metal, and New Wave

Punk and Funk[9]


See also


  1. ^ "The 2011/2012 season of the National Opera and Ballet House". Bulgarian National Radio. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  2. ^ "Obituary: Ghena Dimitrova". The Telegraph. 13 June 2005. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Forbes, Elizabeth (29 June 1993). "Obituary: Boris Christoff". The Independent. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Kozinn, Allan (29 June 1993). "Boris Christoff, Bass, Dies at 79; Esteemed for His Boris Godunov". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  5. ^ "32nd Grammy Awards Winners". Grammy Awards. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  6. ^ Jason Derulo-Breathing
  7. ^ Kate Bush and Trio Bulgarka interview
  8. ^ Miles, Barry (2005). Zappa: A Biography. Grove/Atlantic, Inc. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-8021-4215-3. 
  9. ^ "Punk Rock in Bulgaria 1979-2008". 30 August 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 

Further reading

External links

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