I have been doing research on Bulgarian music and culture for quite a while now, and I found the subject quite fascinating. I have managed to get my hands on two particularly interesting books – Music in Bulgaria: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture by Timothy Rice and Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition by Donna A. Buchanan. Since I found both of the books interesting, not only from a composer`s point of view, I`ve decided to share some of my thoughts.
Music in Bulgaria: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, being part of The Global Music Series, is a fairly typical ethnomusicological book; it gives a general introduction to musical style and instrumentation of each of the bulgarian region (the author names and describes four of them: the Shop region near Sofia, Thrace, Rhodope Mountains and Pirin region). Obviously the part I found most interesting was the chapter on Rhodope Mountains, which is where the action of Radiogram takes place. Music in Bulgaria is not very detailed (however if you know what to look for, you can easily find all the missing details on the internet, like for example tunings, etc.), but nonetheless, very satisfying. The Global Music Series (which consists of more than 20 books) is a wonderful place to start for everyone interested in particular ‘ethnic’ music tradition. For more information check out this companion website: http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/umbrella/globalmusic/
Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition is a wholly different beast, though to be completely hontest, I have skipped the Musicians part of the book (at least for now) and delved right into the chapters on Rhodopes. This book gives a great, vivid image of the regional culture and spirit, which is so crucial for a composer trying to be authentic in his writing. For example, consider this passages from page 280:
Very little onstage movement was evident in the Ensamble`s [Ensamble for Rhodope Songs and Dances] program, but when this occured, it was accomplished with the great calm and steadiness unique to Rhodope choreogrophy […]; and […] she described local men`s dancing as related to their demeanors and everyday gestures: slow, ponderous, and delibarate, filled with emotions but constrained.
It`s this sort of information that is really hard to find (without going anywhere that is), but can tell you a lot about the people and the spirit of the region. Besides that, the book has some interesting chapters discussing Bulgaria`s Thracian / Ottoman heritage and it`s political meaning, its complex ethnic structure (especially the Muslim groups: Pomaks, Turks and Tatars), the tradition of slow songs and it`s relation to the complex history of Bulgaria and even interviews with musicians about narodna muzika and its syncretism with Turkish music… in other words, the book covers lot of information a composer writing a score about Pomak family in the 70` has to know. Still, there is there`s probably even more goodness inside.
I hope at least someone found this interesting 😉 Anyway, back to work !
p.s if you`re interested in listening to some fantastic Bulgarian music – here are a couple great, pretty well-known albums to start:
Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – an album released in 1975, which was a result of years of studies by Marcel Cellier (definitely a name worth further investigation); there is a whole chapter on this album and Cellier in Performing Democracy…
Music of Bulgaria [Deezer] – one of my favourites, a fantastic album from 1955. According to wikipedia, one of Frank Zappa`s favourites.
Bulgarian Soul [Deezer] – an album featuring a Bulgarian mezzo-sopranist Vesselina Kasarova; just listen to Dilmano, Dilbero 🙂
p.p.s. both of the books have a CD with music and score sheets (for some of the songs).