By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shepherd's Flute And Sheepskin Pipes Create Authentic Balkan Atmosphere

Just as in the case of European secular music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras, the authenticity of the folk music of any country in the world in present-day performances depends a great deal on the integrity of the instruments used.  The closer they are in character to the original folk instruments of the culture and times  concerned, the more faithfully and convincingly do the true character and colors of the traditional folk art seem to materialize.

This was the impression we had consistently obtained whenever earnest and well-accomplished  foreign folk music-and-dance groups came over to perform in New Delhi -- as, for instance, on the following occasion :-

New Delhi
28 November 1986

Folk dance and music from Bulgaria

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations organized an interesting performance by a Bulgarian dance ensemble last week in Kamani Hall.  European folk music and folk dance are very closely related  to each other, and it is generally difficult to distill and separate the music.  Therefore this program was of considerable interest to lovers of folk music as well as folk dance.

The ensemble, known as Atanas Manchev, hails from a beach resort called Bourgas in Bulgaria.  About 25 performing artists figure in the current foreign tour.

The recital consisted of five mixed group dances, featuring upto eight men and eight women in each.  All the dances were performed to the accompaniment of music provided by a small folk orchestra of five men, who played a 'kaval' or shepherd's flute (Stoyan Arabadzhev), Balkan bagpipes made of sheepskin (Hristo Boev), two accordions (Dimitr Yanulov and Pietr Kobalyev), and a drum ((Mikhail Todorov).

Between dances there were short musical interludes, which presented kaval and bagpipe solos with accordion and/or drum accompaniment, or involved the whole orchestra ;  there were also a few songs vocally rendered by Nikolyna Kobalyeva.

Inverse influences 
It is a well-known fact that the folk music of many parts of Europe has considerably influenced several great composers of European classical music, especially those moved by strong nationalistic sentiments -- as may be seen from the works of Liszt, Bartók, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg, and others.

But it is not always understood or remembered that the urbanized and sophisticated art music has also influenced the rural folk music in many European countries.  In fact, there is even a school of thought which believes that all folk music is a form of diluted culture and is derived from the art music of earlier times.  This, of course, is an extreme view.  Wiser scholars visualize a via media, and draw attention to a two-way traffic of form and style between the folk and art music cultures.   

The influence of art music on the folk tradition, however, is less evident in Eastern Europe than in West European countries, due to various historic reasons.  Accordingly, the folk music originating there has truly authentic colors.

Rustic roots

Folk music invariably absorbs the linguistic intonations and poetry of the country where it springs from, and is often aligned to the the natural environment and the simple activities and celebrations of the people.  The preoccupation of folk music with the agricultural scene is noticeable all over Europe, but it is most conspicuous in the Balkan countries.

An important feature of the folk music of the Balkans is the extensive use of small intervals.  The tonal range is also extremely short.  Bulgarian folk songs are often compressed within a single octave.  All these aspects were clearly visible in the evening's music, which was mainly produced as an accompaniment to the vigorous performance of the folk dancers in colorful costumes.

Among other things, the dances depicted joyful revelries in the spring season and the ceremonial bearing of wedding guests.  Both the music and dance in the final number -- showing village workers celebrating fertility, rain, sunshine and good health -- were particularly animated and attractive.

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