Beauty and diversity of folk music from the region of Pirin Mountain

Photo: archive

Bulgaria is not a big country but it boasts a diverse folklore that differs largely from region to region. The region of the Pirin Mountain, Southwestern Bulgaria, is dominated by this lovely alpine mountain. Its peak Vihren rising at 2914 m above sea level is the seventh highest mountain peak across Europe. The locality of Predela marks the region’s northern edge. There the folklore festival Pirin Singing is held. The folk music from this part of Bulgaria is a veritable magnet for the admirers of folklore. Two year ago, the festival attracted thousands of visitors from the country and abroad happy to listen to melodious songs and tunes and watch the recreation of local rites and rituals.

The diversity of folklore in the Pirin region stems from the mixing of older rural music with more recent urban tunes that emerged in the late 19 c. One of the first written evidence of the wide range of folk songs here and also in Vardar and Aegean Macedonia that used to be part of the Bulgarian ethnic territory, is the volume of the brothers Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov from the town of Strouga. It was released in 1861, while Bulgaria was still an Ottoman province, with the name Bulgarian Folk Songs.

The cardinal trait of older folklore is the two-part singing. Compared to the Shopp singing tradition where this type of singing is sharper and more dissonant due to the narrow intervals between the two parts, the Pirin two-part style is more dynamic, more melodious and more appealing to the ear. Rhythmically, Bulgarian folk music features the 7/8 beat with a first extended time. It dominates the entire folklore region and adds color to folk music. Songs are sung by either men’s or women’s vocal groups (small choirs). Almost every town and village has got its folk choir and some of them are known internationally, like the ones from Bansko, Bania, Sandanski and Satovcha. Men prefer songs sung during big family and community occasions and often have epic plots.

Women sing songs about hard work, family relations, love and songs related to various rituals.

Songs from the villages of Dolen and Satovcha in the area of the town of Gotse Deltchev display a very special type of polyphony. The locals refer to them as “songs sung high” and these boast a large vocal volume and include layering of parts and whoops. The vocal group from Satovcha is holder of the Herder Prize for this unique singing technique.

Bansko, an architecture reserve and a world-famous skiing resort – is also known for its songs with a specific hiccup-like sound effect.

The most characteristic traditional instrument in the Pirin region is the mandolin. It has been common in the Bulgarian lands since ancient times. There is a wealth of evidence about this, on church frescoes and miniatures found in old manuscripts. The instrument was most probably brought here by the Proto-Bulgarian khan Asparough, founder of the Bulgarian state in the Balkans in 7 c. His brothers, the princes Kouber and Altzek, who moved further west, made the mandolin popular with the name Bulgaria in Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Spain.

The bag-pipe follows the mandolin as the second most popular instrument in the region. Unlike the low-pitched Rhodope bag-pipe, its sonority is higher. The drum is another popular instrument.

The population of Southwestern Bulgaria has been keeping with love and dedication its ancient folk music. Various folk music groups are active releasing albums and making recordings, including Perun from Razlog, Pirinski grivatsi from Eleshnitsa, Desilitsa from Dobrinishte, the groups from Sklave, Brestnitsa and many other villages. The beauty of the Pirin folklore music has inspired a few Bulgarian composers such as Dimitar Dinev, founder of the first Bulgarian folklore ensemble, Gotse Deltchev, Alexander Kokareshkov, and Kiril Stefanov, long time leader of the Pirin Ensemble in Blagoevgrad. The Gotse Deltchev Ensemble in Sofia was founded in 1945 by heirs of refugees from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia. Its repertoire accentuates urban folklore.

Urban folklore marks the repertoire of the great folk singers of the Pirin region – Kostadin Gugov (1935-2004), Roza Tsvetkova (1931) and Ilia Argirov (1932-2012).

English version: Daniela Konstantinova

The audio to this feature includes the following tracks:

  1. My porch is rotten, in the rendition of a men’s folklore group from Kolarovo
  2. A little girl digging a gutter, in the rendition of a women’s folklore group from Lazhnitsa
  3. Wide, wide field, in the rendition of a men’s folklore group from Bansko
  4. Go down, bright sun, in the rendition of Bisserov Sisters trio
  5. Georgi’s sweetheart weeping little tears, in the rendition of a folklore group from Satovcha
  6. A blossoming marigold, in the rendition of a women’s folklore group from Bansko
  7. The chain dance of the landlords, in the rendition of Kiril Traykov
  8. The chain dance of butchers, in the rendition of Georgi Katerinin
  9. Mariche, lovely girl, in the rendition of the Gotse Deltchev folklore group
  10. I went by Bitola barracks last night, in the rendition of Kostadin Gugov

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