Like those of Japan and the Caucasus, many composers from Eastern Europe are often overlooked in present-day repertoire. Today, we’ll look at the work of probably the most influential Bulgarian composer, Pancho Vladigerov.
Although born in Switzerland, Vladigerov moved back to Bulgaria with his family at a young age. Interestingly, he was first cousin to the renowned Russian writer Boris Pasternak, who began as a distinguished pianist (even writing a Scriabin-influenced one-movement piano sonata) before starting his literary career. At the age of eleven, two years after his father’s premature death, Vladigerov began studying with the composer Dobri Hristov in Sofia.
In his late teens, Vladigerov moved on a governmental scholarship to Berlin, where he attended a conservatory run by the German Academy of Arts. There, he twice won the prestigious Mendelssohn Prize. After graduation, he worked at the Deutsches Theater, collaborating with the well-known theater director Max Reinhardt. During his time in Berlin, Vladigerov gained fame after many of his works were published by Universal Edition in Vienna and recorded under the Deutsche Grammophon label. In 1932, Vladigerov returned to Sofia to teach at the State Academy of Music, which is now named for him.
Having spent much of his life in Bulgaria, Vladigerov was one of the first to combine the folk music of his country with classical traditions. He adopted this style from a very early age; one of his first notated works – the piano piece Potpourri – contains elements of folk music. Although Vladigerov’s writing developed and evolved over his career, the influence of the Bulgarian folk tradition on his work remained.
That influence is best exemplified by his most famous work, the Vardar Rhapsody. A fiery, nationalistic piece for violin and piano, the Rhapsody was dubbed by one critic as “the Bulgarian equivalent of Chopin’s Polonaise in A Major.”
This powerful work has since been adapted for a variety of different instrumentations, including piano solo and full orchestra. Bearing resemblance to the likes of Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid but more passionate and expressive than the former, Vladigerov’s Vardar Rhapsody is one of several works that merits greater attention in concert programs.
Folk influence can also be seen in one of Vladigerov’s most expansive compositions, his first symphony. Written in 1950 based on a Jewish tune taught by his grandfather, the symphony won Vladigerov the Dimitrov Prize, the highest award given to Bulgarian artists.
Vladigerov’s first symphony seamlessly combines the folk tunes of his youth with more modern harmonies and orchestration, creating an orchestral sound distinct from that of his contemporaries.
Vladigerov is also known for writing a number of concerti, comprising two for violin five for piano. While less influenced by folk traditions and harmonically less complex than others working in the same time period, Vladigerov’s piano concerti are interesting and enjoyable works that are not often performed.
In addition to his two symphonies and concerti, Vladigerov wrote extensively for solo piano, a number of chamber works (introducing the violin sonata and piano trio to Bulgaria), fifty concert arrangements of folk songs, ten choral songs, and a plethora of incidental music for the theater. Vladigerov’s son Alexander was also a notable composer in his own right, writing a set of variations on the Bulgarian folk song “Dilmano, Dilbero”.
As usual, thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to follow my blog.