Let’s take a look together at an analysis, originally written in Bulgarian, that traces this musical phenomenon, and how following it helped us Bulgarians, to enlighten ourselves about the early history of our origins, as it was very controversial in the historical and other academic communities, from where exactly in Asia our ancestors or the so called “Proto- Bulgarians” began their journey, during the great Migration period.
Let’s also make the clear notion and keep the emphasis on the modern and open-minded perception that the peoples of Bulgaria and Macedonia are noticeably similar - ethnically and culturally, and to stay away from the unneeded arguing and debates about nationalities, “trade mark cultural rights” and so-on political disputes, which I find as narrow-minded, shrewish - and accept as a sign of bad manners, as a little cogitation on early Bulgarian history is also included in the article.
So - if you are interested in this musical phenomenon and from where in the world (or at least we, in Bulgaria believe) it originated, take comfort and prepare for a lengthy reading.
“The easy transfer of songs and melodies to today's mass media creates the feeling that musical forms are universal, above-national, temporary and perishable. However, it is not so for the traditional folk music of the individual people. It represents a crystallized, distilled by the time fruit of the historical destiny of the people. In the antiquity, the musical traditions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and India were the most developed, from where come the origins of modern musical instruments and musical concepts.
Similar to language, traditional folk music (folk music, popular folk or shortly pop-folk, from the Latin “populous”, and the German “völk” for people, we can also make a reference to the more simple and understandable English “folk”, again for people) is a very conservative element in the culture of every nation. Therefore, from the peculiarities of folklore, conclusions can be drawn about the early history and origin of the people. The Bulgarian folklore music has some characteristics – unequal tact, impeccable singing, characteristic roots, instrumentation, etc., on which many are written, but they are still not used to enlighten us about the early history of the Bulgarians. One attempt to do that is the purpose of this article.
In the theory of music, musical works are explained on the basis of several basic notions such as tone, sound, tact, rhythm, melody, root, speed, etc. The consistent production of the required number of tones builds up a musical thought, a melody. The melody gives rise to a certain feeling and mood; it influences people's consciousness and subconscious - that is why music is as important as speech. The traditional music of every nation is one of the most important elements of its culture, along with language, religion, traditions, etc.
Depending on their duration, the tones are arranged in such a sequence that they can be played, danced or marched upon. The main, smallest group of tonal lengths, repeated many times throughout the melody, is called the TACT. The clause contains a number of temporary intervals that can be numbered or measured, for example, by moving the hand up and down. One or more of these times are strong, hit, the rest are “not hit”. The time for one downhill (upward) is usually taken as long as a quarter of a note (1/4). The most common is the elementary equal 2/4, containing two equal times, one of which is hit. By collecting several such beats, combined equals of type 4/4, 6/4, etc. are obtained. Quite rarely, some peoples also encounter the unequal tact, where one or more of the clock times have a longer duration than usual, usually 50%. The “irregular meter time signatures” include strokes having 5, 7 or above combinations. In some musical encyclopedias the term “additive rhythm” is used instead of the term "unequal tact". Accordingly, the equals are called “divisive rhythms”.
Bulgarian musical folklore abounds with uneven strokes. In fact, they are the most characteristic and distinctive feature of Bulgarian folk music and are absent in western music. Sometimes, quite improperly and incorrectly, in Bulgarian musical literature these unbalanced processes are referred to as "irregularities". In fact, equal and unequal patterns are equally "correct and normal" forms of musical thought and have the same right to existence. Moreover, the unequal forms of a characteristic Bulgarian feature are an important Bulgarian contribution to the musical culture of Europe and the world!
The Bulgarian ethnic territory is divided into several folklore areas. In terms of the
volume and quality of the musical heritage, the main folklore region is the Thracian, including the Upper Thracian Plain, the Rhodope Mountains, the Strandzha Mountain and part of the Varna region. The Macedonian area is another such important folk region (In Bulgarian folklore science, the Macedonian region is divided in three sub- regions and these are as follow “Pirinska” after the mountain Pirin, “Vardarska”, after the Vardar River and “Egeiska” or “Belomorska” after the Aegean Sea, and they also have their distinctive folklore soundings and traits.)
Of less importance are the other folklore districts of Dobrudja, Moesia and finally the so called “Shopluk” region, which corresponds to the capital Sofia and its surroundings. The diatonic soundtrack (sound with halftones) is found in all folklore areas. Typical of the Rhodopes is the predominance of the pentatonic soundtrack, which is typical for the music of China, East Asia and the American Indians, but is also found in India, among the Slavs, the Irish, and others. In Thrace most common are the so-called chromatic roots with increased tone intervals typical of the music of the ancient peoples of Greece, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Iran and India. They are denoted as Dorian, Phrygian, Ionian, Lydian, Aeolian and other roots. The Lydian root (the major) and the Aeolian root (the minor) coincide with the famous “major” and “minor” “lad” or “ROOT”, which are the only roots in Western music. Thus, the rich Thracian music resembles the music in classical Greece and the ancient states of Asia Minor, Persia and Mesopotamia. Depending on whether the melody goes up or down, the tonal intervals in Thracian music may increase or shorten.
Bulgarian folk music is unique with its frequent asymmetric measures. In all Bulgarian folklore districts there are asymmetric measures, which is sharply different from the other European and neighboring Balkan peoples!! In Bulgarian folklore are encountered unequal patterns of the types 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 and 11/8 or complex (5 + 7) / 8, (15 + 14) / 8 (9 + 5) / 16 and (9 + 5) / 16. Below are the names of some of the most common Bulgarian “horo” dances, most of whom have asymmetric measures.
“Paidushko horo” (2 + 3; 5/16)
“Quartet Horo” (3 + 2 + 2 or 3 + 4; 7/16)
“Rachenitsa” (2 + 2 + 3 or 4 + 3; 7/16)
“Dycho's Horo” (4 + 2 + 3 or 2 + 2 + 2 + 3; 9/16)
“Trite pati” (The three times) 2 + 2 + 4
“Elenino Horo” (2 + 2 + 1 + 2; 7/8)
“Horo Eleno Mome” (4 + 4 + 2 + 3 or 3 + 4 + 2 + 3; 13/16 or 12/16)
“Petrunino Horo” (3 + 4 + 2 + 3, 4 + 4 + 2 + 3, 12/16 or 13/16)
“Gankino Horo” or “Copanitsa” (4 + 3 + 4 or 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2; 11/16)
“Asano mlada nevesto” (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2; 11/8) - horo from Macedonia
“Shopsko Horo” (2/4)
“Horo Butchimish” (2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2; 15/16)
“Pravo Horo” (3 + 3 or 6/16)
“Yove malay mome” (7 + 11; 7/16 + 11/16 or 25/16)
“Sandansko horo” (2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2; 22/16)
“Sedi Donka” (7 + 7 + 11 where 7 = 3 + 2 + 2 and 11 = 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2; 7/16 + 7/16 + 11/16 or 25/16)
For the first time the unequal beats, (uneven beats, asymmetric measures, irregular times) were noticed by European musical theory in 1886, when Bulgarian music teacher Atanas Stoin published some Bulgarian folk melodies. The Bulgarian composer Dobri Hristov makes a complete account of the immense amount of unevenness in the Bulgarian musical folklore. With these works, the uneven beats are introduced for the first time into the musical theory, as for the Western musicians, they are practically unknown until then. In Western music, these sophisticated tact timings only appeared at the end of the 19th century, though very rarely. One of the first examples of this is the third part of the Tchaikovsky Pathological Symphony. In the works of the Hungarian composer of the early 20th century, Bela Bartok encounters very often uneven patterns of the types 3/8, 5/8 and 7/8, which he writes that he borrowed from Bulgarian folk music based on traditional melodies in a rhythmically irregular tact. Here appears the beautiful melody of the fourth part of the Bela Bartok Concerto for Bella. Bella Bartok himself calls the irregular times in the music Bulgarian Features. Although Bartok had known Bulgarian music since 1912, he began to use his characteristic rhythms as a compositional instrument only after the publication of Vasil Stoin in 1927. [Vasil Stoin's Grundriss der Metrik und der Rhythmic der Bulgarischen Volkmusik. 1927].
Other, more recent works in uneven tunes are the song "Money" (7/4) of the Pink Floyd band, the composition "Mars, the War of the Worlds" by Gustav Holst from the orchestral suite "Planets", some jazz compositions in Dact Brubeck's 11/4, 7/4 and 9/8 Dave Brubeck quartets, and the work of Philip Glass. The works of Kate Bush and George Harrison also have uneven rhythms inspired by Bulgarian folklore and Indian music.
In fact, Bulgaria and Macedonia are the only countries in Europe where asymmetric metric and rhythmic forms are an integral part of the national music! Sometimes the opinion that unbalanced movements are a Balkan phenomenon is incorrect because they are present in rare cases in the music of Bulgarian neighbors, and in most cases, these are obvious Bulgarian borrowings. Where did these unbalanced movements come from in Bulgarian music? The genealogy of these rhythmic forms is not clear. Links to Arabic and Greek music are possible, but there is no convincing evidence to clarify the issue. On the other hand, the cases of such unequal timings in the Greek and Arabic music as compared to the Bulgarian are extremely rare.
The contemporary Bulgarians were formed on the basis of the state-building people of the Proto-Bulgarians and the mixing with them of the Slavs and the remains of the local Thracians which in this period were reportedly heavily influenced by the Greeks. Obviously, these uneven musical timings cannot be an inheritance by the Slavs, since they are not present in any purely Slavic nation and people today. The Thracians and their kinsmen's missionaries and Dacians have inhabited the territory of present-day Romania, Bulgaria, Eastern Macedonia and the coasts of the Sea of Marmara. The fact that unbalanced movements are not typical of the present-day neighboring countries of Bulgaria such as Romania, Albania, Greece and Turkey show that they were not inherent in the music of the ancient Thracians, Illyrians, Hellenes, and their kinsmen from the region.
The only element of the Bulgarian people, which could potentially bring about the uneven beats, are the Proto-Bulgarians. This hypothesis, however, could only be emphasized and sustained if:
1) the Proto-Bulgarians were a sufficiently numerous ethnic group because elements of their folklore cannot be imposed on the next generations only by power or religious ceremonies.
2) The uneven timings must have been present in the folklore of the Proto-Bulgarians or at least among the peoples of the geographic region from where they originated.
However, both conditions cannot be fulfilled if it is assumed that the Proto-Bulgarians were Turks (not to be confused with modern Turkey, or the Turkish people, we’re referring to the ancient Turks). Because the Turkic theory of the ethnical origin of the Proto-Bulgarians can only be considered by people who consider that the number of Proto-Bulgarians was negligible in comparison with that of the Slavs. Turkic theory lost meaning among people convinced that the Proto-Bulgarians were 30, 40 or 50% of the total population of the first Bulgarian state on the Balkans, because it cannot explain the absence of early Turkic words in the Old Bulgarian language and Mongoloid genetic traits in the next generations. And that was the real proportion of the number of proto-Bulgarians / total population.
Secondly, even if there were many Turks, within the Proto-Bulgarian people, they would not be able to bring the “uneven beats” in Bulgaria, because these timings are unknown to the early Turk peoples. In the music of the peoples living today in the native of the Turks - Mongolians, Manchurians, Yakuts, etc., there is no sign of uneven beat timings.
And what can the East-Iranian theory of the origins of the Proto-Bulgarians say? This theory rests on the scientific facts that the Proto-Bulgarians were numerous people that buried their dead in Sarmatian custom, that the skeletons and the heads of the buried are of the “pamiro –feganian” anthropological type, that there are many eastern documents testifying to the advent of the Proto-Bulgarians from Pamir and Inner Scythia, that most of the Proto-Bulgarian royal titles, names and calendar terms are of Iranian etymology, and that in the early Bulgarian and contemporary Bulgarian there are several hundreds, maybe a thousand Iranian words against a dozen Turkish words. Regarding the unequal streams, the most authoritative musical encyclopedia, published in English for more than 100 years, says that Western music contains almost totally separate (equal) timings, while music from India and some other countries can be viewed primarily by non-equal or additive type [The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. Macmillian Publishers. Oxford University Press. 2004].
This fact that traditional music from the region of India is mostly based on unequal timings is of paramount importance for our analysis! This region includes India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and partly Uzbekistan. The folklore and official music of these countries has ancient roots and is extremely diverse and rich in melody, rhythm and instrumental composition. It has been used in religious ceremonies, traditional rituals of the peoples, and as the official music of the rulers' courts in antiquity. As the language of the peoples of these countries, their religion and music are mainly related to the Indo-Aryan tribes that came from Central Asia (Inner Scythia). Around the beginning of the North, some of these tribes migrate to the west in the Caucasus and Northern Black Sea coasts, where they later formed the tribal union of Proto-Bulgarians. In such a case, it is quite natural and understandable that the Proto-Bulgarians wore in their musical folklore and the musical richness of the Indo-Aryans, including their unequal rhythms. With the formation of the Danube-Bulgarian state these musical forms are transferred to the Balkans and become the basis for the musical folklore of the future Slavic-Bulgarian people.
Indian music is very rich and with the so-called songs with immeasurable timings and instrumental performances. They are unique in that they are exceptionally rich in ornaments and improvisations and can hardly be noticed. Once completed, they can hardly be repeated even by the same performer. It is quite possible that the typical non-traditional songs and instrumental performances in the Bulgarian folklore (so-called Sub-Subjects), which are the most numerous and best known in Thrace, are also brought by the Proto-Bulgarians. Such songs with “immeasurable timings” are also absent in the folklore of the neighboring Balkan peoples - Romanians, Greeks and Serbs.
From the analysis presented above we see that more detailed comparative musical studies are needed on the historical legacy of the Proto-Bulgarians. This can be done by rejecting the stiffening embrace of the Turkic theory, which for 50 years has poisoned the Bulgarian historical science. As a result, on the screens of the Bulgarian cinemas, the Proto-Bulgarians were portrayed as shrill and shrilling primitives, performing colourless tonal combinations from the Cro-Magnon. In fact, the Proto-Bulgarians probably had musical folklore very similar to rhythm, melody and instrumentalism to modern folklore from Thrace, Moesia and Macedonia.
In the neighboring countries of Bulgaria - Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, contemporary music styles based on the folklore of the respective peoples were created. This is the modern pop music in Greece - "Heliniki Tragudia", for whose father can reasonably be accepted the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. As a consequence of the endlessly killed national self-confidence, for a long time in Bulgaria only foreign musical forms have been copied. As a result, we have adopted new music genres of the "Old City Music" genre, which copies music from the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Germany, France, etc.; "Pop music" based on copies from Italy, England and the United States, and recently "chalga" based mainly on Roma, Turkish and Greek songs and accompaniment. The true musical heritage of the Bulgarians, however, falls into oblivion and gradually disappears. This is not only the loss for the Bulgarians, it is a loss for the entire Europe and the world, because in such manner a part of the cultural diversity and the cultural heritage is destroyed.”
So - this is how our author concludes his analysis, probably a bit sadly. But still, he maybe is right to a certain point. Maybe the young people of our two countries should start thinking more about how westernized our culture have become in the recent times, not that it’s necessarily that bad of a thing, but still our culture is what determines us as people, and in the case of the unequal beats particularly makes our countries unique to the entire World.
Let this, one of a kind, common feature and similarity help us, young people to understand how close we really are. And to be proud of it and not to let ourselves forget, in this increasingly globalized and shrinking world, how rare these sparkling traits of our cultures are, immanent only to the cultures of our two countries – from the entire Europe, and with our heads up to carry them with us, to a bright future.
Let our hearts beat in 7/8 rhythm, as brothers Tavitjan advise us!
Writing and translation of analysis: Velin Nedkov