Creation of Bulgarian Folk Song

Creation of Bulgarian Folk Song

How is the Bulgarian folk song created?

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

A folk song has many years, even centuries of existence. It lives in the awareness of thousands of folk singers, each of whom performs it in a special and different way, depending on their current mood and thoughts. Folk songs are subject to gradual and constant changes and their forms were not the result of separate creative acts, but are created gradually, arising from one another. 

What do the writers and folklorists think about it?

The German fiction writer Theodor Storm (1817-1888) wrote the following about folk songs:

“No one composes them. They arise spontaneously. They fall from the air. They fly over the earth here and there, like spring cobwebs, and the people sing them at the same time, in thousands of places. We find in these songs our deepest thoughts and sufferings, as if we all contributed to their creation.”

According to the Bulgarian musicologist and folklorist Stoyan Dzhudzhev (1902-1998), each folk song has its own individual author – a folk singer, but he stays forever anonymous to the general public.

Academic Nikolai Kaufman (1925 – 2018) says:

 “Folk song is created in two ways – by individual singers and collectively. The creativity in the first way is far more widespread than in the second.”

Acad. Kaufman tells about a case he witnessed:

“Girls from the small village of Vievo in the Central Rhodopes, gathered on their sedyanka (a place where people gather to meet, dance, sing and find love) and decided to make a song about their friend, who recently died in an accident. One of the singers began to create the verses, another added, a third added some more verses and the song took shape. Interestingly, the creation of the song was not prepared and planned in advance. Created spontaneously, the song came to life and announced the sedyanka.”

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

About individual and collective creativity of folk songs, he also says:

“There is no qualitative difference between songs created by individual singers and collective songs. Both are subject to constant change and enrichment.”

In his book “Bulgarian Folklore”, the Bulgarian literary historian, critic and folklorist Petar Dinekov (1910 – 1992) says:

“Folk songs created without an author do not exist. Behind every folk song lies the author’s will. Authorship is manifested both in the initial creation of the work by individuals, more talented people, and in its polishing and further improvement.”

From all these opinions of prominent writers and folklorists, we can conclude that the folk song did not have an author, but there were still some more talented folk singers who were the engine for its creation and development in the future.

Today, we can hardly say that the folk song has no author.  Thanks to the development of institutions and technologies, all the authors that create in the field of folk music can receive the necessary respect for their creations. 

Why do we have so many different lyrics and melodies of the same song?

It is difficult to find the first and original lyrics and melody of a song, as they are constantly changing and continue to change over time. 

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

In his book “Musicographically Essays and Studies”, the Bulgarian musicologist and folklorist Stoyan Dzhudzhev says:

“No one is able to ensure the immutability of a folk song, to protect it from changes, alterations, corrections, alterations or deformations, during its long existence.”

he also says:

“Many singers with limited musical abilities, especially children, make mistakes in learning a new song because they learn it by imitation and by ear. The memory often betrays them, and they have neither the time nor the opportunity to do systematic exercises and compare with the original. In this way, they deform it, preserving only its approximate outlines.”

“But even when the song is performed by highly gifted folk singers who are able to reproduce it in the most accurate detail, their personal taste and their aesthetic views often interfere, prompting them to do some retouching, some conscious changes, adjustments or alterations to the music or lyrics. ”

“The sum of the changes in the folk song, the corrections and the additions results in a new version, which often differs so much from the original that we perceive it as a new song.”

What did the folk song go through until it reached the books?

During the era of feudalism, writing appeared, but ordinary people were  not allowed to use it and the book played almost no role in the life of the village.

In her book “Bulgarian Folk Song”, Bulgarian folklorist and ethnographer Tsvetana Romanska (1914 – 1969) tells that in the First and Second Bulgarian feudal state, literature, with rare exceptions, was a treasure available only to the ruling classes. 

Free image took from “”

The writers at that time, clergymen by vocation, weren’t interested in gathering and exploring the Bulgarian folk songs. Even more, because the folk songs preserved many remnants of the ancient pagan worldview of the people, and also expressed critical attitude towards the ruling classes and their democratic views, the ruling classes showed a negative attitude towards folklore and called the songs “devilish ” and also persecuted them as heretical. This attitude was also typical of other European countries at that time. Even in some of them it was much more extreme than in our country and led to a complete ban on singing folk songs and their eradication in some areas. With the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule, there were no significant changes in the attitude towards folk poetry and folk songs, which continue to flourish among the people. Tsvetana Romanska talks about the discovery of travel notes and diaries of foreigners who passed through the Bulgarian lands from the 16th century onwards. They tell about the folk songs they heard while traveling around Bulgaria.

Especially valuable is the report of M. Bezolt (from the retinue of the Austrian ambassador Heinrich von Liechtenstein) from 1584, who reported that the population in the area of the “Iron Gate”, between Ihtiman and Vetren, sang a song about his hero Krali Marko. There are so many such examples that show us that although the written word was not developed, the Bulgarians sang and created their songs in every period of their lives.

In modern times, when general literacy is growing and writing is becoming more and more part of people’s daily lives, things are changing. This also applies to the new contemporary folklore, where any newly created work can be recorded and distributed further through the printed word.

However, when the song is invented and immediately recorded, the element of its collective development in the future is lost.

Peter Dinekov says:

“Only through oral distribution can the opportunity for co-creation be given, which leads to artistic refinement and also refinement of the song.”

But, on the other hand – if the song is not recorded immediately, there is a possibility that it will be forgotten and will not be remembered.

Free image of Brothers Grimm, took from “”

Many of the old Bulgarian folk songs have not been recorded and are now impossible to find.  Fortunately, there are many people who have made and continue to make incredible efforts to preserve this national treasure and so that we can all enjoy today and pass it on to future generations, so it is not forgotten.

In his book, Peter Dinekov calls the 19th century – The Century of Folklore. In this century there is a huge collecting activity, both in Bulgaria and around the world. The creations of the people are evaluated, a scientific discipline is created – “folklore”. The work of the Brothers Grimm, who at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century began to collect and record German folklore, played an important role.

Image of Miladinov Brothers, took from “”

One of the first Bulgarians in the 19th century who made efforts to preserve our national treasure were the Miladinov Brothers . They are also called “The Guardians of Bulgarian Folklore“.

Over time, thanks to people like Vasil and Elena Stoin, and many others who have made great efforts to preserve our folk music, it is spreading more and more. Today, it’s stepping on world music stages and can be heard by people all over the world.

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

Folklore is a treasure and contains exceptional historical content, reflects key periods in the life of Bulgarians and with joint efforts we have preserved it until today. That is why, it is necessary to respect it as Bulgarians and make efforts so that it is not forgotten in the future and continues to be our hallmark.