Origin of Bulgarian Folklore

Origin of Bulgarian Folklore

How do the Bulgarian folk songs originate?

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

The Bulgarian folk songs originate as an internal necessity for their creators to give an expression of their life, experiences and thoughts. Folk songs are sung on sad and happy days – on big holidays, during work, on wedding days, as well as during sad and difficult periods of Bulgarain’ s life – when folk songs are created to strengthen national self-consciousness and to keep the Bulgarian’s spirit. Bulgarian folk songs, created many centuries ago, reflect important historical events, contain elements of folk mythology, religion, beliefs and legends. Folklore has been and is like a mirror of the life of Bulgarians in every period of their existence. 

What do the Bulgarian musicologists and folklorists think?

To answer this question, let’s take a brief look at the story and the origin of the Bulgarian folklore and see why the songs sound the way we hear them today. 

Free image of Orpheus took from “free-images.com”

In his book the famous and prominent musicologist, folklorist and composer academician Nikolay Kaufman (1925 – 2018), tells about the earliest inhabitants of the Balkans – the Thracian-Illyrian tribes. We don’t know almost anything about their music, but we’ve all heard about the famous legend about the Thracian – Orpheus, which gives us information about the inhabitants of the Bulgarian lands. In the 5th century of our era, gradually came the  slavs, who initially settled around the Danube River and who together with the proto-Bulgarians who came from the Volga, founded the Bulgarian state, officially recognized by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine in 681. The language of the proto-Bulgarians was replaced by the Slavic’s, which shows us that most probably the Proto-Bulgarians were not numerous. However, they held important positions in the organization of the state and their influence was particularly big and had an impact on life and culture. The Slavic tribe, mixed with the proto-Bulgarians and the existing Thracian-Illyrians, gradually formed a single ethnic group. The acceptance of the Christianity in 864, and a little later the Cyrillic script, also contributed to the unification of the various tribes. 

I find very interesting the studies of Peter Dinekov (Bulgarian literary historian, critic and folklorist who lived in the period 1910 – 1992). In his book “Bulgarian Folklore”, he identifies the following main periods in Bulgarian folklore: 

1. The earliest information about Bulgarian folklore in the 8th and 9th centuries.

According to Peter Dinekov, the acceptance of the Christianity in 9th century contributed to erasing the differences between the religious and ethnic views of the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians. There are almost no linguistic remains and elements of material culture of the proto-Bulgarians, as well as of folklore. For the earliest information about the folklore of the Slavs, we can learn both by historical data and from the preserved ancient features in folk songs, legends, proverbs, spells, rites, etc. We have direct instructions for remnants of Slavic pagan mythology. A striking example is the name of the Slavic goddess “Lada”. It is found in some choruses of folk songs (“Oh, Lado, Lado, young girl”; “Oh, Lado, Lado, goddess”), in the so-called “Ladino horo”, the custom “Laduvane” and others.

2. Bulgarian folklore from the 10th to the first half of the 14th century. 

We don’t have any written folk songs from that period either. For the existing folk songs at that period, talks primarily the representatives of the official church. The church extremely influenced the song creation, its lyrics and stories. Petar Dinekov refers to the penetration of “spielmans” (German folk singers) in the Bulgarian and Serbian lands in the 10th and 12th centuries. This testifies to the creation of epic traditions and songs related to historical events in this period.

3. Bulgarian folklore from the second half of the 16th to the 17th century.

Free image of Ottoman slavery took from “freeimages.com”

This period covers the Ottoman invasions of the Balkan Peninsula and the first centuries of Ottoman slavery until the creation of the Hajduk (defender of the nation) movement. In this period we do not have any written folk songs, but we have later written songs that describe this difficult period in the life of Bulgarians. The number of songs dedicated to Ottoman violence is particularly high: the abduction of slaves, the conversion to Islam, the robbery of young children and their becoming to janissaries and the cruelty over population. Such songs were composed until the Liberation of Bulgaria (1878). During this period many mythical images were used in folk art, hyperbole played a huge role, it was used mainly to describe the physical strength and heroic deeds of the Bulgarians in this difficult period.

4. Bulgarian folklore in the 18th – 19th century.

Free image of Hajduks took from “picabay.com”

The fantastic themes are gradually giving way to a more sober view of life, which is manifested in the hajduk folk songs that appear in the period of the decline of Ottoman power. The songs about the hajduks are the clearest expression of the resistance of the people and the faith in the future. The main role in them is played by the hajduk-avenger, freedom fighter, patriot – the positive hero of the era. In these songs all the creative power of the people is manifested. The hajduk movement began in the 17th century, but it developed mainly in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century. 

5. Contemporary Bulgarian folklore in the 20th century.

This period includes folk songs created during the anti-fascist struggles of our people and the guerrilla movement during World War II (1939-1945). In the field of folklore there is a revival and we discover new songs, legends and proverbs. Many changes have taken place and entire genres have disappeared, but its spread continues. Genres related to outdated religious worldviews, such as mythical songs, are disappearing at the earliest. Those works that have a lively attitude to the vital public interests of the people are preserved and developed in the new environment.

I’d like to also add point – 6, which describes our modernity in the 21st century:

6. The Bulgarian folklore today – in the 21st century.

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

The folklore today sounds different and with an aftertaste of the 21st century. A century that is filled with a lot of easily accessible information, which inevitably has an impact on Bulgarian folklore. I believe that this constant change is a completely natural process, just as Petar Dinekov describes in his book. In each of these periods, which we have considered, folklore has been constantly changing, which is why we find it in a very different form today. Today’s young people use technology, mix it with different musical styles, modernize it, put it on the world stage, alongside popular musical styles, and this is definitely a cause for pride. All this increases its interest and thus it can not be forgotten, it can only be preserved and enriched by each succeeding generation.