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12-3-05 St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London (NLCC, cond. - Ronald Corp)

Programme notes

Score: Six Bulgarian Songs of Childhood

For children’s choir and small ensemble (version for children's choir and piano also available) [2005]

Duration: c.15 mins.


This collection of songs is based upon traditional folk tunes from Bulgaria. Singing is an inseparable part of traditional Bulgarian life and festive activities.  Bulgarian folk songs are mainly homophonic in texture, strong in production and are embellished by a wealth of timbres such as vocal 'shakes' and 'hics'.  Perhaps the most striking feature of Bulgarian song is the use of extended time. This is achieved by means of irregular metres and rhythmic combinations that give the music an insatiable drive and dance-like quality. 

Traditionally, marriage is the most natural path for young Bulgarian women and forms the greater part of their daily singing and conversation.  The opening song, Vrunkai vrunkai vretentseto, is traditionally sung by a young girl around the age of twelve as she learns to weave and embroider – a skill traditionally required if she is to eventually marry.  As she spins her wool, she dreams of her future coloured by traditional imagery of fantastical characters and scenarios.   

In Prochula se Neranza, the young girl recalls the mythical tale of a tree with cosmic proportions and the courting of a young maiden and shepherd.  The dark shepherd’s response is heard in Trendafilchitu.  He calls "carnation, carnation" to the young maiden, offering to buy gifts such as a silk wedding dress and yellow slippers – a traditional symbol of love.   

Proshtavai Mamo would be traditionally sung as the bride leaves her house before she is wed. The bridegroom’s party comes to fetch the bride in order to take her to the church. Meanwhile, the bride’s party sets up ambushes and challenges. When these are overcome, a private moment is set aside to allow the bride to say goodbye to her family before everyone departs for the wedding ceremony. The young girl awakes from her daydreaming and realises she will have some time before she can marry. Izreyala Yasna Zvezda is a traditional song about a bright star that has risen and is symbolic of the young unmarried maiden. She must learn how to weave, spin and embroider so that she can begin making her wedding gifts and clothes. However, as she is a young girl, there is still time for her to play, which is represented here in Tumba Lumba Shikalka – a traditional counting song common amongst young women who are not ready for marriage. 

This collection is dedicated to the New London Children's Choir, who worked tirelessly to learn the traditional Bulgarian singing techniques, and to Dessislava Stefanova for all her advice and support in the writing of this work.

Six Bulgarian Songs of Childhood was written for the New London Children’s Choir and commissioned with funds provided by the PRS Foundation. It received its first performed by the New London Children’s Choir, conducted by Ronald Corp, on the 12th March 2005 at St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London.

© Patrick Nunn 2005