COMPOSER IN THE TRUE SENSE OF THE WORD
by Svetlana Avdala
The composer, pianist and teacher Pancho Vladigerov is one of the most eminent figures in Bulgarian musical culture. He belongs to the generation of poets who draw their ideas from Bulgarian folklore. Experts label them as Bulgarian classics. He wrote over 70 opuses. One can hardly assume that those 20,000 calligraphically written music sheets are a work of a person with a fiery temper. His music must be heard, his personality must be present to be felt. In order to convey their impression of the unforgettable teacher, his students retell his aphorisms, imitate his intonation, pronunciation of the “r” sound, dynamics of his speech which flows in the room and ranges from pianissimo to fortissimo. Vladigerov became a legend in his lifetime. Those who knew him adhere to the unwritten rule: “Pancho made it this way, so it must be correct”. The teacher Vladigerov never entered into lengthy explanations. He just played. Everybody had to find the explanation by themselves. Thus, he preserved the feeling of mysteriousness in music. Music was for him a language, most loyal and closest to him; a language in which he communicated best.
As a composer he enjoyed good fortune. Almost all his pieces of music were performed in his lifetime. He wrote music from the age of 11. He worked every day until his death. For him it was a natural need. He left an unfinished work on his desk. In the hospital, in the last hours of his life, he performed a lifesaving procedure. The thought how he would play after that would not leave him in peace.
He is a composer in the true sense of the word, or as Liliev says: “He translates everything he touches into music.”
Vladigerov was engulfed in a sea of music from childbirth. He played on the piano of his mother, Dr. Eliza Pasternak, and on the violin of this grandfather Leon, who, meanwhile, was a mathematician by profession. His aunt, Eliza’s sister, was a pianist, who had graduated in Vienna. His twin brother, Lyuben, was a violinist. At the age of 6, Pancho could write music, yet could not write letters and words. Besides, he did not know which language to choose – several languages were spoken around him – German, Russian and Bulgarian… His mother, Dr. Eliza Pasternak, was a Jew, born in Odessa. German was the language spoken by his beautiful governess Maria Loevenberg. Bulgarian was spoken in Shumen, the town of his childhood, and more importantly, his father, Haralan Vladigerov, a jurist, spoke Bulgarian. In his adulthood, Vladigerov mixed words from different languages together in one sentence in his own unique style. In music such interlacing of Bulgarian flavour and European lexis and professionalism became a characteristic feature of his style.
Later on Vladigerov communicated with the world mainly through music. He was still surrounded by musicians. His first wife, Katya Zhekova, his piano teacher’s daughter, was a pianist. His second wife, Elka Vladigerova, his own student, was also a pianist. His son, Alexander Vladigerov, was a musician. His four grandchildren are musicians as well.
The Maestro created composers and musicians who became prominent figures in Bulgarian musical culture: Parashkev Hadjiev, Alexander Raichev, Vassil Kazandjiev, Milcho Leviev, Pencho Stoyanov, Krassimir Kyurkchiysky, Milko Kolarov, Georgi Kostov, Julia Tsenova, Alexander Yosifov; and pianists like Alexis Weissenberg, Nikolay Evrov, Anton Dikov, Ivan Drenikov, Krassimir Gatev. All of them are different in their aspirations, but their work and life were marked by Vladigerov, by great professionalism.
The Maestro left his mark on whatever he touched and he was marked himself. As if nothing in his life was pure chance. And he was aware of that. He knew that he had a mission and that mission was Bulgaria, not Bulgaria alone, provincial and underdeveloped, but a distinctive Bulgaria of equal value to the rest of the world…
He had a lot of opportunities to become a citizen of the world but preferred to remain a Bulgarian. There are some facts: his native city was Zurich; his parents were people with European education and connections and acquaintances in Europe; for more than 20 years he lived, studied and worked in Germany, where he moved in the world's elite circles. He achieved tremendous success on the greatest European musical stages.
He found by chance his apartment in Schumann Strasse, where Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theatre, at that time a world famous theatre in Berlin and the most progressive cultural centre in Germany, was housed. Max Reinhardt heard the playing of the young composer and proposed him to work at the theatre as a musician. Due to his cooperation with Reinhardt, he met Stefan Zweig, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler and Richard Strauss.
He signed a contract with the music publisher Universal Edition. His first works, among which was Rhapsody Vardar, were published. Thus, they became known to the world.
In the 20s of the last century, Vardar sounded in Carnegie Hall. His Violin Concerto was played at the Salzburg Festival – the first and only performance of a Bulgarian piece there.
The then famous company Deutsche Grammophon produced 16 gramophone records of his works. His music had already been made known to the public everywhere. Einstein, who in a personal meeting with Vladigerov expressed his admiration, had heard it as well. His acquaintance with Rachmaninov, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan dated from the same period…
Furthermore, in 1932 Max Reinhardt, a Jew pursued by the Nazi regime in Germany, offered Vladigerov to visit him in Switzerland and the United States. Vladigerov refused because he was fully aware that he was needed in Bulgaria and returned to his mother country.
Stunning development, unique opportunities for an international career. And a paradox: he was abroad when he composed his musical pieces – Vardar, Bulgarian Suite, Variations on Majestic Balkan Mountains (the song later became a national hymn), imbued with a glorious, national, hymn’s spirit. Bulgaria was his ideal and his radiant island, to which he returned in his music during his life in Germany. He was one of those exceptional people, who in early childhood became aware of the course of life they were destined to follow, and followed it with remarkable consistency. He knew that he would become a composer; he knew that he would be needed. When he began to write music, he was bought a large music book in black hardcover. He wrote in his childish, distorted handwriting: “Music Album for Composition of Pancho H. Vladigerov, February 27, 1911.” He put a stamp, which he had made by carving his initials in a rubber. Thereafter he marked every opus and dedicated it to relatives, friends, teachers and students… He always carefully wrote down music on the stave using a pen and ink because composing was not only expression, an emotion and shared thought, but also a craft requiring diligence and discipline. He numbered and kept every piece of music paper, every object or document of his with the thought that they would remain and had to be preserved.
Today his unique archive, having its own code and conveying its own message, may be seen at the House Museum. Due to this archive, we understand how the great composer took part in the most important events of Bulgarian culture and left his mark on them in his own individual style.
About the Composer
COMPOSER IN THE TRUE SENSE OF THE WORD