23 Nov 2015

Raina Katsarova and the outset of sound recording activities in Bulgarian ethnomusicology

Author: Assoc. Prof. Ventsislav Dimov, PhD, Department of Music

The invention of sound recorders has contributed enormously to the development of ethnomusicology: alongside the use of the earliest audio recorders in fieldwork and interpretational work by researchers, comparative musicology developed and soon after, ethnomusicology as a scientific discipline.
The earliest recordings of traditional music in Bulgaria for scientific purposes were done in the 1900s using an Edison’s phonograph (by Boris Pilatov in Veliko Tyrnovo and Alexey Shulgovsky in Chepelare) following an appeal by Prof. Ivan Shishmanov („Значението и задачата на нашата етнография”, 1889; Significance and Task of Bulgarian Ethnography, 1889) to establish societies for folk life studies and organise teachers to collect and record ethnographic materials. Unfortunately, those old cylinder records are now lost. My preliminary research established that the first to appeal to record folk songs using phonographs was theoretician, music coach and conductor Georgi Baidanov from Stara Zagora („Българската народна песен – мисли, факти и пожелания”, 1901; Bulgarian Folk Song: Thoughts, Facts and Wishes, 1901), followed by ethnographer Dimiter Marinov („Народна вяра и религиозни народни обичаи”, 1914; Folk Beliefs and Popular Religious Rituals, 1914), who wrote that gramophone was indispensable to collecting ‘folk tunes’ with their ‘nuances and niceties’, to preserve them as ‘old players and singers ebbed’.
In the 1920s, Dobri Hristov, Ivan Kamburov and Vasil Stoin also called for using sound recoding devices in fieldwork in folk studies. It was the Department of Folk Music, Ethnographic Museum (established by Vasil Stoin in 1926 and headed after his death in 1938 by Raina Katsarova) that implemented the ideas of recording musical and folk materials using audio recorders. The earliest recordings of folk music in Bulgaria were made by Raina Katsarova in July 1938 (using a Presto Recording Corp., New York portable recorder, owned by American Esther Johnson). Béla Bartók, who was in correspondence with Raina Katsarova, proved also to be helpful in acquiring a recorder and commencing fieldwork recording in Bulgaria. In 1939, the Department of Folk Music acquired a recorder of their own and Raina Katsarova started her recording activity. Until 1953, she and the staff of the Institute of Music, BAS (established in 1948), went on recording folk music on vinyl discs.
For the time being (with a few exceptions) the earliest sound recordings have not been objects of research interest due probably to their inaccessibility as these are still not completely inventoried and digitised.
With the exception of several publications by the author of the project („Ранни записи на традиционни инструменти в България”, Българско музикознание, 2006/3; Early Recordings of Traditional Instruments in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Musicology 3, 2006; глава в монографията „Добруджа: памет и песен”, 2012; a chapter in Dobrudja: Memory and Song, 2012, etc.), these earliest recordings of folk music from Bulgaria have neither been studied nor published. The best part of them has already been digitised, the work on transferring and mastering is about to be completed, described, and published. This project is supposed to be developed in this line, describing and presenting Raina Katsarova’s earliest recordings of the period 1938–1953.
The project on the earliest and unique resources of the Musical Archive kept at the National Centre for Cultural Heritage, Institute of Art Studies, BAS, will publish them in scholarship. The inventorying of Raina Katsarova’s recordings, their introduction into an accessible audio environment and possible publishing on a multimedia format will facilitate further researchers being also instrumental to the Centre for Cultural Heritage, Institute of Art Studies, BAS.