Song of the Crooked Dance - the early Bulgarian 78 rpm recording industry



Early Bulgarian Traditional Music 1927-42

(Excerpt from the liner notes to Song of the Crooked Dance)

The recordings on this disc survey both the urban and rural folk music that would have been heard in Bulgarian cities, towns and villages between World War I & II. Much of the early recording was accomplished in Western Europe, in cities as far from Sofia as Berlin. Despite pioneering efforts at on-site recording by such foreign companies as Gramophone, and Pathe in Sofia, Varna and Salonica in the early years of the century, a homegrown record industry did not take firm root in Bulgaria until the 1930s. A handful of local companies such as Arfa, Balkan, Medeya and Orfei, opened for business in the 1920s and 30s competing with well-established firms such as Columbia, Odeon and His Masters Voice (HMV). The newcomers issued repertoire to suit every palate. Record parlors peddled symphonic and chamber works alongside their Bulgarian, Turkish, Armenian, Jewish, Russian and Serbian popular and folk wares. A typical record catalog of the period contained a mixture of waltzes, popular favorites, opera excerpts, comic recitations, folk instrumental solos, operatic renditions of folk songs, street ballads and military marches, as well as local and neighboring folk musics. By the mid-1930s the local companies' record pressing work, previously farmed out to Germany, was being done in Sofia by the largest concern, Simonaviya, using imported German equipment. Unfortunately, ominous political events, poised on the horizon, prevented the industry from realizing the benefits of this advance. A Communist government ascended to power on September 9, 1944. This date, referred to thereafter simply as "the 9th" by the local populace, became synonymous with the draconian restrictions placed upon Bulgarians' lives and their economy over the next 50 years.

The sweeping nationalizations of 1947-8, imposed after "the 9th" by the newly empowered Communist government, and the subsequent rapid demise of private ownership, devastated the fledgling recording industry and foiled the aspirations of record company owners, performers and technical personnel alike. Those local record companies still intact in the early 1940s, despite the bombings and the economic after-effects of WW II, found themselves forcibly consolidated, and finally, in 1950, absorbed into a single state-owned monopoly called Radioprom. This newly-formed entity replaced the liquidated companies and quickly metamorphosed into the Balkanton of today. Radioprom's first priority was to satisfy the recording needs of the expanding radio station in Sofia. The radio's function as a primary propaganda organ placed it, and Radioprom, under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Communications. Before long, titles saluting the new order and its leaders, such as "Forward with Stalin" and "Penka the Tractor Driver", preempted waltzes, tangos and urban popular music in the new Radioprom catalog and in daily radio programming. Balkanton began production within a few years, using Radioprom masters to reissue 78rpm discs, and in the late 1950s, to issue the first of Bulgaria's microgroove recordings.

The period following the liquidation of independent record companies was characterized by big government assuming ever-greater control over daily life. Music, a valuable means of mass communication and education, was politicized, and then strictly regulated, through a series of laws and directives, alongside the print media and the radio and television. It was then served to the public via the mass media, through a strong filter, whose mesh prescribed its political orthodoxy and social utility. The age of spontaneity in all forms of endeavor plunged into a 45-year eclipse, spanning the period 1944-1989. It has yet to fully recover.