Saturday Singles Nos. 95 and 96

Originally posted October 11, 2008

JB from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ left a comment about Wednesday’s post, the Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s. He wrote: “Biggest question unanswered by your post: the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir?”

Well, the quick answer would be that Bulgarian choral music has become a somewhat hot property among world music fans since 1987, when Marcel Cellier recorded the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir and then released the recordings on an LP titled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices).

Interest was honestly so large that in 1988, a second Cellier album, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, was released; it included recordings by several small ensembles – some of them archival – as well as performances by the BSR&TFV Choir. Volume 3, which I have never seen, followed, as did Vol. 4, which I only have as mp3s. I do not know if Volume 4, for which I have no documentation, was recorded entirely by the choir or whether it also includes various small ensembles, as did Volume 2. At the very least, though, the tags on my copy of Vol. 4 are partly wrong, so in the absence of any other information, Wednesday’s offering should have been credited to the original group, the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir. But that’s a quick answer.

A longer answer starts with records in the 1960s and 1970s on the Nonesuch label, which included In the Shadow of the Mountain: Songs and Dances of Pirin-Macedonia, which was recorded in Bulgaria. I’m not sure of the date on that one; I found a 1970 date online when I was cataloging my vinyl, but I’m not entirely certain that’s right. I do know that there were earlier releases of Bulgarian choral music, whether by large choirs or small ensembles. How do I know?

I recall reading – I think it was in one of the Rolling Stone record guides, but I cannot put my hands on the piece this morning – that David Crosby gave at least partial credit for the close harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash to his having listened to the impossibly close intervals in Bulgarian singing. And that happened before the 1968 formation of CS&N.

It was, in fact, reading that statement by Crosby that got me interested in Bulgarian choral music. I have two different editions of the first record as well as the second on vinyl. I’ve found the first on CD and got rips from friends of the second and fourth.

I’m by no means an expert on ethnic music, and I have to acknowledge that I rarely listen to the albums all the way through. But the songs – with their odd-to-western-ears harmonies and intervals – make a nice break when they pop up during random play.

When I was pondering this post this morning, I took a look at YouTube, and found a clip of the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir performing in 1990 on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show:

I’m sure there are holes and gaps in this brief account. Anyone who has more, or more accurate, information is welcome to leave a comment. I’ll just say that I find the music fascinating.

And here are two songs. First, a 1957 recording, “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” by the Orchestra Yvan Kirev from 1988’s Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2 and the second, “Polegnala e Pschenitza” by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir from Cellier’s original effort, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, today’s Saturday Singles.

Orchestra Yvan Kirev – “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” [1957]

Bulgarian SR&T Female Vocal Choir – “Polegnala e Pschenitza” [1987]

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