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The Image of Music: Biography of Petko Staynov

The Sofia Echo/Provider: Sofia Echo Media
November 30, 2007

THE IMAGE OF MUSIC/Petar Kostadinov

If Germany has its Beethoven, then Bulgaria has its Petko Staynov. Although there is a 70-year gap between the two genius composers, the manners in which they overcame their personal challenges bonds them together in a powerful way. Like his German counterpart, Staynov’s life proves that nothing can stand in the way of the gifted man. Born 111 years ago on December 1 in the town of Kazanluk, Staynov was no different than any other Bulgarian boy. There was nothing outstanding to suggest how his life would develop.
His birth came less than 20 years after Bulgaria was liberated from 500 years of Ottoman rule and the newly created Balkan state had other things on its mind than composing music.
The turning point in Staynov’s life came when he was 11 years old. It was a tragic and bitter experience that could throw anyone into despair. Staynov lost his eyesight completely. Life must have seemed extremely difficult for the blind young boy in a time when everybody in his country was talking about fighting wars with the neighbours to regain lost territories and to achieve the ideal of national unification. The image of the soldier, defender of the motherland, was part of communital ideology. All this had little to do with Staynov.
Little by little, the young nation started offering care to people with physical disabilities and Staynov’s parents took advantage of the opportunity. In 1915, they sent Staynov to Sofia where he graduated from the newly formed Institute for Blind People. It was the right move for him, since this was where Staynov’s professors discovered his talent for music. He started taking piano lessons and made his first attempts in composing music. It must have been a incredible feeling, since all that Bulgaria held as tradition in music composition were the songs written by Bulgarian revolutionaries, songs that were easy put together with nationalistic lyrics.
More confident in his pursuits, in 1920 Staynov left Bulgaria for Germany, the same as many other young Bulgarian students. He enrolled for a year at the Private Musical Lyceum in Braunschweig. Three years later Staynov graduated from the Dresden Musical Conservatory, majoring in composition under Alexander Wolf and in piano under Ernst Munch.
In 1924 Staynov returned to his native Kazanluk, to create one of his most popular and beloved pieces. It was a work that would determine his professional future for years to come. Staynov wrote Thracian Dances, a symphonic suite in three movements. He later added an additional movement to the suite, called Mechkarsko (The Bear Warder’s Dance, 1926).
The Thracian Dances defined Staynov as a composer in love with Bulgarian folk heritage and culture. It symbolised his view on the Bulgarian “classical” music of the first half of the 19th century. For him, it was the unique combination of traditional folklore with classical motives. Immediately, the dances became a popular tune. Staynov would have hardly thought in those days that the Thracian Dances would become part of an advertising campaign in the beginning of the 21st century. A Bulgarian mobile operator with Greek owners used Staynov’s tune in one of its advertising campaigns, making Staynov known to the young generation.
In 1927 Staynov moved to Sofia to again make his presence at the Institute for the Blind. This time, however, he was not a student but a piano teacher.
As a man bound to the tradition heritage of Bulgaria and, more precisely, to his native region of Kazanluk, which holds the name Trakia (Thrace), Staynov continued working in the field of folk traditions. Critics say that he managed to “adapt the European musical tradition to the Bulgarian way of thinking, to the abilities of both performers and listeners, to the natural process of advancement of the national music”.
Most of all, Staynov is cherished by his fans for creating and popularising a style of his own. Using the resources of the symphony orchestra and rich Bulgarian singing traditions, Staynov worked mainly in the field of symphonic and choral music.
The folklore flavour can be seen everywhere in his work, starting from the headlines. In addition to Thracian Dances, Staynov also composed the suite A Fairy Tale (1930), the symphonic poems A Legend (1927), Thrace (1937) and Symphonic Scherzo (1930), the concert overtures Balkan and Youth (1936 and 1953) and two symphonies (1945 and 1949). In all of his works, Staynov remained faithful to his desire of showing the beauty of Bulgaria, the fervour of folk dances and fairytale images.
His restless came through in his work. As he was nearing his mid-30s, Staynov started working mainly on choral songs revealing features of the Bulgarian character. Choral ballads were another favourite genre of Staynov’s. He is considered the founder of a new field in Bulgarian music, which reproduces dramatic events from Bulgaria’s history.
Unlike many other famous musicians, Staynov lived to see the public’s recognition of his work. Until his death in 1977, he held a variety of public positions such as chairman of the Union of Folk Choirs in Bulgaria and of the Contemporary Music Association of Bulgarian Composers (1933 to 44). He served as director of the National Opera (1941to 44) and in 1941 he was elected a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences where he headed the Institute for Music.
Today Staynov is cherished as a significant figure in Bulgaria’s cultural history. A school in Kazanluk bears his name and his house in the city has been turned into a museum by the Petko Gruev Staynov Foundation, where musical events are held almost every week. The place has become a popular venue for concerts of young Bulgarian musicians, thus, in a way, continuing to develop what Staynov started.

 

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