Ivan Spassov - Movements for 12 String Instruments / Tsenov Chamber Ensemble

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Ivan Spassov - Movements for 12 String Instruments (1967)

Guerguan Tsenov, music director
Lincoln Center, New York, May 29, 2015

Ivan Spassov (1934-1996) was born into a family of professional musicians. After graduating from the composition and conducting classes of Pancho Vladigerov at the Bulgarian State Music Academy, Spassov continued his studies in Warsaw as a student of Kazimierz Sikorski and Stanisław Wisłocki. At the end of his studies Spassov conducted the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra in premières of his own works. After his return to Bulgaria in 1962 Spassov was appointed conductor of the Plovdiv State Philharmonic Orchestra and began actively to promote modern music. He occupied this position for six seasons before being dismissed for introducing modernist ideas and for ‘not acknowledging the authority of the Party’. In 1964 he founded the Plodiv Musical Youth society, at whose concerts the works of Lutosławski, Penderecki, Baird, Milhaud, and others were performed in Bulgaria for the first time. In 1964 Spassov composed music for the film Morsel of the Sky for Three (‘Къшче небе за трима’). This film score was the first experiment in aleatoric (based on chance and improvisation) music in Bulgaria and the first to employ graphic notation; it formed the basis of his Episodes for Four Timbral Groups (Епизоди за четири групи тембри,1965), which was heard in the West for the first time at Darmstadt in 1968. Movements for 12 String Instruments (Движения за 12 струнни инструмента,1967) was the first experiment with “instrumental theatre” in Bulgaria.

At a time when most European composers were following other trends in music, Spassov turned to folk music. His professed aim was to unite folk elements with the modern idiom, believing that aleatoric techniques found their ideal counterpart in the Bulgarian unmeasured folksongs.

Although the term neo-folk was coined to describe specifically his very unique choral style, the development and application of folk techniques by Spassov was not limited only to his choral music; his Cello Concerto No. 1 (1974), for example, calls upon the soloist and orchestra to imitate a folk-derived vocal style. Simultaneously, Spassov developed a parallel line of compositional thought, one of deep spiritual and transcendental reflection in which folk elements are conspicuously absent, as evidenced in Canti lamentosi (Sorrowful Songs,1979), Canti dei morti (Songs of the Dead,1983), Pieta for 12 cellos (1991), Songs of a Soul Ascending to Paradise (Песни на една душа, отлитаща към рая, 1991), and the Mass (1993). This aspect of his musical personality was further heightened by the personal tragedy of the death of his only daughter in 1991.

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