January 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the premiere of one of the symbols of our national culture – Vardar Rhapsody, Bulgarian Rhapsody by PANCHO VLADIGEROV. It was first performed in Bulgaria in January 1923, a few months after it was written. The rhapsody embodies Bulgarian identity and is played on national celebrations and state initiatives. The piece opens the annual Varna Summer International Music Festival as a tribute to Vladigerov, who was directly involved in organising the first Musical Festival in Varna.
The 1920s was very successful for the composer as a European realisation. In 1922 he signed a 10-year contract for copyright representation with the Viennese publishing house Universal Edition. In the same year he composed the Vardar Rhapsody. In 1926 was his conducting debut. In 1927 he wrote another landmark work, the Bulgarian Suite, and in the same year received the Order of Merit “St. Alexander”, fifth degree. In 1929 he recorded the Vardar Rhapsody and the Bulgarian Suite for Deutsche Grammophon, which released a total of 16 vinyl records of his music distributed worldwide. As a composer, he collaborated with Max Reinhardt at the Theater in Berlin, thanks to which he met Stefan Zweig, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, and Richard Strauss. In 1932 Max Reinhardt emigrated because of Nazism and invited Vladigerov to join him. Vladigerov’s mission, however, was obviously bound up with Bulgaria. He was one of the few founders of a professional school in the country, through which Parashkev Hadjiev, Alexander Raychev, Vassil Kazandjiev, Milcho Leviev, Pencho Stoyanov, Krassimir Kyurkchiyski, Milko Kolarov, Georgi Kostov, Yulia Tsenova, Alexander Yosifov, the pianists Alexis Weissenberg, Nikolai Evrov, Anton Dikov, Ivan Drenikov, Krasimir Gatev have passed.
The first version of Vardar was scored for violin and piano as Opus 16. It was subsequently revised for orchestra, piano, two pianos and piano for 4 hands. It has been speculated that the inspiration for Vardar was Giorgio Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies. In 1927, after a concert in Paris, critics commented on Vardar: ‘ … very interesting artists: a violinist and a composer-pianist and interesting music imbued with all kinds of modernisms…’. The orchestral version of the rhapsody was premiered at the Prague Festival of Bulgarian Music in 1928. In the 1920s it was performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Salzburg Festival. According to some accounts, Albert Einstein, upon hearing it, congratulated the composer.