MAKEDONISSIMO – World Premiere 18 MAY 2017
Transcriptions of Macedonian traditional music
by Pande Shahov
in collaboration with Simon Trpčeski
Commissioned by Simon Trpčeski for Ludwigsburg Schossfestspiele
We dedicate this project to the Macedonian people.
Simon Trpčeski – Piano
Hidan Mamudov – Clarinet, Saxophone & Kaval
Aleksandar Krapovski – Violin
Alexander Somov – Violoncello
Vlatko Nushev – Percussions
Visit the official concert page here
Macedonian folk music is appreciated by ethnomusicologists and audiences around the world. For a relatively small geographic region, Macedonia has produced an outstanding wealth of songs and dances, characterised by intricate rhythmic patterns, as well as a diversity of melodic and choreographic features. Such richness of expression and variety of gestures might be due to the political and social environment, often set out by conquerors with an assimilation agenda. Indeed, in absence of opportunities for social and cultural development, the people in these regions expressed themselves through poetry, song and dance, realising that these forms of expression are the only ways of preserving their identity and culture. For centuries, nobody recorded Macedonia’s vast folk output in written form. At the beginning of the 20th Century, several enthusiasts from the region developed a passion for this, at that time, undiscovered musical and choreographic treasure. These pioneers were especially interested in the traditional circle dance genre: oro. One of the most famous oros, Teškoto, best translated as The Heavy (Oro), was performed at folk music festivals in Western Europe between the two World Wars. With the establishment of the Tanec Ensemble in 1949, and the Institute for Folklore shortly afterwards, a more organised approach gathered momentum, enabling scholars and enthusiasts to commence the process of recording and analysis of the vast amount of material.
The most significant characteristic of the Macedonian folk idiom are the irregular rhythms. Whilst similar patterns are also present in other musical traditions of the Balkans, they have an especially authentic resonance in the Macedonian folk music. This might be due to the speech rhythm of the Macedonian language, where the length of all syllables is equal, regardless of the number of the syllables in the word. Whilst in many other languages a word with three syllables is usually compressed in the space used for two syllables (resulting in a triplet), in the Macedonian language extra time is added at the end.
The idea for this project came from Simon Trpčeski, and his passion for the folk tradition has been a real driving force throughout its development. The six movements are combined according to the metric pattern. A medley of folk dances or songs is called splet (knitwork); I prefer to translate it as plait, and I decided to use Pletenki (Plaits) as a title for the whole cycle.
Plait 1 is the only movement in regular, 2/4 metre. The initial oro Pembe is a cheeky, relaxed dance, probably from Skopje and/or Veles, and is still very popular at celebrations. The modal character of the harmonic language and some Oriental influences, create an interesting merge in this dance. Buvčansko oro comes from the village of Buf, in the Lerin region. Berovka and Maleševka are well-known oro from the Maleševo region. Dances from the Eastern areas are known for intricate choreography. Kopačkata, oro from the neighbouring Pijanec region, is listed by the UNESCO as World heritage. The movement ends with the second theme from the popular Crnogorka from Skopska Crna Gora (Skopje Black Forest).
Plait 2 is based on songs and dances in 12/8 (always in irregular combination). It opens with the extraordinary timbre of the kaval, with a song that Trpčeski remembers from his childhood: Čije je ona devojče (Whose is that girl) is a delicate, lyrical song, noted down by one of the first Macedonian melographers Vasil Hadžimanov.  Ibrahim odža has many versions, both as a song and as a dance, and is popular in the neighbouring countries, as well. Beranče, usually danced by men only, is from the village of Ber, near Lerin (Florina in Greek). One of the themes of Ibrahim odža concludes this movement, with the characteristic Gipsy scale and heavy, poignant character, before accelerating towards the end.
Plait 3 is in 9/8 metre (combined as 2223) and starts with one of the most-loved Macedonian songs of all times: Ne si go prodavaj, Koljo, čiflikot in which the singer warns her beloved to stop his reckless lifestyle. She appeals that he does not sell his land; as then her mum would not allow her to marry him. Two dances follow: Žetvarki (Harvest Dances), based on choreographic traditions of the Kočani region, and Čučuk (from Skopska Crna Gora); the first one is melancholic, and the second optimistic and vigourous.
Plait 4 explores two of the most unusual metres: 18/8 (22322322) and 22/8 (2232232222). In spite of the length of the patterns, the music flows naturally, without awkward accents and a sense of irregularity. Veligdensko (Easter oro) is based on the song Kinisalo maloj mome (Young Girl has departed) from the Tikveš region. Piperkovo (Pepper oro) is one of the most popular dances by the virtuoso clarinettist Tale Ognenovski. The song Pomniš li libe, Todoro (Do you remember, my sweetheart, Todoro), on the other hand, evokes somewhat nostalgic feelings, as the singer asks his beloved Todora whether she remembers the times, when the pair were young and in love. The final Janino oro (Jana’s oro) is usually played by kaval (an end-blown flute, characteristic of the Balkans and parts of Asia) or gajda (bagpipes). This transcription is a tribute to the legendary gajda master Pece Atanasovski.
Plait 5 focuses on songs and dances in 7/8, one of the most common metre in Macedonian folk music, usually combined in a 322 pattern. The initial song is Filka, moma (The Girl Filka) from the Southern town of Kukuš (Kilkis in Greek). Sitna lisa (from Skopska Crna Gora) follows, introducing the mixolydian mode, and featuring an unusual change of the order of rhythmic groups within the bar half-way through the phrase. The central place of this movement is reserved for Staro Čunovo (Old Čun’s oro), also known as Nevestinsko (Bride’s oro). This transcription is another tribute to Tale Ognenovski, who mastered the authentic sound of the čalgii ensemble tradition, characteristic of the musical life of larger towns. Ratevka ia another gem from the Maleševo region (village of Ratevo), and my hommage to the flautist Ivan Terziev. Dračevka originates from the village of Dračevo near Skopje.
Plait 6 features three dances in 13/8 (222322).  Metovo oro (Meto’s oro) is followed by two widely known oros. Pelistersko by Tale Ognenovski (Pelister is the highest peak of the Baba mountain, situated between Prespa lake and the city of Bitola). Postupano is a vigourous dance from the Skopje region, providing opportunities for an energetic ending.
This project, whilst aiming at discovering the Macedonian musical tradition, is not approaching the songs and dances in a scholarly fashion. As a composer, I wanted to place the original material within my own sound world, which is equally influenced by impressionist attitude to resonance and jazz harmony. Therefore, the final result is neither authentic in ethnomusicological sense, nor a stylistic compositional exercise. I started it with as many question marks in my mind, as I have done with any of my compositions. Many of these question marks remain, even after the completion of this work. This is only one approach to transcription of the originals, and a very personal one. I would like to invite the audience to explore this music further, starting by looking up the masters mentioned above; their approach is more authentic, and well worth discovering.
We would like to thank the Institute for Folklore and the Ensemble Tanec for sharing their resources and invaluable expertise. Special thanks to Vlatko Nushev, who played an active role in shaping the final score, especially the percussion parts.
Pande Shahov, March 2017