Classic in Form, Formalist in Content? Konstantin Iliev’s Sonata Form and Dodecaphony in his Second Symphony

1951, I finished my Second Symphony for wind instruments. […] This new symphony is the first Bulgarian dodecaphonic composition. The use of different forms of dodecaphony by me and the following generations began with it.[1]

Konstantin Iliev




According to Konstantin Iliev, his Second Symphony for wind instruments, percussion, harp, and piano from 1951 takes a special place in his work and Bulgaria’s music history of the second half of the 20th century. In his 1986 autobiography Being and Work, the composer claims to have used “the dodecaphonic technique in its pure classical form”[2], and considers this work to be a new stage in his development after the end of his studies in 1947[3]. Despite this prominent position of Iliev’s Second Symphony, this work has received relatively little scholarly interest. That might be due to its late publication by the Canadian publisher Vox Bulgarica in 2011, or due to the general lack of scholarly attention to Bulgarian art music during the 20th century; yet, even in Bulgarian musicology, Iliev’s Second Symphony has scarcely been the topic of scientific inquiries[4].

The present article attempts to examine the first movement of this composition – understood as one of the first instances of Iliev’s development of a modern post-tonal musical technique. On the one hand, the relatively little information, Western musicology has about Bulgarian contemporary music after the end of the Second World War make it seem appropriate to contextualize the analysis in those aesthetic-theoretical discussions, Iliev led with his close colleague Lazar Nikolov around the time of composing his work. On the other hand, these discussions reveal conceptual notions that seem contradictory from contemporary West European avant-garde’s perspective: Rational and logical techniques like dodecaphony stand next to a belief in the metaphysical meaningfulness of music, its abstract place is connected to the idea of music as a vehicle for expression. These discussions are documented in Iliev’s and Nikolov’s correspondence and Iliev’s two autobiographies, which are published in Bulgarian and which are a valuable source to understand the surrounding political and artistic processes as well as explicit poetics[5], the two composers developed during this time.

However, concerning these discussions, an important remark has to be made: Regarding their explanatory power for the subsequent analysis, here, the letters are read as descriptions of an envisioned target, the theoretical preparation or report of new ideas, which Iliev and Nikolov yet had to transpose into actual music. The composer’s autobiographies try to create a thread, narrate the artistic endeavours during the early post-war years in a coherent manner, and should be read with the required caution against compositional self-stylization. Hence, the analysis tries to follow notions and concepts established by Iliev in these sources but attempts to question how his theoretical elaborations appear in his actual music. Thus, the composer’s explicit poetics are examined against the background of their implicit and factual counterpart, to a certain extent. The aim is not to allow a final aesthetic judgment, but rather to show where Iliev’s theory and his music converge, and where they diverge.


“Pure style” and “absolute polyphony” – Konstantin Iliev’s explicit poetics


The Second Symphony by Konstantin Iliev is one of the first compositions of a new generation of Bulgarian composers – the so-called Third Generation – that emerged after the end of the Second World War. These composers were born during the inter-war period and studied composition at the State Music Academy in Sofia from the mid-1940s onwards. Composers like the aforementioned Konstantin Iliev, or his colleague and close friend Lazar Nikolov, started to develop a more modern musical technique, and turned away from the idea of grounding their art music in Bulgarian folklore – an idea that was not only propagated by official Communist media, but also by the previous Second Generation of Bulgarian composers. This development of a modern musical language differed profoundly every composer: While Iliev and Nikolov could be described as something like the avant-garde of their generation, other figures like Georgi Tutev or Aleksandăr Rajčev formed a somewhat moderate stream during the early post-war years.

In his two-volume study The New Bulgarian Music Culture, Ivan Hlebarov explains that the development of this modern – or rather “contemporary” – music was based on a primarily “aesthetic decision”[6]. Thus, to understand the context, in which Konstantin Iliev composed his Second Symphony, a look at Iliev’s and Nikolov’s theoretical discussions can be informative. In his first autobiography Chronicles of the Early Years. Materials for Memoirs, Iliev explains that he experienced a growing aversion against the way, his teachers from the Second Generation of Bulgarian composers wrote their music:

It would be superfluous to bring the countless examples and disturb the memory of the great composers to disprove a ridiculous assertion that using the folk song or composing themes “in the people’s spirit” guarantee the composer the immortal glory of a national genius. Unfortunately, this “national” theory has gained popularity among our musical community […]. It has come to the fact that some of our composers, who have harmonized a dozen folk songs, have begun to use them for quartets, ballets, symphonies, solo and choir pieces, and the listener no longer knows, whether he is listening to the quartet orchestrated for a symphonic ensemble or the ballet, transposed for a four-voiced choir. All these authors try to persuade the listeners that they are bringing a brand new piece of work to them.[7]

In the context of their theoretical elaboration of the “pure style”, Iliev and Nikolov characterize it with a series of terms that point to its planned implementation in several musical works around 1950. Iliev and Nikolov see the idea of a “pure style” in a clear, simple, and logical musical language:

As I self-analyze, I see that neither with the first period (up to the [First] Symphony), nor with the second one (to the Divertimento), nor with the third I have resolved or at least approached the solution of that problem, which theoretically has long been clear to me: the creation of a musical style – clear, simple, and logical – without borrowing formal, melodic, and rhythmic schemata from our earlier epochs. A style that will be characteristic like the ones by Bach and Mozart and which will be the quintessence of our era. A style that no one has ever achieved in its pure form. Of course, nothing indicates that I will find it.[8]

Features of the “pure style” are “characteristic themes” and “infinite melodies”, as Iliev makes clear in a letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 9th of August, 1949:

Still, I have made some experiences […]: above all, the end of creative adventures; we have gone such a long way that we can safely say, we have a modern language and style. Concerning the form – what we have come to […]: short, characteristic themes or endlessly evolving melodies in some variants of the familiar forms. Time to write something! We have become too theoretical composers![9]

For Iliev, these characteristics of the musical arrangement of the pure style lead to the concept of an “absolute polyphony”, which is supposed to be a guarantor of the intended purity of style; on the one hand not making use of folk music elements, and on the other hand moving away from the harmonic thinking of the preceding second generation of Bulgarian composers:

We increasingly felt the need to express our thoughts with a polyphonic technique. […] I was utterly convinced that the music was moving in the direction of complete liberation from harmonic style, to an absolute polyphony. Under absolute polyphony, I understand what my creative thought is based on today, too: Leading the voices in view of the logical melodic development of each one individually, without taking into account the vertical constructions and their functional dependence. Of course, I do not deny the use of accord sounds, but the formation of these chords results from the logical development of slowly moving voices, not from pre-established relations between them. This polyphony, based on classical laws, has as the most important rule that voices should never be led in unison or octave, not moving at parallel intervals; it follows that in the formation of the chords, when they appear to be a necessary expression of the creative idea, no doubling of the voices should be allowed.[10]

The certainty, with which Iliev writes about his ideas in his letters to Nikolov and his autobiography should not hide the fact that the combination of these concepts seems to be highly problematic from the perspective of contemporary avant-garde movements in Western Europe: The notion of an absolute music with logical and rational techniques meets back bonding to an expressive aesthetic à la Friedrich von Hausegger, and the renunciation of outworn forms does not encumber Iliev to continue to compose symphonies, string quartets, concertos, and sonatas.

Therefore, this article mainly focusses on two interdependent problems of the first movement of Iliev’s Symphony: Firstly, how does Iliev use dodecaphony as a means of expression in this work; secondly, how is the form constructed? Given the fact, that a sonata “is a constellation of normative and optional procedures that are flexible in their realization”[11], we might wonder, how Iliev dealt with the historic requisites of this genre since he decided to employ a compositional technique, which principally abolishes one of the sonata’s essential elements: the cadence. Hence, the following analysis tries to show Iliev’s dialogue with the requirements of sonata form: The employment and creation of sonata “action spaces”[12], the use of dodecaphony, and Iliev’s treatment of cadential closure.


“But is it Dodecaphony?”[13]


The certainty with which Konstantin Iliev declares his Second Symphony to be a dodecaphonic composition easily conceals the actual compositional means employed in this work. In this respect, it is quite illuminative that dodecaphony does not play any role in the first theoretical discussion of the Symphony: In his short monography Konstantin Iliev’s Symphonies, his fellow composer-colleague Ivan Spasov does not mention the assumed twelve-tone basis of Iliev’s work at all. Spasov’s analysis rather focusses on the development of the motivic-thematic material than on the employment of contemporary means of expression like dodecaphony or even total serialism. Concerning the slow introduction to the first movement of the Second Symphony, Spasov asserts:

Besides the role of inspiration, this little episode (32 bars) performs important dramatic tasks. Its theme, having the character of a “lamento”, is also found in the development of the Allegro. It gives an imprint of the intervallic structure of most of the thematic nuclei within the symphony and, although it is not “thematically” present in the third movement – Adagio (the finale of the symphony) – its minor seconds “lament” mournful. Thus, the introduction seems to prepare us for the finale, enframing the work. Direct your attention to the major third e flat–g; we will often see it inversed, in prime form, or as a retrograde. Gradually, new voices enter. The texture is “delicate”. […] From here [scil. b. 24] in the following nine bars, the texture breaks down, the theme is partially exposed, or some fragments of it sound. This is the transition to the Allegro. Despite all the peculiarities of the form, we can safely speak of a sonata allegro, a sonata form. What are those peculiarities? While both themes are “sonata-like”, we should rather speak about thematic complexes. In continuous polyphony besides the first main theme, several separate voices have such a vivid melodic and rhythmic pattern that they acquire the character of “sub-themes”.[14]

Iliev’s use and understanding of dodecaphony receive their first critical discussion in the second volume of Ivan Hlebarov’s study The New Bulgarian Music Culture. Hlebarov similarly departs from the slow introduction but argues against Spasov’s analysis that “in the examples he cites […], one can immediately discover the presence of twelve-tone rows”[15]. However, in the subsequent analysis, Hlebarov does not reconstruct a tone-row proper, but pleads for a freer approach of Iliev towards dodecaphony:

They [scil. the examples from Iliev’s Symphony] often lack some tones of the chromatic scale, and more often the principle of “avoidance” of tones that already sounded or were already “used” is not observed, growing the “series” to more than twelve tones […]. Moreover, there might not even be twelve different tones in it. However, what are those tone-rows for according to Konstantin Iliev? For turning them into musical “crossword puzzles”? I will repeat again: in the “pure world” of K[onstantin] Iliev and L[azar] Nikolov, there must not be anything “outwardly” – neither a shadow of folklore nor a distant association with any tonal tendencies. […] But the only “model”, behind which there is no “shadow” of an “object” – that is the atonal tone-row, subordinate to the dogma of “avoidance”, of the “unrepeatability” of its tones, the only – but not always the sure guarantor of atonality.[16]


Example 1: While Spasov focusses on the gradual gain of motivic material in the first eight bars of the first movement of Iliev’s Second Symphony, Hlebarov finds evidence of the employment of a twelve-tone row.


Nevertheless, the question remains, why Iliev insisted upon the term dodecaphony instead of atonality for example. A possible answer which comes to mind is, that in 1951, when he finished his Second Symphony, Iliev just did not know, what exactly dodecaphony actually was, given the relative isolation in which he and his Bulgarian colleagues lived during that time. However, this answer seems to be somewhat implausible, if we consider that Iliev declares his work as a dodecaphonic composition in his second autobiography which dates from 1986 – by that time he most certainly knew about the frequent use of this term. The other reason, why this answer is highly implausible, is Iliev’s ongoing engagement with the work of the Second Viennese School that started in the second half of the 1940s. Sources like the published correspondence between him and Lazar Nikolov as well as his autobiographies reveal that Iliev got quickly acquainted with works by Arnold Schoenberg and some of his disciples using radio transmissions and his specialization year at the conservatory in Prague in 1947. This year abroad, when he studied with Jaroslav Řídký and frequented classes by Alois Hába, is also crucial for the development of his understanding and use of dodecaphony. In his 1986 autobiography, Iliev explains:

The librarian of the vast academic library [in Prague] was a young man, whose name I am in vain to remember now. He was not bad as a composer himself, an excellent pianist, and his wife a well-known violinist, who performed chamber concertos. […] he provided me scores and books that were banned from borrowing from the library for home use. Twice a week, I took scores, and I read the book on harmony by Schoenberg. […] There was not a word on dodecaphony in it. However, in Krenek’s book, I learned everything I needed. I began to use this technique later, after my return to Bulgaria [in October 1947].[17]

Thus, the question on Iliev’s use of dodecaphony in his Second Symphony poses itself anew: How did Iliev incorporate dodecaphonic devices, how does he handle tone-rows, which elements of dodecaphony as it is outlined in Krenek’s Studies in Counterpoint did the composer employ? In his theoretical discussion of the opening bars of this work, Hlebarov explains:

Even in the first eight bars, the composer exhibits the principles of his working with the tone-row. This is a single-voice series of 27 sounds, which lay out the first row. In this form, it becomes the theme of the introduction, too. However, in these 27 sounds, there are only ten different tones. […] The exposition of the series starts as if three times, as well as three times it “starts” from the beginning. […] Thus, the first six tones are gradually “gained”. The further exposition of the tones of the series continues from the third tone e flat, returns to its second, then the tones from the third to the sixth are “dragged along” by the following new four tones: e flat, g, a flat, c sharp, c, (c, a flat), b, b flat, (f, e). If we represent all appearing tones and eliminate the repetitions, we will get a clear idea on the internal unevenness of the monodic series. […] In this internal irregularity of the series, there are tone sequences that have stability not only in their alternation but also in the intervals between them, i. e., they do not respect the principle of addition [sic], and the tones are fixed for a specific octave. Thus, sustainable motives arise, which already play a role of thematic material […].[18]


Example 2: Ivan Hlebarov constructs this tone-row out of the first eight bars of Iliev’s Second Symphony. It comprises ten tones – the missing f sharp and d first appear in bar 10 (f sharp) and 12 (d).


From this argument, Hlebarov constructs a twelve-tone row (see Ex. 2). However, several problems arise, because this tone-row – against Hlebarov’s assertion – does not play a role in the subsequent organization of the musical material. There are, indeed, several moments in the first movement of the Symphony, which resemble the original tone-row outlined by Hlebarov, yet, this series cannot be used for any more profound approach[19]. From another perspective – to be more precise, from the perspective of Allen Forte’s analytical approach – we can formulate a critique of Hlebarov’s attempt to construct a tone-row. This attempt is highly doubtful because the constructed tone-row does not re-emerge in the course of the symphony, because it is constructed by eliminating the tone repetitions which form a prominent characteristic in Iliev’s composition, and because it is incomplete, leaving out the missing tones f sharp and d which first appear in bar 10 and bar 12. From the perspective of Forte’s pitch-class sets, we can conclude that Hlebarov’s row shows motivic kernels of Iliev’s Symphony rather than being the organizational fundament of the work. The row itself depicts three three-tone groups that fill out a major second, which constitutes the fundamental motif at the beginning of the slow introduction (b. 2). It appears in several places throughout the symphony, for example in the short theme cantabile of the trumpet (b. 13 – 18) as well as in the first theme of the Allegro, where it follows after the distinctive tone repetitions at the beginning of the theme (b. 33/34).

Konstantin Iliev’s reception of dodecaphony through Ernst Krenek’s Studies in Counterpoint also suggests this reading of the Second Symphony. Instead of dodecaphony proper, Iliev seems to have been rather interested in other aspects of Krenek’s representation of this technique, as the author outlines them at the beginning of his book:

The twelve-tone series takes the place of the motif repertoire, from which Schoenberg developed the diverse ideas of his tonal composition. It is suitable for this because it encompasses the entire sum of the available material – the twelve tones in which our octave is divided – and at the same time presents this material in a characteristic arrangement. Thus, in its primary function, the series is a supply of motifs from which all special elements of the composition are to be developed. However, by its uninterrupted return throughout the composition, the series fulfills yet another function: it assures the seamless technical unity of the work, permeating its whole structure.[20]

The important role, which Krenek’s publication takes on for Iliev’s development and his musical craftsmanship around the time when he finished his Second Symphony in 1951 is evident from the final movement of this work, where Iliev creates an accurate imitation of Krenek’s exercises in inventions for one or more voices: In the first 32 bars of the finale, the number of polyphonically interwoven voices grows from a single one in the beginning to five in bar 15, before these voices collapse one after another in a short homophonic climax that is gradually disintegrated.

Thus, instead of attempting to reconstruct an original twelve-tone row that serves as an organizational nucleus of this work, the adjacent analysis focusses on the employment of motivic-thematic material and the formal design of the first movement. Although it is not entirely impossible that Iliev created an actual twelve-tone series which takes an important role, no existing analysis has satisfyingly shown, how this hypothetical tone row functions in Iliev’s Second Symphony. Hence, we can assume that – if it exists – it works on a deep structural level of the composition that has not yet been excavated, therefore rendering all assertions speculative: Only an examination of sources like sketches, preparatory works and composition exercises – a field of study which has not yet been launched for the music of Konstantin Iliev and his Bulgarian colleagues – could give us a clearer idea of Iliev’s incorporation, employment, and understanding of dodecaphony, a technique about which he claims to have used it till the late 1970s[21].


À la recherche de la forme perdue?


Considering Konstantin Iliev’s strong rejection of “formal, melodic, and rhythmic schemata from our earlier epochs”[22], we might wonder, why the composer decided to distil his artistic development after his First Symphony in another work of this genre. Ivan Hlebarov’s answer to this question is not entirely satisfying:

It is no coincidence that he perceives it [scil. the symphony] as a universal genre that can have endlessly many historical and aesthetic traditions […]. What is more, for him, this [scil. the symphony] is a genre-summary. Through it, he has to fully assert his aesthetic idea, an expression of his new individualism.[23]

Besides these general observations on Iliev’s continuing employment of classical genres, the actual form of the first movement of the Second Symphony is similarly interesting. All previous commentators agree that this movement is a genre-typical “Sonata-allegro”[24]. From the perspective of current discussions of sonata form like James Hepokoski’s and Warren Darcy’s Elements of Sonata Theory. Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata, we can examine the form of this movement to understand, how Iliev tries to construct a seemingly classical musical form within the framework of his critique of traditionalized specimen.

As outlined before, the slow introduction as a generic action space contains the basic motivic-thematic material, which is not just stated in its completed form, but rather gradually gained out of the initial tone repetition and the three-tone motive (b. 1 – 6). The short thematic traces of the English Horn, the Horn, and the Trumpet (b. 7 – 16) reappear on several occasions within the first and third movement in a varied shape. The climax in bar 18 later forms the medial caesura of the exposition (b. 42), the dynamic climax of the development section (b. 126), and can also be found in a similar passage in the third movement (3rd movement, b. 25).


Example 3: The explosive tutti chords that reappear throughout Iliev’s Second Symphony in various places derive from the initial climax in the slow introduction of the first movement. Both the medial caesura of the exposition and the apex of the development section are clearly related to each other (In Forte’s pitch-class sets they form an 8 – 4, chord a) forms an 8 – 18). Chord d), however, stems from the final movement of Iliev’s work (b. 25), where it marks the end of a homophonic passage that fades away afterwards).


Considering the exposition of the Primary and Secondary Themes in the first movement (b. 33 – 102), several interesting insights can be made: The Primary Theme is strikingly short, built on the initial melodic line in the slow introduction. The distinctive form of the theme is quickly obscured during its repetition, when the woodwinds play it simultaneously in minor seconds apart, and the brass accompaniment introduces new material, which Ivan Spasov in his monography on Iliev’s symphonies calls “sub-themes”, and which prepares the medial caesura (b. 42). After this ten-tone chord, an extensive, non-linear caesura fill dissolves this tension and ends on the a flat of the bass clarinet, which leads over to the Secondary Theme (b. 42 – 62). Here, the oboe departs from the melodic gesture of the english horn in the slow introduction to an accompanying brass chorale that can be understood as a tie to the initial tone-row in the woodwinds (b. 1 – 6) or an augmented version of the accompaniment to the Primary Theme (b. 33 – 38). The exposition ends with a lengthy closing zone, which presents a canon-like passage that is followed by the gradual fragmentation of the established musical material (b. 81 – 102).

Example 4 (continued): The Primary Theme of the first movement (b. 32 – 43).


From the point of view of classical genre-norms, we could expect cadential closures in several places during the first movement: the end of the slow introduction (b. 24 – 31), the end of the Primary and Secondary themes (b. 51 – 60 and b. 78/79), the end of the closing zone (b. 93 – 102), and the end of the Secondary Theme in the recapitulation (b. 195/196). However, there are no cadences to find there. Rather, we can deduce a rule, how Iliev substitutes cadential closure in his post-tonal music. In these instances, the polyphonic entanglement of voices in the sense of Iliev’s concept of “absolute polyphony” reaches an absolute zero. Instead of several themes and “sub-themes” like in the beginning of the exposition, those places, where a classical composer would employ cadential closure are marked by its absence[25]. It seems like Iliev deliberately avoids cadential closure by traditional means. The voices are reduced to a single one or several voices moving in unison.

Example 5: The Secondary Theme of the first movement (b. 62 – 80). The tuba in bar 79 gives way to the closing zone.


This negation of cadential closure finds its equivalent in Iliev’s handling of the recapitulation. Here, we can follow Hepokoski and Darcy, who extensively discuss the notion of false recapitulations or Scheinreprisen in their textbook and come to the conclusion:

It is a mere label, claiming nothing more than the registering of a momentary personal deception. By itself it explains nothing about the piece. Instead, it is one of a collection of handy terms more often used to short-circuit analytical thought, as if identifying a developmental moment as a false recapitulation provides a sufficient explanation of that event and licenses us to move on to something else. Instead, sensing the potentially false-recapitulation flavor of an individual spot […] should draw our attention to that moment as a site of compositional and hermeneutic complication. In turn that should open the passage up to question, not to close it down.[26]

In Iliev’s Second Symphony, the passage that comes closest to be suggestive of a false recapitulation begins in bar 159, when the beginning of the slow introduction is brought forward, suggesting the a new, full recapitulatory cycle. However, the melody of the english horn and first clarinet – note that it is a tritone away from the original in b. 4 – breaks off after 6 bars and gives way to a reinstanciation of the closing zone (b. 165 – 177). Iliev waives a recapitulation proper and only brings back the Secondary Theme – now on c, played by the trumpet (b. 184 – 194). Thereafter, fragments of the Primary Theme – the characteristic tone repetitions and circular seventh and eigths – are sounded to another instance of the original beginning of this movement (b. 197 – 205), before it ends in ppp.

Example 6: This short passage – starting in bar 159 – suggests the reoccurence of a full recapitulatory cycle. However, it breaks off after just six bars and gives way to a re-instantiation of the closing zone within the exposition.


Following Hepokoski and Darcy, we could thus call the form of Iliev’s work a “Type 2 sonata”:

In a Type 2 sonata […] the exposition may or may not be repeated, and the second rotation begins as a developmental space; only in its second half […] does it take on “recapitulatory” characteristics.[27]

From a hermeneutical point of view, we might explain this as the negation of presence: In a context of classical genre-norms, Iliev’s Second Symphony lacks essential features like cadential closure. However, by their negation itself they are re-instated as a fundamental lack in the context of established genre-norms. Hence, this negation does not render the sonata form of the first movement incomprehensible, since its cadential closure is substituted by a reduction of polyphonic density, which clearly sets itself apart from the surrounding environment, and since the motivic-thematic development allows for a clear recognition of the distinctive form parts within the movement. In this way, the lacking cadences find their equivalent in the eight to ten tone chords, which reappear several times throughout this movement and the following ones: They structure the musical process by either reducing it to a single note that functions as a kind of needle eye or by increasing the voices to a climactic tutti chord that serves as a tabula rasa. The missing cadential closures behave accordingly to the missing recapitulation: If we agree with Hepokoski and Darcy that the term false recapitulation is insufficient, we can also refrain from calling Iliev’s missing cadences false cadences. They might be false from the perspective of conservatory composition classes, from the perspective of classical music theory. Yet, their very absence raises important questions concerning Iliev’s formal structure of the first movement of his Second Symphony.

We might get the impression that cadential closure and the structure of a recapitulation collide with Iliev’s concept of “absolute polyphony”. The composer’s plan to create “short, characteristic themes” and “endlessly evolving melodies”[28] – a notion, which he later called a musical “stream of consciousness”[29] –, face classical cadential closures, and recapitulations. It seems like Iliev refrains from applying cadences and a recapitulation, because as primarily harmonic tools they pond the polyphonic interweaving, and because a recapitulation as a repetitive action space stands against Iliev’s plan to focus on the continuous development of melodies[30].




This article attempted to examine the first movement of Konstantin Iliev’s Second Symphony from 1951 in its aesthetic and historical context. In later years, the composer considered this work a milestone of his creative development, and the first Bulgarian composition to be composed with “the dodecaphonic technique in its pure classical form”, a seminal work from which “[t]he use of different forms of dodecaphony by me, and the following generations [of Bulgarian composers] began”[31]. A look at the theoretical foundations of Iliev’s aesthetic thinking showed that his Second Symphony could be understood as the summary of discussions that the composer had led with his colleague and friend Lazar Nikolov since the mid-1940s. Their correspondence and Iliev’s autobiographies from 1954 and 1986 provide scholarly inquiries with a rich source material that may give first impulses for an actual analysis of the composer’s works around 1950[32].

The certainty, with which Iliev in his writing lays out his ideas about what music ought to be should nevertheless be considered carefully. An examination of his actual work quickly reveals that the written word and the composed music diverge. When Iliev talks about dodecaphony, he does not necessarily mean dodecaphony in its common understanding, in a Schoenbergian sense. Iliev’s reception of dodecaphony through works like Ernst Krenek’s Studies in Counterpoint seems to have been limited to several aspects of this technique, yet the Bulgarian composer does not follow his contemporary colleagues in Western Europe: Instead of strictly organizing the musical material with fixed series for different parameters, he creates musical passages out of eight to twelve tones that may be repeated within particular situation.

From another perspective, Iliev’s Second Symphony is similarly illuminative. Although the composer tries to employ a modern, post-tonal technique – a seminal process in Bulgaria’s art music history –, he does not refrain from employing it in the context of classical genre-norms. His continuing use of forms like symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, concertos, and the like extends even to his aleatoric phase that starts around 1960. Albeit the form of the first movement of the Second Symphony can be understood as a “Type 2 sonata” in the terminology of Hepokoski and Darcy, Iliev’s treatment of cadential closure and the formal peculiarities refer to the inherent problem in the work’s structure. Together with his Second String Quartet and the Quintet for Strings and Winds, the Second Symphony is an initial point for Iliev’s ongoing search for a combination of this post-tonal technique with classical genres – a field of study that has yet to be explored.

Therefore, we can concludingly look beyond the work itself and ask for its context. There is a wide temporal gap between Iliev’s composition and those works that Hepokoski and Darcy examine in their Elements of Sonata Theory. Thus, further research has to show the diverse connection lines between the Second Symphony and classical or pre-classical conceptions of sonata form. Here, Iliev’s reception of Vincent d’Indy’s Cours des composition musicale might proof illuminative[33], a work that he had already read during his time at the conservatory in Sofia and that could explain his rejection of Anton Bruckner’s and Gustav Mahler’s symphonism. D’Indy’s chapter about “la sonate pré-beethovénienne” could have also influenced Iliev’s engagement with Händel and Bach that is reflected in his Concerto grosso from 1949[34]. The present analysis could already show Iliev’s use of eight to ten tone complexes that – most probably – can be traced back to his time in Prague, where he studied with Alois Hába, where he got acquainted with the works by “Stravinsky and Hindemith, Bartók, Martinů, and Schoenberg”[35].

The problem-oriented approach of this article could show, how both Konstantin Iliev’s Second Symphony itself and the composition’s immediate context reveal critical empty spaces within existing research on Bulgaria’s contemporary music after the end of the Second World War. We need not insist on the enigmatic character of musical works à la Theodor W. Adorno to understand that inquiries into this topic are still problematic to a great extent. Only, when a variety of sources is taken into consideration, musicological research will be able to understand this early period of modern Bulgarian music – an endeavor that opens up an entirely new field of study.





Danuser, Hermann (2014). “Inspiration, Rationalität, Zufall. Über musikalische Poetik im 20. Jahrhundert”. In: ibid., Gesammelte Vorträge und Aufsätze. Ed. by Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Christian Schaper and Laure Spaltenstein. Vol. 1. Schliengen: Argus, pp. 141 – 153.

Hába, Alois (1994). Von der Psychologie der musikalischen Gestaltung. Gesetzmäßigkeit der Tonbewegung und Grundlagen eines neuen Musikstils. Transl. by Josef Löwenbach. München: Filmkunst (Grundlagen der miktronalen Musik, vol. 4).

Hába, Alois (1927). Neue Harmonielehre des diatonischen, chromatischen Viertel-, Drittel-, Sechstel- und Zwölftel-Tonsystems. Transl. by the author. Leipzig: Kristner und Siegel.

Hepokoski, James/Warren Darcy (2006). Elements of Sonata Theory. Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Hlebarov, Ivan (2003, 2008). Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma). 2 vol. Sofia: Haini (vol. 1) and Sofia: Haini (vol. 2).

Iliev, Konstantin (2011). Symphonie No. 2 for Wind Ensemble. Ed. by Anna Levy, Gregory Myers and Tomi Karklisijsky. Port Moody: Vox Bulgarica.

Iliev, Konstantin (1997). Slovo i delo [Word and Deed]. Ed. by Valentina Ilieva. Sofia: LIK.

Iliev, Konstantin/Lazar Nikolov (2005). Pisma [Letters]. Ed. by Julian Kujumdžiev. Plovdiv: Akt Mjuzik.

Indy, Vincent d’ (1912). Cours de composition musicale. 2 vol. Paris: Durand.

Krenek, Ernst (1952). Zwölftonkontrapunktstudien. Transl. by Heinz-Klaus Metzger. Mainz: Schott.

Spasov, Ivan (1995). Simfoniite na Konstantin Iliev [Konstantin Iliev’s Symphonies]. Sofia: Sofijska filharmonija.

Yosifov, Dragomir (2014). Konstantin Iliev. Fragmenti. In: Bălgarsko muzikoznanie [Bulgarian Musicology] (3), pp. 3 – 16.

[1] „През 1951 г. завърших Втората си симфония за духови инструменти. Използвах троен състав дървени, три тромпета, четири корни, три тромбона и туба, пиано, арфа, и ударни. Тази нова симфония е първата българска додекафонична композиция. От нея започна използването на различни видове додекафонична техника от моето и следващите поколения.“ Konstantin Iliev. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work]. In: ibid., Slovo i delo [Word and Deed]. Ed. by Valentina Ilieva. Sofia: LIK, 1997, p. 289.

[2] Ibid., p. 287.

[3] Cf. ibid.

[4] Exceptions are Ivan Spasov’s short monography The Symphonies of Konstantin Iliev, Ivan Hlebarov’s voluminous study The New Bulgarian Music Culture, and Dragomir Yosifov’s article “Konstantin Iliev // Fragments”. Cf. Ivan Spasov. Simfoniite na Konstantin Iliev [The Symphonies of Konstantin Iliev]. Sofia: Sofijska filharmonija, 1995; Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes)]. Sofia: Haini, 2003 (vol. 1) and ibid., 2008; Dragomir Yosifov (2014). “Konstantin Iliev // Fragmenti”. In: Bălgarsko muzikoznanie [Bulgarian Musicology] (3), pp. 3 – 16.

[5] In his inaugural lecture at the Albert-Ludwig-University, Freiburg im Breisgau, in 1989, Hermann Danuser differentiates between implicit, explicit, and factual poetics: “At the same time, I want to show […] that we – leaving the so-called “implicit poetics” as the reconstruction of internal structural laws of musical works and styles aside – have to consider two dimensions of poetics, wherever possible: on the one hand the “explicit poetics”, which is, what the composers themselves have said about the principles of their work – partly descriptive, partly normative – and on the other hand, what I call “factual poetics”, by which the poeisis itself or the creative process reconstructed with the means of philology should be understood.” [Gleichzeitig möchte ich […] zeigen, daß wir – die sogenannte „implizite Poetik“, die Rekonstruktion der internen Strukturgesetze musikalischer Werke und Stile, einmal beiseite gelassen – nach Möglichkeit zwei Dimensionen von Poetik zu berücksichtigen haben: einerseits die „explizite Poetik“, das, was die Komponisten selbst über die Prinzipien ihres Schaffens – teils deskriptiv, teils normativ – haben verlauten lassen, und andererseits das, was ich „faktische Poetik“ nenne, worunter die Poiesis selbst oder der mit Mitteln der Philologie rekonstruierte Schaffensprozeß zu verstehen wäre.] Hermann Danuser. „Inspiration, Rationalität, Zufall. Über musikalische Poetik im 20. Jahrhundert“. In: ibid., Gesammelte Vorträge und Aufsätze. Ed. by Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Christian Schaper and Laure Spaltenstein. Vol. 1. Schliengen: Argus, 2014, p. 142.

[6] „Фолклорните елементи са неприемливи за него не от технологични, а от естетически съображения.“ Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes)]. Vol. 2, p. 360. An examination of Iliev’s and Nikolov’s correspondence as well as Iliev’s autobiographies clearly shows that they did not refer to themselves as avant-gardists. In a letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 21st of October, 1951, Iliev explains: “Didn’t I tell you that what we are doing does not fit into any other group of what I’m listening to on the radio[?]” [Аз нали ти казах, че това, което ние правим, не може да се причисли към нито една група от това, което слушам по радиото.]. Konstantin Iliev. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 21st of October, 1951. In: ibid./Lazar Nikolov. Pisma [Letters]. Ed. by Julian Kujumdžiev. Plovdiv: Akt Mjuzik, 2005, p. 74. It seems like for their own music, Iliev and Nikolov, too, employed the term săvremenen – contemporary – rather than moderen – modern – that was pejoratively used by official Communist music publishing during that time.

[7] „Би било излишно да се привеждат безбройните примери и да се смущава паметта на великите композитори, за да се оборва едно нелепо твърдение, че използването на народната песен или съчиняването на теми в „народен дух“ гарантират на композитора безсмъртна слава на национален гений. За съжаление, тази теория за „националното“ е добила гражданственост всред нашата музикална общественост […]. Стигна се дотам, че някои наши композитори, хармонизирали десетина народни песни, започнаха да ги използват за теми на квартети, балети, симфонии, солови и хорови песни, и слушателят вече не знае дали слуша квартета, оркестриран за симфоничен състав, или балета, транспониран за четиригласен хор. При това всички тези автори се мъчат да убедят с думи слушателите, че им поднасят съвсем ново произведение.“ Ibid.“ Hronika na rannite godini. Materiali za memoari” [Chronicle of the Early Years. Materials for Memoirs], pp. 55/56.

[8] „Като се самоанализирам, виждам, че нито с първия период (до симфонията), нито с втория (до Дивертиментото), нито с третия съм разрешил или поне съм се доближил до разрешението на онзи проблем, който теоретически отдавна ми е ясен: създаване на съвременен музикален стил – ясен, прост и логичен – без да се заимстват формални, мелодични и ритмични схеми от предшестващите ни епохи. Един стил, който ще бъде характерен като този на Бах или Моцарт и който ще бъде квинтесенцията на нашата епоха. Стил, който още никой не е постигнал в неговата чиста форма. Разбира се, нищо не показва, че аз ще го намеря.“ Konstantin Iliev. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 19th of June, 1950. In: Pisma [Letters], p. 49.

[9] „Все пак почерпих известен опит […]: преди всичко край на творческите авантюри; ние и без друго отидохме доста напред, за да можем спокойно да кажем, че имаме съвременен език и стил. Относно формата – това, до което всъщност и двамата дойдохме […]: кратки, характерни теми или безкрайно развиващи се мелодии в някакви варианти на познатите форми. Време е да напишем и ние нещо! Станахме твърде много теоретични композитори!“ Ibid. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 9th of August, 1949. In: Pisma [Letters], pp. 24/25.

[10] „Ние все повече чувствахме нужда да изразим нашите мисли с една полифонична техника. […] Аз бях напълно убеден, че музиката отива към едно пълно освобождение от хармоничния стил; към една абсолютна полифония. Под абсолютна полифония аз разбирам това, към което е насочена и днес моята творческа мисъл: водене на гласовете с оглед на логичното мелодично развитие на всеки един поотделно, без да се държи сметка за вертикалните образувания и тяхната функционална зависимост. Разбира се, аз не отричам използването на акордови звучности, но образуването на тези акорди се получава от логичното развитие на бавно движещи се гласове, а не на предварително установени отношения между тях. Тази полифония, изградена върху класическите закони, има като най-важно правило гласовете да не се срещат в нито един момент в унисон или октава, да не се движат в паралелни интервали; от това следва, че при образуването на акордите, когато те се явят като необходим израз на творческата идея, не трябва да се допускат удвоявания на гласовете.“ Ibid. “Hronika na rannite godini. Materiali za memoari” [Chronicles of the Early Years. Materials for Memoirs], pp. 82/83.

[11] James Hepokoski/Warren Darcy. Elements of Sonata Theory. Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 15.

[12] Hepokoski and Darcy use the term “action spaces” to refer to “genre-defining guidelines for the production of typical or more or less standardized “shapes”. Ibid., p. 616.

[13] „Но додекафония ли е тя?“ Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes)]. Vol. 2, p. 389.

[14] „[О]свен ролята на встъпление този неголям епизод (32 т.) изпълнява важни драматургични задачи. Неговата тема, имаща характер на „ламенто“ срещаме и в разработката на алегрото. Тя дава отпечатък на интерваловия строеж на повечето тематични ядра вътре в Симфонията и, макар че „тематично“ не присъства в третата част – Adagio (финала на Симфонията), нейните малки секунди и тук скръбно „ламентират“. Така Встъплението като че ли ни подготвя за финала, рамкира произведението. […] Обърнете внимание и на голямата терца ми бемол – сол – ще я срещаме често в огледално, право или рачешко движение. Постепенно влизат нови гласове. Фактурата е „деликатна“. […] От тук в следващите 9 такта фактурата се накъсва, темата се излага частично, или звучат отделни нейни фрагменти. Това е преходът към Allegro. Въпреки цялото своеобразие на формата можем спокойно да говорим за сонатно алегро, за сонатна форма. Какви са тези своеобразия. Макар че и двете теми са ‹сонатни›, би трябвало да говорим по-скоро за тематични комплекси. При непрекъснатото полифонизиране, освен първата, главната тема, няколко отделни гласове са с такъв ярък мелодичен и ритмичен рисунък, че придобиват характер на „под-теми“.“ Иван Спасов, Симфониите на Константин Илиев [The Symphonies of Konstantin Iliev], pp. 17/18.

[15] „В цитираните от него примери […] веднага се хвърля в очи наличието на 12-тонови редици.“ Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes)]. Vol. 2, p. 389.

[16] „В тях често липсват някои тонове от хроматичната скала, а още по-често не се спазва принципът на „избягване“ на прозвучават и вече „използвани“ тонове и „серията“ се разраства до над 12-звучна […]. А при това в нея може дори да няма дванайсет различни, тона. Но тогава за какво му са на К. Илиев тези редици-серии? Да прави от тях музикални „кръстословици“ ли? Ще повторя отново: в „чистия“ свят на К[онстантин] Илиев и Л[азар] Николов не трябва да има нищо „външно“ – сянка от фолклор или далечна асоциация с някакви тонални тежнения. […] А единственият „модел“, зад който няма „сянка“ на „предмет“ – това е атоналната серия, подчинена на догмата на „избягването“, на „неповторността“ на тоновете ѝ, единствената, но не винаги сигурна гаранция за атонализъм.“ Ibid., p 390.

[17] „Библиотекар на огромната академична библиотека беше един млад човек, чието име напразно се мъча сега да си спомня. Самият той беше нелош композитор, отличен пианист, а жена му – известна цигуларка, която изнасяше камерни концерти. […] той ми предостави за домашно ползване партитури и книги които бяха забранени за изнасяне вън от библиотеката. Взимах ноти два пъти в седмицата и прочетох учебника по хармония на Шьонберг. […] За додекафония в него не става и дума. Обаче в учебника по додекафония от Крженек научих всичко, което ми беше необходимо. Прилагането на тази техника използвах по-късно, след завръщането ми в България.“ Konstantin Iliev. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work], p. 218.

[18] „Още в първите 8 такта [of the slow introduction], композиторът експонира и своя принцип на работа със серията. Това е монодийна поредица от 27 звука, в която се излага първата серия. В този ѝ вид тя и става тема на встъплението. В тези 27 звука обаче само 10 са различните тонове […] Изложението на серията започва като че ли трикратно, както и трите пъти тя ‹започва› от началото […]. Така постепенно се ‹завоюват› първите шест тона. По-нататъшното изложение на тоновете на серията продължава вече от третия тон es, вторично се връща към него, след което изложените тонове от трети до шести ‹повличат› след себе си следващите ‹нови› четири тона: es, g, as, cis, c, (c, as), h, b, (f, e). Ако представим всички появили се тонове и почерним за пръв път появилите се, ще получим нагледна представа за вътрешната неравномерност на редицата-монодия. […] Ivan Hlebarov. “Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma)”, p. 393

[19] This holds also true for the other two movements of Iliev’s work, where neither Hlebarov’s row nor any other could be constructed that was able to explain the tone organization.

[20] Ernst Krenek. Zwölftonkontrapunktstudien. Transl. by Heinz-Klaus Metzger. Mainz: Schott, 1952 p. 7. Since the German translation of Krenek’s Studies in Counterpoint was first published in 1952, it is safe to assume that Iliev read the book in its original English version that was published by Schirmer in New York in 1942.

[21] Cf. Konstantin Iliev. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work], p. 327.

[22] Ibid. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 19th of June, 1950. In: Pisma [Letters], p. 49.

[23] „Той неслучайно я схваща като универсален жанр, който може да има безкрайно много исторически и естетически трактовки […]. Нещо повече, за него това е жанр-обобщение. Чрез него той трябва да утвърди най-пълно своята естетическа идея, израз на неговия нов индивидуализъм.“ Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes)]. Vol. 2, pp. 388/389. Hlebarov coins the term of new individualism in his study, by which he means an „expansion of the stylistic horizon“ in the music of the Third Generation composers compared to the previous development of Bulgarian art music. Ibid., p. 357.

[24] Cf. Ivan Spasov. Simfoniite na Konstantin Iliev [The Symphonies of Konstantin Iliev], p. 18; Ivan Hlebarov. Novata bălgarska muzikalna kultura (izsledvane v dva toma) [The New Bulgarian Music Cultures (Study in two Volumes), p. 393; to a certain extent also Dragomir Yosifov (2014). “Konstantin Iliev // Fragmenti”, p. 8.

[25] An exception to this rule is the end of the Secondary Theme, where the brass chorale-like accompaniment goes on for another two bars. However, even here there is no polyphony, but a homophonic voice-leading.

[26] Ibid., p. 224.

[27] Ibid., p. 353. Yet, even Hepokoski and Darcy leave open the possibility of hybrid forms between Type 2 and Type 3 sonatas. Cf. ibid. p. 258.

[28] Konstantin Iliew. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 9th of August, 1949. In: Pisma [Letters], pp. 24/25.

[29] Ibid. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work], p. 296.

[30] Although his motivic-thematic development creates a strong unity within the first movement and between the three movements of this composition as well, the composer’s unwillingness to create a finale proper – in a letter to Nikolov he calls the third movement “an epilogue” – refers to the persistent difficulties of connecting his developed musical language of free dodecaphony with a classical form like the symphony. Ibid. Letter to Lazar Nikolov from the 4th of December, 1950. In: Ibid./Lazar Nikolov. Pisma [Letters], p. 59.

[31] Ibid. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work], p. 287.

[32] In opposition to the contemporary West European avant-garde, the official cultural policy of the early socialist People’s Republic of Bulgaria did not grant a public podium to the young members of the emerging third generation of Bulgarian composers. Therefore, the belated publication of such source material has hindered scholarly inquiries into this topic. Nevertheless, recent changes in the situation of archival sources like the handover of Lazar Nikolov’s materials to the Central State Archive in Sofia (Centralen dăržaven arhiv, CDA) open up new possibilities for musicological research by allowing scholars not only to examine sources of explicit poetics, but also sketch materials, and unpublished compositions.

[33] Vincent d’Indy. Cours de composition musicale. 2 vol. Paris: Durand, 1912.

[34] Ibid. Vol. 2, pp. 153 – 230.

[35] Konstantin Iliev. “Bitie i tvorčestvo” [Being and Work], p. 285.