Dobrinka Tabakova ‘Whispered Lullaby’: A Hypnotic Daydream

Good afternoon readers! Here we are already on day 5 of my Female Fortnight Challenge and what a treat I have to share with you all today. A composer who composes deeply moving music on both small and grand scales – today’s blog is on the phenomenal Bulgarian composer, Dobrinka Tabakova. For this blog I will be sharing with you her stunning work for viola and piano, Whispered Lullaby. 

Dobrinka Tabakova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria to a music-loving family in 1980. At age 11, Tabakova moved to London and his since stayed there. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department, specialising in composition, piano and conducting. From there, Tabakova earned her place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), where she received distinctions in her BMus and MMus degrees. After graduating, she was appointed composition fellow at GSMD and she continued being actively involved in many musical activities. Tabakova has worked and studied with esteemed composers such as Diana Burrell, John Adams and Iannis Xenakis.

Throughout her career, Tabakova’s music has been extensively recorded with different record labels including ECM. Due to this, Tabakova has been invited to many places to compose pieces for soloists, ensembles and events. She has travelled all over the world to compose music for music festivals such as the Julian Rachlin in Dubrovnik and the Lockenhaus Festival in Austria. She has been nominated for Grammy awards and also for various ‘Composer of the Week/Month’ competitions. Whilst pursuing her successful career in composition, Tabakova also took studied for a PhD in 2008 at King’s College London.

Whispered Lullaby is a short work for viola and piano that was composed in 2004, and first premiered in 2005. Tabakova says in her programme notes for this work that:

“This musical sketch was inspired by a passage from Goethe’s Faust, where The Spirits paint a nocturnal picture of a still lake reflecting a glistening full moon.”

The work is incredibly atmospheric and Tabakova’s spacial awareness is reflective through this piece, which highlights the nocturnal elements in the programme notes. The beginning of the piece is based on an overtone technique that was developed by violist, Maxim Rysanov (who also premiered this piece in London, 2005). This technique gives the start of the work a slightly uneasy feel, which is then resolved by the jazz-like piano entry. The dark woody timbre of the viola complements the lower range of the piano in a very magical way, which Tabakova utilises. To then change this she put the viola’s motif into the next octave up, which brings lots of colour to the music. The simplicity of this work is at the heart of its function – to depict nocturnal reflections. Both the viola and the piano parts are relatively simple, yet require much control and energy to fully show the emotional background of the music.

The piano plays arpeggiated chords, whilst the viola holds high long notes, creating suspense and hope within the work. The extensive ranges used on the viola creates so much colour in this short work, which gives so much to the timbre and tonality. A short interlude by the viola as it creeps up to the top range, where the piano joins in to reiterate the recycled motif. This climax is certainly felt, as the viola and piano unify to play a short descending figure, to then end on the tonic chord. The delicate nature of this work is very emotive and the fade out at the end of the piece accentuates this.

Although seemingly simple, Tabakova’s work is full of many complex emotions, as well as difficult control and the use of the overtone technique at the beginning. An absolute gem of a piece and a composer – Dobrinka Tabakova you are so wonderful! Apologies for the shortness of this blog, but I really feel to get the most out of this particular work, one must sit and listen intently instead of reading every intricate detail from me. I do hope you have enjoyed this blog – it has been an absolute pleasure. I wonder what day 6 has in store for us?

Happy Reading!

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