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Nenov, Dimitar (1901-1953)

Dimitar Nenov

born: 19 December 1901
died: 30 August 1953
country: Bulgaria

Pianist and composer, architect, pedagogue, radio producer and public figure, Dimitar Nenov (1901–1953) was a polymath of a rare magnitude. As a pianist he gave hundreds of critically acclaimed concerts in Germany (Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Dresden), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), Italy (Rome, Bologna), the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and his native Bulgaria. He performed piano concertos with many orchestras, recorded a wide catalogue of solo and concerto works in Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, and was a juror at the 1949 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. As an architect he designed a number of public buildings in Bulgaria, including several railway stations and a baldachin above the main entrance of the iconic St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, since mysteriously disappeared. As the first Music Editor of Radio Sofia (later to become Bulgarian National Radio) he founded the first radio orchestra in the country (1930) and established for the station music commissioning, recording and broadcasting policies which were to become pivotal factors in the development of Bulgarian music and composers, and in preserving the musical heritage of the country, in line with the best European practices of the time. He wrote on music and was—together with other leading Bulgarian composers of the time such as Pancho Vladigerov, Marin Goleminov, Lubomir Pipkov and Veselin Stoyanov—a co-founder of the Contemporary Music Society (1933, later to become the Union of Bulgarian Composers). As a professor in piano at the Sofia State Conservatoire, he taught some of the notable Bulgarian pianists and composers of the next generation, including Lazar Nikolov and Trifon Silianovski. As a composer he developed a distinct personal style, encompassing a wide classical range, traditional Bulgarian heritage and contemporary developments of the day—not without rare visionary glimpses into the future. Among his most significant compositions are two symphonies, a piano concerto, two oratorios (Christmas and Thrace), the symphonic Rhapsodic Fantasy and Four Sketches, several vocal cycles, a piano sonata, Toccata, and Cinema Suite; numerous works remain unfinished.

With the establishment of Communism in Bulgaria in 1944, Dimitar Nenov found himself in a highly unfavourable position. He had been born into the family of a general of the Tsar’s army. This automatically made him the object of suspicion, something further exacerbated by his educational history and the years he had spent across Europe. After his early piano studies with his mother and the renowned Bulgarian pianist Andrei Stoyanov, Nenov had studied architecture, piano, music theory and composition in Dresden, architecture and piano in Bologna, and finally with Egon Petri (a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni) in Poland. He had toured the Continent extensively as a pianist and spent years in Dresden as music director of a ballet company before returning to Bulgaria—during the period of the last Bulgarian Kingdom—to hold key positions both as musician and architect. And if these suspiciously bourgeois elements in Nenov’s biography were not enough, he did not compose a single note in praise of the Communist Party, a rare feat amongst the influential Bulgarian composers of the time. Consequences soon followed. In the pages of the official Soviet Music magazine, no less a person than Aram Khachaturian criticized Nenov and specifically his Rhapsodic Fantasy for being ‘influenced by Western modernism’ and ‘exhibiting features of Impressionism, cosmopolitanism’. Although Bulgaria was not a member of the Soviet Union, such signals from Moscow were received with a reverence sometimes greater than that accorded them in the Union itself. All recordings of Nenov at Bulgarian National Radio were destroyed on the orders of its then director Nayden Naydenov. Over at Hungarian National Radio just one recording with Nenov as soloist—Liszt’s second piano concerto—survived. The unpublished autograph score of Nenov’s oratorio Christmas was saved from being burnt at Bulgarian National Radio, but only by accident. His personal archive was ‘cleansed’, a number of surviving manuscript scores and personal documents showing signs of deliberate tampering.

After the first, most fierce period of the regime, Nenov saw something of a rehabilitation—he was even awarded the state Dimitrov Prize the year before his death. However, it is clear that years of hostility and humiliation had taken their toll, and when Nenov died in 1953 a pall of obscurity remained over both his music and his personality. To this day his compositions remain unknown outside Bulgaria.

from notes by Martin Georgiev © 2017


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