About the life and artistic career of one of the greatest legends in Bulgarian classical music
On December 14th, 1978, in an abandoned carriage on a secondary railway track at the Hamburg station, death strikes the lonely and forgotten by the world 52-year-old Vasco Abadjiev – one of the greatest geniuses of Bulgarian music – the great musician and violinist extraordinaire. Having lived a life dynamic and full of many twists and turns, characterized by peaks and deep depressions, his death finally closed the page on him and his contribution to the new history of European music and master performance artistry. And his native country Bulgaria remained for years on end silent, distanced and aloof from immortalizing his name among the greatest people in its cultural history. With time passing by, the reasons – political, ideological or subjective, will never obliterate the shameful fact that in the highly technological 20th century the numerous legendary recordings of this virtuoso’s performances have been intentionally destroyed, hidden or sunk into oblivion.
What an ironic fact that four years before Vasco Abadjiev left this world, another world-renowned violin virtuoso – Sir Yehudi Menuhin would say this about the Bulgarian musician, ‘Vasco Abadjiev plays divinely! You Bulgarians should be proud of him!’
Actually, in the human heart, in the conscience and collective memory of the nation, the name Vasco Abadjiev will never fade, and will remain sacred forevermore.
And perhaps today, three decades later, it is time for redemption and atonement …
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During the first half of the 20th century, having received absolute recognition for being an extraordinary and phenomenal violinist throughout Europe, Vasco Abadjiev was at the height of his career in his home land as well, with stunning concert activity in all towns and cities in Bulgaria. Welcomed triumphantly everywhere, he performed with the philharmonic orchestras in Sofia, Plovdiv, Ruse, and many other towns, he gave numerous solo recitals, often with the piano accompaniment of Pancho Vladigerov. For his exceptional successes, in the year 1952 the Bulgarian state awarded him with the highest distinction of the time – Laureate of the Dimitrov Prize, First class.
In October 1956, during the so-called ‘Hungarian events’, when the army of the former Soviet Union invaded Hungary and quelled the anti-totalitarian riot, Vasco Abadjiev, then residing in Hungary, was travelling by train. As a result of the political riots he was attacked by accident, hit and because of the serious head trauma it was necessary for him to undergo a lengthy medical treatment in Hungary, and afterwards, in the former Western Germany. This passage to the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’, without an explicit permission, was misinterpreted by some Bulgarian authorities as a ‘defection from the socialist home land’, accompanied with a few inadequate actions, such as a ban on radio air play of his recordings, erasure of most of them, and the altogether lack of mention of his name anywhere.
Thus, the last two decades of his life, the most difficult and distressing ones, were spent in Germany. This is the country which was closely connected with some of the peak moments in his brilliant and overwhelming musical career, the atmosphere in which he lived through his stellar moments, surrounded, protected and supported by family and closest friends.
The great violinist’s first longer stay in Germany began in 1939 and lasted till the early 1950s. A period of advancement, numerous invitations to go on tours in the most famous musical centers in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, remarkable recognition and breathtaking concerts, and time and again, Vasco Abadjiev would perform the violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, conducted by the most distinguished conductors of the time, such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber, Karl Böhm, Hermann Abendroth, Willem Mengelberg. A fact which undeniably established him as the most sought-after young violin virtuoso throughout Europe. Parallel with this glamorous career, Vasco Abadjiev studied piano and composition at the Berlin Conservatory.
And if in the late 1930s the thirteen-year-old Bulgarian child prodigy triumphantly conquered Europe with his exceptional abilities and interpretation characteristic of a full-fledged and mature musician, the impetus came in the very early childhood years, when staggeringly and, in a Mozartian fashion, lightning-fast, he grew and evolved to become a child prodigy, a musical phenomenon, generally accepted both in his homeland – the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and, before long, on the international stage as well.
Here are the historical facts which do not require any comments or observations:
- At 2 years of age, the child was found to have a perfect musical ear.
- At the age of six the young musician astounded the Sofia audiences with his incredible violin performances. Introduced to the members of the jury of the First International Violin Competition in Vienna, the six-year-old Vasco Abadjiev was definitely and unquestionably the winner among the competing virtuosos from around the world. He was not awarded the first prize – because of his age he was not able to take part in the official selection of the competition, nevertheless, for the audience and the astonished jury, including George Enescu, Carl Flesch and Jan Kubelik, the Bulgarian wunderkind became the sensation of the competition. From among the greatest violinists of the 20th century Vasco Abadjiev alone had an international debut at such an early age.
- At the age of 7 he was already performing his own compositions – before the great French violinist and teacher Jacques Thibaud who highly praised his talent and readily offered to become his teacher.
- When he was 8-9 years old, in a surprisingly short period of time, he completed his music education in Sofia. This is also the time when his friendship with the great Bulgarian conductor Dobrin Petkov began. Petkov, a child at the time, also charmed the Sofia audiences with an impressive talent of a violinist, and together with Vasco Abadjiev performed Concerto for two violins by Antonio Vivaldi.
- The 10-year-old violinist went to Brussels where he continued his education under Prof. Simmer.
- An exception was made at the Eugene Ysaye First International Competition, Brussels – in 1937 the 11-year-old Vasco Abadjiev was not of age to be officially admitted to participate in the contest. HM Queen Elisabeth of Belgium had just set up the competition, which now bears her name, and is, to this day, one of the most prestigious world venues. At the first competition V. Abadjiev received the highest ratings and was awarded a special prize. The first prize went to the 29-year-old David Oistrakh. Impressed with the artistry of the phenomenal Bulgarian violinist, Queen Elisabeth granted only him, out of all the prize-winners, with a private audience in the palace.
- At the age of 12 Vasco Abadjiev was awarded First prize and a gold medal at the Sixth International Violin Competition in Liege.
- At the age of 13 he graduated with honors from the Conservatory in Brussels.
Thus, at a very early age, the name Vasco Abadjiev became a legend, a sensation, he became the most famous violinist among the leading figures on the European music stages at the time, having already been labeled as the ‘new Yehudi Menuhin’ or even ‘Paganini of the 20th century’. His superb concerts and his reputation from the first prizes he had just won from the most prestigious competitions, ultimately paved the way for the grand music career.
Two names, however, stand behind all merits, recognition, and victories of the great Bulgarian violinist. Two people who, to a great extent, influenced and guided the growth and establishing of this remarkable talent and musical genius.
Vasco Abadjiev was born on January 14th, 1926 in Sofia in the family of eminent musicians – his father, his first and most important teacher, Nikola Abadjiev was a renowned teacher and violin professor at the Music Academy in Sofia, and at the beginning of the 1930s also the chancellor of the Academy, and his mother – the pianist Lala Piperova was the invariable accompanist in the forthcoming glorious career of her celebrated son.
The parents had the greatest influence on the formation and growth of the future violinist and subsequently dedicated their artistic ardor to his brilliant concert performances. The first heavy blow dealt by fate came in 1947 when, during the family’s stay in Germany, Prof Nikola Abadjiev died. Two decades later, in 1965, Vasco lost his mother too – an event which was to shape the following years in the great violinist’s life as the most agonizing and harrowing ones.
A car accident, sickness, financial difficulties, desolation … These are just a few of the many hard and painful marks of the last years of this artist’s life, whose beginning and end bear resemblance to the life of the great Amadeus Mozart.
Along with the imposingly rich concert repertoire which included works by Corelli, Tartini, Bach, Sarasate, Paganini, Brahms, Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, Chausson, Ravel, Szymanowski, Vasco Abadjiev composed approximately 60 opuses – solo and chamber works – string quartets, violin sonatas, piano pieces, ensemble pieces for various instruments, capriccios for solo violin. Unfortunately, today most of them do not exist in the music archives. His name is rarely mentioned in the specialized bibliographic registers of music literature.
„Vasco Abadjiev did not start a family. He did not produce any offspring, or have a group of followers and students. He scarcely ever gave any interviews, trying to avoid talking about himself. He never read reviews, never enjoyed being photographed. Until the very last moment, though, he kept his Bulgarian passport and never acquired a foreign citizenship.” – These are the closing lines of the first published novel (Margarit Abadjiev – Chaconne Passion) about the life and artistic career of one of the greatest legends in Bulgarian classical music and art.
Dr Polia Paunova – Tosheva
Vice Principal, Head Teacher,
Music History teacher – Dobrin Petkov National School of Music and Dance, Plovdiv
English teacher – Dobrin Petkov National School of Music and Dance, Plovdiv