Svetoslav Obretenov

composer, conductor, public figure

25.11.1909 – 16.05.1955Provadia – Bulgaria

Svetoslav Obretenov graduated from the State Academy of Music in 1934. During his one-year training as a conductor he conducted the choir at the Yavorov Cultural Club in Sofia, the Trade Union Choir and the Kaval Choir in Sofia. In 1935 he worked as a composer and pianist at the theatre in Ruse. From 1937 to 1941 he worked as a teacher in Biala Slatina, Yambol and Plovdiv. In the period 1942-44 he composed for the Drama Theatre in Varna and conducted the town’s choir Morski zvutzi (Sea Sounds). In 1933 he began collaborating with the anti-fascist theatres Popular Stage, T-35 and the Realistic Theatre and composed songs to theatre performances inspired by workers’ topics. In 1934, together with the poet Nikolay Hrelkov, he compiled the first revolutionary song collection entitled 20 Workers’ Songs.

After 1944 he continued his active creative work and social involvement. He conducted choirs in Biala Slatina, Yambol, Plovdiv and Varna. He had a particularly intense work with the State Radio Choir which, after his tragic death, was renamed after him Svetoslav Obretenov Bulgarian Choral Capella (the present-day Svetoslav Obretenov State Philharmonic Choir). Under his leadership, the choir grew up as a prominent performing ensemble and set up a new dimension in the professional Bulgarian choral art. His repertoire includes hundreds of titles, most of them masterpieces of the Bulgarian, Soviet and Russian music. He gave a number of public concerts and made lots of studio recordings released on LP. He visited former Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, the world festivals of democratic youth in Prague, Budapest, Berlin and Bucharest, where he won prizes. In 1949 he conducted the Kaval Choir. During the academic year 1952-53 he specialised in Moscow with Y. Shaporin.

He authored works in a variety of genres; his cantatas and oratorios are considered to be particularly valuable. These works reveal his social and political involvement.

He wrote 25 songs for mixed and 12 for children choir; 99 social songs (some of them were published in the collection 20 Workers’ Songs); 14 solo songs; 32 solo children’s songs, theatre music, etc. Among his instrumental pieces his Six Preludes for piano and his Children’s Album, which reveal the rich melodic invention of the author won huge popularity and are now ranged among the best piano music works by Bulgarian composers.


Stage music:
”Cain” (unfinished), libretto by Plamen Tzonev.

”A Huge Quantity of Proofs” (The Process in Peking), lyrics by L. Ognianov-Rizor.

Choral-orchestral works:
”Partisans” for soloists, mixed choir and orchestra, lyrics by Kamen Zidarov (1952)

”Dimitrov’s Fatherland” for bass, mixed choir and orchestra, lyrics by N. Valchev (1950);
”Sing, My Fatherland” for mixed choir and reader, lyrics by Plamen Tzonev (1954);
”Joy Is Coming” for tenor, mixed choir and orchestra, lyrics by Plamen Tzonev (1955).

Vocal-instrumental suites:

Farewell for soloists, mixed choir and orchestra, lyrics by Hristo Botev;
Struggle for Peace for soloists, mixed choir and orchestra, lyrics by N. Valtchev (1951).

Works for symphony orchestra:

The Balkan Sings a Revolutionary Song – symphony poem (1942);
Georgi Dimitrov – heroic overture (1945);
Three Symphony Dances (1956);
Horo Theme with Variations for violin and orchestra.

Works for chamber orchestra:
Po haidoushki diri (Following the Rebels’ Traces) – suite.

Chamber Music:
For violin and piano:
Lullaby for violin and piano.

For piano:

Children’s Album (1946);
A Walk and a Game (1946);
Six Preludes (1955).

Solo Songs:

There Is a Song, lyrics by Nikolay Hrelkov;
Chase, lyrics by Nikolay Hrelkov;
Pishti nad mene siv sokol (A Gray Falcon is Screaming), lyrics by Ivan Vasilev;
Rosni mi, rositze (Fall, Dew), traditional lyrics;
The Small Drummer;
Meeting, lyrics by Mladen Isaev;
The Song of the Frontier Guard, lyrics by N. Valtchev, etc.

Choral songs:
For mixed choir:

Rebels, on a poem by Hristo Botev (1928);
Look at the Shot Eagle, on a poem by Nikolay Hrelkov;
The Red Squadrons, on a poem by Hristo Smirnenski;
From the Magic Kingdom, on a poem by Hristo Yasenov;
Three Sisters – ballad, on a poem by Nikolay Hrelkov;
Goritze, temna usoyka (Hey Forest, Fresh and Dark), traditional lyrics;
Grandma’s Tale, on a poem by Peyo Yavorov;
Haidouks, on a poem by Lamar;
Your Son, Grandma, Is a Brigand, on a poem by Nikolay Zidarov;
Madcap, on a poem by Pencho Slaveykov;
Lullaby, lyrics by T. Belchev;
Haidouk’s Wife, traditional lyrics;
Kukay, kukucitze (The Cuckoo Calls), on a poem by Nikolay Hrelkov.

For children’s choir:
Dimitrov’s Generation, lyrics by B. Bozhilov;
Pearl River, lyrics by Asen Bosev;
Haidouk’s Fountain, lyrics by Plamen Tzonev;
Bagpipe Player, lyrics by Plamen Tzonev.

Collections of solo children’s songs:

Children’s Songs to Sing and Play the Piano (1951);
Baby Songs, lyrics by Plamen Tzonev (1955).

Theatre music:

3 marches to the play The Great Plan by Y. Becher (1933);
4 songs to the Soviet play The Magic Alloy;
Song of S. Perchatnik to the Soviet play The Foreign Children;
Song of the Starving Young Man and Song of the Truncheon to the play Street Without Joy by I. Hershkovich, etc.

Selected books (published in Bulgarian):

Svetoslav Obretenov. Memoirs, Articles, Letters, Materials (compiled by D. Zenginov) (Sofia, 1970).

Selected literature on him (in Bulgarian):
Krastev, Venelin. Svetoslav Obretenov (Sofia, 1966).