Dobrinka Tabakova: Whispered Lullaby

Context

Dobrinka Tabakova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria to a music-loving family in 1980. At age 11, Tabakova moved to London and has 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, 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.

 

The Music

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 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 ominous 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 puts the viola’s motif an octave up, which brings lots of colour to the texture and atmosphere. 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 within the work. The extensive ranges used on the viola creates so much colour, which in turn 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.

 

Final Thoughts

Although seemingly simple, Tabakova’s work is full of difficult control from the performer as well as the use of the overtone technique at the beginning. A meditative, but also intense work, Whispered Lullaby is one of Tabakova’s absolute gems.

 

Happy Reading!

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