Bulgar (LKT)

This entry is part of the Lexicon of Klezmer Terminology (LKT). The LKT compiles a wide array of source materials that shed light on the historical and contemporary state of knowledge about klezmer music. Each entry includes a number of citations from primary and secondary sources that include or refer to the term in question. It also indicates whether musical notation or sound recordings are included in the source. By clicking on the bibliographic hyperlink at the end of each citation, you get the full reference.


Bulgar or bulgarish is a common East European Jewish music and dance form, usually in 2/4 time. While its musical, choreographic and eponymic origins are not certain, it likely derives from the Bessarabian bulgareasca, named for the ethnic Bulgarian minority in Bessarabia and/or contact with north Bulgaria on the part of Bessarabian Gypsy musicians. A favorite among Jews and non-Jews throughout Romania and beyond, this particular tune is known in both 2/4 and 3/8 time.” Alpert 1993, p. 5. (Recording references included). 

“Bulgar: One of the most common dance and tune genres of the American-Jewish repertoire, popular in parts of Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also known as bulgarish, it is a circle, line, or couple dance deriving from the Bessarabian (East Romanian) dance bulgareasca, literally ‘Bulgarian dance,’ referring to the large Bulgarian population in Bessarabia. Its best known step is similar to the Israeli dance hora.” Alpert 1996b, p. 58. (Recording references included). 

“‘Bulgarish’... ‘Bulgar.’’ Beregovski/ Goldin 1987, #205-09. (Musical notation included). 

‘Der dubasaver bulgarish.’ ” [Orgajev, Bessarabia, c. 1930s-1940s]. Bik 1964, (Musical notation included).  

“After the wedding-feast they began to dance. The dances were varied according to generation... Middle-aged Jews would dance [sic] ‘balgareske,’ ‘kozatshok’, and especially the ‘sher.’  ”[Podalia, c. 1909]. Chernovetzky 1946, pp. 97-114

Lancelot, Kutzatsky, Bulgar, Pas d’Espagne, Vingerka, Waltz, forms of popular Russian, Polish, and Rumanian dances.” EncyJud 1971, p. 1266

“The transitional or ‘Orientalized’ repertoire consisted of the dance genres named volekh, hora, sirba, ange, and bulgarish. In the non-dance cateogry the most important genre was the doyne (doina). In addition, therewere a number of non-dance genres (such as mazltov far di makhetonim) which were related to the zhok -- the latter having either a dance or non-dance genre function.” Feldman 1994, pp. 7-8. (Musical notation and recording references included). 

The Quadrille and Lancelot, Kutztski, Bulgar, Pas d’Espagne, Vingerka: derived from the national dances of other countries (Russia, Poland, Roumania, etc.).” Lapson 1943, p. 461

Hora #2 is based on the playing of Leon Schwartz... [and] is titled ‘Bulgar’ on the album and is part of a hora/bulgar medley.” Phillips 1996a, p. 68. (Musical notation and recording references included). 

“Tunes identified as Bulgars (or Bulgarishes) in their titles are often indistinguishable from freylakhs to my ears, but are said to derive from a Moldavian (or the geographically close, Bessarabian) take on a Bulgarian dance... [Walter Feldman] makes a case for a specific bulgar-type cadence and the more frequent appearance of triplets. It is unclear if the latter is borne out in the transcriptions in this book. What some might interpret as 1/4 note triplets, I felt are actually phrased as some combination of two 1/16’s and an 1/8.” Phillips 1996a, p. 78

Der Glater Bulgar. The Plain or ‘Simple’ (more literally ‘smooth’) Bulgar is based on the playing of Dave Tarras... Though set at freylakh speed, the rhythm by the accompanying accordion and trap set seems more like a khosidl [D. Tarras]. Phillips 1996a, pp. 98-99. (Musical notation and recording references included). 

“‘Der Nikolayver Bulgar.’ Der Nikolayver Bulgar... has [been] identified [by Walter Feldman] as... [partly equal to] a Greek hassapiko type dance”[H. Kandel, 1918]. Phillips 1996a, p. 118. (Musical notation and recording references included). 

“‘Odessa Bulgar #1' [A. Schwartz, 1920s]... ‘Odessa Bulgar #2’ [M. Tsiganoff, 1920]... ‘Odessa Bulgar #3’ [Kapelye, 1980s]... ‘Russian Bulgar’ [A. Schwartz, 1920s]... Der Shtiler Bulgar [A. Schwartz, 1918; H. Kandel, 1920s; M. Liebowitz, 1920s].” Phillips 1996a, pp. 119-121, 139, 141. (Musical notation and recording references included).  

“The last layer of [‘Romania-ization’ of klezmer music] is recognizable. First of all it’s the bulgar which is a specific Bessarabian dance... The only thing that was clear in those days [of immigrant klezmer music in New York in the 1920s] was that a bulgar was a bulgar. In our generation people have no idea what a bulgar is, but then it was clear... The most instrumental of all music is the bulgar. It does not relate to any vocal genre. It goes back to dance music. It is derived from the sirba, but the sirba doesn’t seem to have caught on in Jewish music... Bulgar has a totally different principle of relation rhythm to notes than vocal music. Tarras’ style is well suited to bulgar because he likes lots of note changes, which bulgars give you a chance to do. Vocal music is not for that.” Phillips 1996b, p. 178

“The klezmer bulgarish or bulgar has its roots in the non-Jewish Bessarabian line dance bulgareasca (in the Bulgarian manner), which stemmed from the first half of the 19th century. The bulgarish, in Eastern Europe only regionally popular, gradually became the most fashionable dance among American-Jewish immigrants from various geographical regions of Europe. Characteristically, the bulgarish is built on phrases with alternating triplets and quavers.” Rubin 1997, p. 23. (Musical notation included). 

Galatns [Greek series] Zeinden’s Tants (Grandfather’s dance) [Jewish series]. This recording was issued for both Greek and Jewish markets. The Greek hasaposerviko and some version of the Ukrainian/Romanian-Jewish bulgar... are danced to this kind of tune.” Schlesinger, Alpert and Rubin 1989. (Recording references included). 

“Baym shotser rebn oyf shabes-Hora... [was] recorded twice... as Yiddisher Tantz... and again as Yiddish Hora --- A Heymish Freylekhs.... The several recordings of the tune illustrate the adaptability of many Jewish tunes to a variety of rhythms: e.g. from a hora (3/8) into a bulgar (2/4) time.” Schlesinger, Alpert, Rubin 1989. (Recording references included). 

“‘Bukoviner Freylakh.’ This tune is also in the active repertorie of klezmer violinist Leon Schwartz of Queens, New York. Schwartz, a native of the Bukoviner region, calls this piece Khosidl or A Mitsve Tentsl but does not include the middle section. He recalls hearing it played in the 1910s by klezmorim from the East Galician town of Sniatyn....The first section is a very popular Romanian tune (both Jewish and non-Jewish) common in both hora (3/8) and bulgar (2/4) time. Leon Schwartz calls this tune bulgar and plays it in both rhythms.” Schlesinger, Alpert and Rubin 1989. (Recording references included).  

“The second tune [in this medley] is a typically Moldavian-sounding bulgar (dance tune in lively 2/4 time).” Schlesinger, Alpert and Rubin 1989. (Recording references included).

“‘Nikolaev Bulgar.’ This is the same melody as Bulgar recorded by Tarras in September 1925. The melody is typical of Romanian sirbas (brisk dance tunes characterized by 6/7 melody movement over 2/4 rhythm) from the turn-of-the-century.” Schlesinger, Alpert and Rubin 1989. (Recording references included). 

See Freylekhs and Khosidl.