At the age of 14 he began formal music studies in Bucharest. He studied composition with Mascagni at the Pesaro Conservatory (1901-3), then returned to Bulgaria, where he became well known as a military bandmaster. In 1922-23 he conducted the Sofia National Opera.
Atanasov was the first Bulgarian professional composer of opera. His lyrical, romantic style shows the influence of late 19th-century Italian opera, but is primarily melodic and also bears traces of folk idioms. He achieved dramatic effects by the alternation of contrasting numbers.
His most frequently performed opera is Gergana, the first Bulgarian opera to make an individual character the center of the plot. The opera Tsveta is similar in its clearly expressed dramatic conflict. In Kosara (1924) Atanasov used a mystical-romantic style and a leitmotif technique; in Altzec he developed these stylistic features using ancient Slav motifs. His works also include a comic operetta, Moralisti, as well as childrens operettas and songs.
After receiving his diploma in Italy with his name written as Maestro Georgi Atanasov, he adopted the formal address of Maestro to his official name.