South Slav Music in the History of European Music

  • Dragotin Cvetko


In their past the Southern Slavonic peoples have gone through certain phases of development, all of which have a very different character. For their music the contacts with Western Europe and with Byzantium were of particular importance and with christianization they became even so to say fatal for their cultural orientation. Sources giving evidence of this are at first rare, yet they prove that the foreign influences were reflected in sacred music as well as in the secular music at the courts of the aristocracy. In Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria the ecclesiastical musical practice mainly followed the Byzantine pattern. It is characteristic that it received also considerable influence from secular folk-songs. In Slovenia and the greater part of Croatia sacred music revealls direct contacts with the Roman Church. Liturgical rites were regularly accompanied by Gregorian Chant and on the Adriatic coast of Croatia also the Old Slavonic Chant was practised. The loss of political independence meant for Slovenes and Croats incorporation into the Western and Middle European cultural spheres. This entailed consequences quite different from those in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria where, owing to their subjection to Turkish domination for several centuries, there was only the possibility for a continuation of their church music and not of their artistic, secular music. The Slovenes and Croats, however, received the achievements of Western music and so they began to take a direct part in the Western European musical development. Evidence of this is given by numerous neumatic codices and other sources. The contact with Western European development remained in Slovenia and in Croatia, particularly in Dalmatia, in the fifteenth as well as in the following centuries. In both areas we observe primarily an orientation to Italian music. It is due to the Reformation that in Slovenia the Renaissance in the 16th century had not the same intensity as it had in Dalmatia. However, this movement greatly increased the musical activity and gave rise to the first printed Slovene song book, »Eni Psalmi« (1567) with melodies in mensural notation. In the Renaissance period a number of composers of Slovene and Croatian extraction are known. Some of them worked at home but the greater part of them were active abroad, so making an important contribution to the development of European music. The same is valid for the Baroque period when conditions further improved and the musical life became intensified. In Slovenia and Dalmatia the Baroque period came to an end largely in the middle of the 18th century and by the end of this century the transition to Classicism was completed. It is also important to mention that, at that time, the centre of gravity for music was transferred from Dalmatia to Northern Croatia. There, as well as in Slovenia, musical Classicism began to flourish at the end of the 18th century, equally in musical performance and in composition. After a short period of this style in Slovenia and Croatia, Romanticism came to the fore, yet it was temporarily interrupted by the national movement. This movement meant in the development of musical style a step backward for all Southern Slavonic peoples in the nineteenth century. Only after national movement had attained and consolidated its first successes, was it possible for art to flourish fully. And the considerable achievements of Romanticism in the second half of the 19th century among all Southern Slavs illustrate this. At the beginning of the 20th century neo-romanticism, impressionism and expressionism – with elements of national style – each in their turn came to the fore in the Southern Slavonic area. This meant for Slovene and Croat music a return once again to contemporary developments in European music: as had been common in previous centuries, they not only received new elements from this tradition but also, in the case of certain composers of Slovene and Croat extraction, made their own contributions to it. For Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian music the advent of Modern period meant that they became a definite element in European musical trends. Since then among all Southern Slavonic peoples all contemporary musical trends have been realised. However, contemporary musical works have achieved fruitful successes on a national and European scale.


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How to Cite
CvetkoD. (1968). South Slav Music in the History of European Music. Musicological Annual, 4(1), 5-20.