The Piano Works of Slavko Osterc

  • Andrej Rijavec


Though Slavko Osterc (1895–1941) is one of the most important Slovene composers of the 20th century and among the most eminent modernists in the period between the two wars, the appreciation of his work has been based too much on the recollections of his contemporaries and has consisted mainly of general impressions of our time. The intention of the present article is to he a contribution towards a more concrete elucidation of his composition technique and style and, in this way, also of his personality. The subject of the article is his piano compositions. If the works for the quarter tone piano are excluded, there remain 18 bibliographical entries; however, the number of compositions is considerably higher because most of the entries comprise sizeable collections. As his first attempts in composition are devoted to the piano, and because he wrote for this instrument – although it was not in the centre of his creative field – all his life, we have a complete continuity for our analysis. Early experiments belong in the sphere of the belated romantic tradition. Some compositions, however, reveal distinctive impressionistic idiom with parallel chords, augmented chords and the whole tone scale and so on. The stylistic turning point in his technique of composition was conditioned by his two years' study in Prague where he was, for the greater part, influenced by the progressive ideas of Alois Hába and Karl Boleslav Jirák. The composer enters a new atonal sphere where all principles of functional harmony have disappeared. Consequently, dissonance, both vertical and horizontal, assumed an independent, structural and expressive quality. So when the form and texture (particularly the polyphonic treatment of parts) are considered, neoclassical and neobaroque traits are found to be displayed. The harmonic idiom of Osterc in his mature period can be very varied. Thus he employs chords by thirds, fourths, added-note chords, chords by seconds and also clusters and compound harmonies which implies always an atonal basis. The latter is sometimes more »pure« and sometimes it inclines to bitonality and even tonality. When the dodecaphony is regarded, we also observe in some places, a complete series of twelve tones, although it is not employed as an unchangeable and untouchable model for his further work, but only as an annunciation of a more or less free treatment of the semitones of the chromatic scale. Thus, Osterc is a composer who seeks to find in each new opus a new solution of sounds and who goes his own way rather than onesidedly following any one of the mainstreams represented hy the modernists of the first half of the twentieth century.


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How to Cite
RijavecA. (1968). The Piano Works of Slavko Osterc. Musicological Annual, 4(1), 120-131.