The Beginnings of Polyphony in Serbian Church Music

  • Danica Petrović


Polyphonic singing appeared for the first time in Serbian churches in the 1830's, after several centuries of exclusive cultivation of church singing in unison. The change was brought about chiefly through the influence of Russian liturgical music, but also through the contacts of the Serbian middle classes with the musical culture of Western Europe in Austria, Hungary and Croatia. According to existing, so far mostly unpublished documents, the first official occasion when polyphonic singing was heard in church was the installation of Stefan Stanković for Episcope of Bačka, in Sremski Karlovci in 1834. At that time this new "harmonious singing", "singing according to notes" was being introduced in churches for Orthodox foreigners in Vienna and Trieste, and later in Petrinja, Karlovac and Zagreb. Evidence of that is to be found in a printed circular letter in which the patriarch Antim severely criticized this novelty in musical practice and prohibited any further church singing in four parts. The Metropolitanate of Karlovac, however, headed by the Metropolitan Josif Rajačić, as well as the Episcope of Gornji Karlovac Evgenije Jovanović, differred with the Patriarchy of Constantinople, and even officially sanctioned this "new" music; they were aware that there was not just the question of strictly defending a several centuries old Orthodox tradition, but also the important political question concerning the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church in Serbian regions. In Belgrade singing "according to notes" was taught since 1841, and the first Serbian choir was the Pančevo Serbian Church Singing Society (1838). During the nineteenth century over sixty church choirs were founded in the towns, market towns and even villages throughout Serbia. Further research will be needed to find out the repertoire of these first singing societies. It would be especially valuable to ascertain whether there had been any artistically significant attempts at harmonizing liturgical tunes before Kornelije Stanković.


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How to Cite
PetrovićD. (1981). The Beginnings of Polyphony in Serbian Church Music. Musicological Annual, 17(2), 111-122.