Beginnings of Musical Expressionism in Slovenia


  • Ivan Klemenčič



The stage of development of the more recent Slovene music is directly related to the nationalistic movement from the mid 1950's onwards. Conscious efforts for the creation of a Slovene musical culture, which had been since the Middle Ages developing as a part of the European music, represented for the current Slovene circumstances a new beginning, both in the institutional and in the compositional-creative sense. The re-established contact with Europe, approximately from the beginning of the 20ieth century onwards, was marked by increased endeavour to update the situation – in the journal "Novi akordi" (1901–14), promoting, not without some risk, modern neoromanticism and the incipient colourfulness of impressionism. Thus the most favourable time for expressionism, already emerging in Europe, had not yet come; all the more so because expressionism was directed against the bourgeois institutionalization of the society and its values, whereas the Slovene nation had only recently started consciously to develop in this respect. Lack of readiness for the new style was also confirmed by the editor of "Novi akordi", Gojmir Krek, the ideologist of the neoromanticism of Wolf and others, who rejected the Viennese school as an art of subjectivistically conceived beauty and without any laws, Notwithstanding the existing situation, there come up during the 1911–1918 years the first period of Slovene expressionism. This is a parallel to the early expressionism of Schönberg, Strauss or Mahler during the 1905–08 years and already slightly earlier within free tonality. Slovene representatives – Ravnik, at that time not quite yet as much Bravničar and particularly Kogoj – can not as yet create a fully coherent and also not a stylistically unified period for they still write within the framework of the late and new romanticism with some symbolic traits of secession. This lagging behind is now deminished to approximately a decade or even less. The increased development is evident also from the fact that some of the compositions are published in otherwise differently oriented "Novi akordi". The first to espouse, probably intuitively, the new style was Janko Ravnik, at that time studying piano in Prague, in his disharmonic spiritual music with a free tonal concept, even if he definitely decides for expressionism not until the beginning of the second War. For the time being the expressively powerful Marij Kogoj finds the romantic or symbolistic harmony more congenial and does not betray as yet any atonal abstractions. Despite his fundamentally romantic tonality he achieves in the lied "Stopil sem na tihe njive" (I stepped on quiet fields) (1913) a most radical expression so far, reaching by the use of functional chords of the fourth in places up to the sharp sounds of cry o As the founder of the Slovene expressionism and of the musical avant-garde after the second War Kogoj imparts a unity to this initial period through his endeavours for creating a new, non-conventional expression. During the first War he studies composition with Franz Schreker in Vienna and after that orchestration with Arnold Schönberg, who is despite all the compositional idiosyncracy for him a master to be followed. Also under the influence of Busoni and his aesthetic ideas he publishes towards the end of the War the study "On Art, especially on Musical Art", which represents for him a kind of aesthetic and programme point of departure in his activity after the first War in Ljubljana. Current developments in the Slovene society and in its music are thus in the existing musical production reflected in the stylistic duality of the romantic and early expressionist trends. Despite the influences enriching the production the newly created music is characterized by original expressiveness. This is subjectivism with moderate disharmonies and spiritualization and also with more expressive tonal material multichords of the third and the fourth, whole-tone structure, melodic expression and increased rhythmic and metric leasure, and a freer thematic and motivic treatment. The lied "Stopil sem na tihe njive" anticipates already the first aesthetic revaluation of the tradition in the sense of avant-garde. The expression in the new compositions is for the most part an introverted personal statement, stimulated by feelings associated with man's existence. Less, or even little, does this expression convey of the brighter and positive sides of existence, but more of the fateful situation between life and death, of the elegy of personal statement, of initial social motifs and of still romantically underlined love poetry when in it the enthusiasm turns into a spiritual experience.


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How to Cite

Klemenčič, I. (1985). Beginnings of Musical Expressionism in Slovenia. Musicological Annual, 21(1), 71–86.