The Slovene String Quartet

  • Ivan Klemenčič


Although it had seemed that the string quartet, as a form of the highest perfection and nobility in chamber music, could have been brought to life in Slovenia at a relatively early stage, it lived to see itself gain distinct recognition only in the present century. The amateur string quartet which had been founded by Karl Moos in Ljubljana in 1794 had developed in the very same year into the Philharmonic Society which then proceeded to cultivate symphonic music, and with success, till the First World War. For the string quartet to have developed then the overall conditions would have had to be much more favourable, as it had been in the case of Ignaz Schuppanzigh, a son of a Slovene schoolmaster, who had been favoured enough as to be able to develop his musical talent along the reproduction lines in Vienna as the leader of a celebrated quartet, the best performer of Beethoven's works. Another significant reason for such a delay was the National Revival Movement in the latter half of the 19th century, which lay its musical foundations in the vocal, and proceeded to seek its artistic identity there, above all in choral music, for several decades to follow. Thus, it was only the late 19th century which first introduced this form of chamber music, via Glasbena matica, to the Slovene public, and was the first to see some pieces written in this form by some Slovene composers. A continuity in this field of creativity was then achieved in the 1920's, with the 1930's to become the most intensive period of this kind of creativity since. These were the years of several development stages, from Romanticism via the influence of the early Stravinsky, to Expressionism in its highest and late stages, and some essays at the Neue Sachlichkeit in the works of Lucijan Marija Škerjanc, Slavko Osterc, Srečko Koporc, Karol Pahor, Danilo Švara, Franc Šturm, and many others. Even then, the fundamental traits of Slovene composers were strongly testified to: closeness to intimism, depth of expression – either in the purely musical play of sounds or in the intrinsic meaning, in the rather ascetic introversion or through artistry. This upsurge of creativity was then interrupted by the Second World War and the newly-formed social order of the Bolshevik type which caused a marked discontinuity in development by the forced termination of the previously autonomous aesthetics. In fact, the period in general had no use for the intimism of the string quartet. Composers would react to this stylistic moderation and concealment (which nevertheless did not go as far as producing any kind of social realist music) each in his own individual way, e.g. Škerjanc and Vilko Ukmar on a Romanticist basis, others for the sake of their studies. Božidar Kantušer, at that time already active in Paris, was the most progressive of all by dint of his atonality in the 1950's; his six quartet pieces also make him the most prolific Slovene composer alive, which is illustration enough of how Slovene music could have developed had it been given the autonomy to do so. For the quartet, the re-establishment of the contact with the European avant-garde in the early 1960's first brought an almost ten years' silence, and then the rise of works by Primož Ramovš, Ivo Petrić, and Darijan Božič, all based on the aleatoric music primarily after the Polish models. This was also a period when, after the reign of the chorus and after the popularity of opera in the inter- and early post-war periods, the abstractness of the pure instrumental music, especially that of the symphonic production and reproduction, was coming into the foreground, with chamber music gaining ground, too. The string quartet, although not standing in the foreground, maintained a position in its own right, which is testified to by the yet incomplete bibliography of more than 110 units, with 50 of them from the post-war period. Concurrent with the modernism of the period there were a number of works belonging to expressionism and other, more objective trends where the composers remained susceptible to the achievements of modernism or tended towards expressiveness. Such were Pavle Merkù, Marijan Lipovšek, Vladimir Lovec, Ferdo Juvanec, Maks Strmčnik, and Uroš Krek. The 1980's have besides bringing the radicalization due to the maturing and soothing down of some avant-gard artists, manifested the first seeds of a more intelligible post-modernist language. The adherents of the present-day modernism are Lojze Lebič, Božidar Kos, who is resident in Australia, and Uroš Rojko; those of other trends are Petrić and Merkù. Kantušer has kept his own expressive orientation, with Pavel Šivic and the more traditional Jani Golob joining him. In view of the presented continuity of the production the question of the survival and future fate of the string quartet has as yet not been raised in the domain of Slovene music. Unless the question is raised artificially (as was recently the case with opera) and there is no knowing what the future might bring, could it be that the future of the quartet in Slovenia, too, lies in the establishment of post-modernist aesthetics?


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How to Cite
KlemenčičI. (1988). The Slovene String Quartet. Musicological Annual, 24(1), 69-85.