Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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National-classical music : Serbian

  • MusicSerbian
  • Cultural Field:
    Sight and sound
  • Author:
    Marković, Tatjana
  • Text:

    Serbian musical Romanticism emerged from different historical, political, social, and cultural contexts in the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, thanks to the Serbian diaspora communities in Vienna and other Habsburg cities, organized in various cultural societies (choral, literary, and theatrical). In Serbian towns, as elsewhere in South-East Europe, there was also an important impulse from professional Czech musicians. These processes redirected Serbia’s cultural and political orientation from Russia to the Austrian Empire. The country underwent its long-term transformation from Ottoman province to independent European state. On the basis of two different traditions – Austrian and Ottoman – two types of Serbian Romanticism developed. The Austrian one was of a Biedermeier type, educational and sentimental, the other patriotic and militant-liberationist.

    Musical life took place in mixed-programme concerts (besede) by choral societies and in home performances. The convivial salon gatherings including political discussions, conversations about society and art, as well as musical performances were popular throughout the century, and could draw on collections of piano pieces which were often written by young ladies from the wealthy classes, even by the princess Persida Karađorđević. Collections of national songs and melodies were arranged for voice and piano or (in four-part harmony) for male choral ensembles. Kornelije Stanković (1831–1865) introduced in collections such as Sremski karlovci (1855-57) a systematic transcription of orally-transmitted Serbian Orthodox chant and, later on, folk melodies (1861-63). The creative stylizations of folk melodies (Rukoveti for mixed choir) composed by Stevan Stojanovi Stojanović Mokranjac (1856–1914), also a noted ethnomusicologist in Serbia and Macedonia, are today regarded as the high point of Serbian musical Romanticism.

    Among all genres in Serbian music history, choral music has the longest tradition; during the 19th century it was the only form of public musical and cultural activity in many towns of Serbia and Vojvodina. The repertoire, especially in Serbia proper, included first of all a genre of patriotic songs (davorije or budnice) which were also in vogue among the Illyrian-minded circles in Croatia; composers in this genre include Davorin Jenko (1835–1914) and Josif Marinković (1851–1931). They were more widespread and much more popular than the lyric-sentimental compositions based on love poems or descriptions of landscapes by composers like Josif Marinković or the Czech-born Robert Tollinger (1859–1911). The lyrics that were set to choral music ranged from second-rate amateur verse to poems of highest quality, written by the main representatives of Serbian Romanticism (Jovan Jovanović Zmaj or Đura Jakšić). Since the choir’s main message was a patriotic one, the compositions were straightforward in melody and metre so as to ensure the intelligibility of the text. One of the most popular songs was Ustaj, ustaj Srbine (“Arise, arise, Serbs”) by Nikola Đurković (1812–1876) and Josif Šlezinger (1794–1870), often considered a “Serbian Marseillaise”.

    The earliest Serbian choral societies were founded in Pančevo (1838), Kotor and Novi Sad (1839), then Belgrade (1853); there were also numerous Croatian, German, Hungarian, Jewish, and Muslim choral societies in Vojvodina and Serbia. The first music schools were established as offshoots of a choral society; the first independent school was the Srpska muzička škola (Belgrade, 1899). The growth of Serbian theatre (Knjaževsko serbski teatar, Kragujevac, 1834; Srpsko narodno pozorište, Novi Sad, 1861; the Belgrade Narodno pozorište, 1868) also provided a musical platform. Incidental music to theatre plays, by Josif Šlezinger or Davorin Jenko, was performed, and also some national Serbian operas. Na uranku by Stanislav Binički (1872–1942) premiered in Belgrade in 1904, Knez Ivo od Semberije by Isidor Bajić (1878–1915) in Novi Sad in 1910, both on libretti by Branislav Nušić. A dedicated Opera na Bulevaru under Žarko Savić opened in Belgrade in 1909; while the first opera performances at the Belgrade Narodno pozorište theatre date from 1884, the official Belgrade Opera and Ballet was founded in 1920.

    The first newspapers, magazines, and books in the Serbian language were published in Vienna. The earliest musical publications in Serbian date from 1825 and centre around Vienna. Later on in the century, newspapers, pictorial magazines, calendars, and musical journals were founded in Serbia proper. Among the music-oriented publications we note Kornelije, 1883; Gudalo, 1886-87; Srpski muzički list, 1903; and Gusle, 1911-14. The ten issues of the music journal Gudalo, edited by Robert Tollinger, are of special importance: in their appendices, Serbian music terminology was developed on the basis of Tollinger’s extensive musical analysis of his own choral compositions.

    Word Count: 708

  • Article version:
    1.1.2.3/a
  • Project credit:

    Part of the “Music and National Styles” project, funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences

    Word Count: 16

  • DOI:
    https://doi.org/10.5117/9789462981188/ngLS7X76xLyH7WyIEMkHvSkv
  • Direct URL:
    http://show.ernie.uva.nl/ser-5
  • Marković, Tatjana; Transfiguracije srpskog romantizma: Muzika u kontekstu studija kulture (Belgrade: Univerzitet umetnosti, 2005).

    Marković, Tatjana; “Horska muzika”, in Veselinović-Hofman, Mirjana (ed.); Istorija srpske muzike: Srpska muzika i evropsko muzičko nasleđe (Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2007), 331-356.

    Marković, Tatjana; “Intertextual relations between Serbian and Viennese concepts of 19th-century music periodicals”, in Blažeković, Zdravko; Mackenzie, Barbara Dobbs (eds.); Music’s intellectual history (New York: Répertoire international de littérature musicale, 2009), 719-742.

    Marković, Tatjana; “Muzički romantizam iz stilsko-teorijskog aspekta”, in Veselinović-Hofman, Mirjana (ed.); Istorija srpske muzike: Srpska muzika i evropsko muzičko nasleđe (Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2007), 139-163.

    Pejović, Roksanda; Srpska muzika 19. veka. Izvođaštvo; članci i kritike; muzička pedagogija (Belgrade: Fakultet muzičke umetnosti, 2001).

    Pejović, Roksanda; Srpsko muzičko izvođaštvo romantičarskog doba (Belgrade: Univerzitet umetnosti, 1991).


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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Marković, Tatjana, 2022. "National-classical music : Serbian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version 1.1.2.3/a, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 30-01-2023.