Composers in this region of the Balkan Peninsula were influenced by a complex mixture of strong forces including their religion, ethnicity and the variety of cultural elements and traditions from other surrounding states and countries.
Depending on the overall impact of these sources, composers from different regions turned to various types of inspiration. The country that later became Yugoslavia was always the home of several different ethnic and religious groups.
Ethnic groups such as Serbs, Montenegrans and Macedonians are predominantly religiously East Christian (Orthodox), Croatians and Slovenians are predominantly West Christians (mainly Catholic), while Bosnia and Herzegovina remains the most ethnically diverse state with significant Islamic and Jewish communities and both Orthodox and Catholic Christian populations. This tiny state, situated in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula became the homeland of the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Muslims (some of this population are the formerly Christian Slavs who converted during the Ottoman occupation period) and the Jewish people who came in exile from Spain and Portugal. Bosnia and Herzegovina, very much like Serbia, Montenegro and to smaller extent Croatia, also became one of the oases for future Yugoslavia’s large Gypsy minority groups.
What were some of the significant musical influences?
The Orthodox Church music was heavily influenced by the Russian tradition and, from the 1700s, the services in the Orthodox Church in both Serbia and Montenegro were performed in the so-called Church Slavonic language. Under the Russian influence, non-liturgical chant started developing as secular theatre music in the Serbian dramas.
The other significant religion-based connection was between Orthodox Serbia and Orthodox Greece. Although still under the Austro-Hungarian government, the Serbian intelligensia opened a Greek Singing School in 1721. The influence of Greek language was a significant factor both in the development of the later Serbo-Croatian language and in the Slav-language subcategory of the Southern-Slavics (Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian and Bulgarian.)
The compositions from these regions were mainly choral pieces, solos and vocal theatre pieces, symphonic and chamber works being much less frequent. Just like in the other non-Western countries, the Balkan composers tried to express and strengthen their national identity though music and to make it a creative link between their already scattered people. These creatively-unifying aspects and solidarity of the Balkan nations were particularly significant given their ethnic and cultural differences and the tragic end of Yugoslavia just over a decade ago.
The musical life of Serbia blossomed under the composer, pianist and director Kornelije Stankovic (1831-1865). Stankovic composed and performed and also recorded and collected traditional music. His compositional concepts were deeply rooted in traditional music.
The most important Serbian operas from this period are Stanislav Binicki’s (1872-1942) Na uranku (Rising Early, 1903), Isidor Bajic’s (1878-1915) Knez Ivo od Semberije (Prince Ivo of Semberija, 1911) Stevan Hristic’s (1885-1958) chamber opera Sumrak (Twilight, 1925) and two operas by Petar Konjovic (1883-1970) Zetski princ (The Prince of Zeta, 1929) and Kostana (1931). The importance of these operas is in their continuation of Stankovic’s “National style.” The operas use Serbian folk tales and mythology for libretti and incorporate traditional theatre with music.
The most prolific name in both, ex-Yugoslav and Serbian composition remains Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac (1856-1914) whose contributions were multi-faceted. His compositions remain the most virtuosic and sophisticated pieces of music that emerged from the as yet unformed Yugoslavia of the future. They are also the most versatile and insightful data collections of the folk music across the Balkans and the Yugoslavia-to-be.
Rukoveti (Song Collections, 1883-1909) are choral journeys through folk music of different parts of Yugoslavia. This music is prophetically inclusive of the diverse future-Yugoslav ethnicities – it was written almost seven decades before the country was created in that multi-ethnic form. This feature of Mokranjac’s compositions might have been a creative reflection of the desired sense of unity among the people from these regions as advocated by the composer or his own private artistic and cultural choice.
Mokranjac and Bregovic are musicians whose work establishes them as “the complete or uncompromising Yugoslavs outside of the Yugoslav time.” Mokranjac united the country in his music long before it was actually created, while Bregovic still remains the rare musical link of these scattered and separated nations after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Contrary to this unifying aspect characteristic of Mokranjac’s creative opus, the future Yugoslavia’s other most distinctive geographic and ethnic feature was its outward rather than inward outlook as its states were also strongly informed through their foreign neighbours, rather than their future immediate compatriots. So the future Yugoslavia was always incidentally or deliberately cultivating an ethnic paradox as its most intricate national feature.
The Catholic-populated regions are strongly anchored into the Mediterranean tradition, particularly the regions near the Adriatic Sea. Partly because of its geographic location and partly because of the cultural and religious influences, Croatia always had a continuing form of creative connection with Austria, Hungary and Italy.
During the rule of the Habsburg Dynasty, the Croatian musical scene was very quiet. The first Croatian opera Ljubav i zloba (Love and Virulence) was written in 1846 by the composer Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854) who also wrote an opera Porin (1851). Croatian “Nationalism” (quite similarly to the Southern Slavic “Nationalism” in general) was at its most pronounced between the two world wars, despite the fact that both Vatroslav Lisinski’s Porin and Ivan Zajc’s (1831-1914) Nikola Subic Zrinjski (1876) were written in the late nineteenth century. Both of these operas tell stories about the lives of national heroes.
The early twentieth century saw the real rise of national expression in the Croatian music with operas such as Blagoje Bersa’s (1873-1934) Oganj (Fire, 1911), and Jakov Gotovac’s (1895-1982) Ero s onog svijeta (Ero the Joker, 1935.) These operas follow the increase of the folkloric expression in Croatian music.
The concept of the two opposing forces---the search for unity and homogenic Southern Slavic expression and the outward outlook on the neighbouring foreign countries---may be the possible precursor for the powerful conflicting analogical qualities in the more contemporary Yugoslav musical genres (ie: Bregovic’s composition).
The former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina remained musically anonymous during the “Nationalist” period. A possible reason for this is the fact that the Bosnian nation is a mixture of different ethnicities from the other states (ie. Serbs, Croats, etc.) and various minority groups (ie. the Jewish and Gypsy populations). Interesting research aspects of the cultural and creative development of Bosnia and Herzegovina include this ethnic multiplicity of its population and the state’s geographic location.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most inwardly influenced of the future Yugoslav states. Placed between Serbia and Croatia, this state has borders only with other (future) Yugoslav states, unlike all the remaining ones that generally also have at least one foreign border. The combination of both the state’s location and the ethnic multiplicity of its population, led Bosnia and Herzegovina (and its capital city Sarajevo in particular), to turn inwardly. Both the state and its capital look into itself and develop a specific cultural and creative life-style that was more pluralistically conceived there than anywhere else in the future Yugoslavia.