FolkWorld #71 03/2020
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Article in Croatian

Klapa Maslina

Music of Croatia

Port of Diversity: The Croatian city of Rijeka, together with the Irish city of Galway, has been chosen as the twin European Capital of Culture for 2020.

Rijeka 2020


Croatian Artists

Galway 2020

The music of Croatia, like the divisions of the country itself, has two major influences: Central European, present in central and northern parts of the country including Slavonia, and Mediterranean, present in coastal regions of Dalmatia and Istria.

In Croatia both pop and rock are popular, as well as pop music influenced by Dalmatian or Slavonian folk elements.


Artist Video Kries @ FROG

Since the mid-20th century, schlager and chanson-inspired music have formed the backbone of the Croatian popular music.

History of music in Croatia


The oldest preserved relics of musical culture in Croatia are sacral in nature and represented by Latin medieval liturgical chant manuscripts (approximately one hundred musical codices and fragments dating from the 11th to the 15th centuries have been preserved to date). They reveal a wealth of various influences and liturgical traditions that converged in this region (Dalmatian liturgy in Benevento script, Northern Gregorian chant, and original Glagolitic chant).

Renaissance and baroque

Early in the 15th century, the ideas of Humanism in Croatia brought about changes to the world of music. Interest in music began to spread outside of monastic and church walls with growing influence of new spiritual tendencies from Central European and particularly Italian cities. Humanists and philosophers promulgated new musical theories and aesthetic ideas: Federik Grisogono, Pavao Skalić, Frane Petrić. The writing down of folk and popular music began in mid-sixteenth century: in the poem Fishing and Fishermen's Talk from 1558, Petar Hektorović ingrained Neoplatonic ideals in popular music; and transcripts of Croatian musical folklore were printed in Venetian anthologies (Giulio Cesare Barbetta 1569, Marco Facoli 1588). Julije Skjavetić from Šibenik published his madrigals (Li madrigali a quattro, et a cinque voci 1562), while his Motetti a cinque et a sei voci, (1564) are characterised by a lavish polyphonic structure under the influence of the Dutch school. Music and dance were a component part of theatrical expression (Mavro Vetranović, Nikola Nalješković, Marin Držić, Marin Benetović), while the function of music and sound effects was under the influence of Italian pastorals.

The most prominent Croatian composers of this period include Ivan Lukačić, Vinko Jelić and Atanazije Jurjević.

Lidija Bajuk

Artist Video Lidija Bajuk @ FROG

New tendencies of early Baroque monody soon found their way into the domestic musical tradition, both sacral and secular. Tomaso Cecchini, from Verona, who spent his entire working life (1603–44) as a choirmaster, organist and composer in Split and Hvar, published his madrigals Armonici concetti, libro primo (1612) as the oldest Baroque collection written for the Croatian milieu. The collection Sacrae cantiones (Venice 1620) by Ivan Lukačić from Šibenik is valuable testimony of sacral music that was performed in Split, and is generally speaking, one of the most significant monuments of old Croatian music altogether. The Franciscans and Paulists cultivated sacral chants, mostly monophonic and without organ accompaniment (the manuscript cantos of Frane Divnić, Bone Razmilović, Filip Vlahović-Kapušvarac, Franjo Vukovarac and Petar Knežević). Also, worth mentioning is Ragusino Vincenzo Comnen, the only representative of the music of the Dubrovnik nobility.

The tradition of the Baroque was more lasting in church/sacral music, which was the musical form that was systematically nurtured in numerous monasteries (especially Franciscan ones) as well as in parish and cathedral churches. The preservation of music manuscripts and prints became a widespread practice in the mid-18th century. Simple vocal-instrumental music for two voices with organ continuo was the form most frequently performed in churches; more prominent individuals active in the sphere of music could be found only in larger urban centres. They were mostly organists and maestri di cappella, skilful composers who had small vocal and/or instrumental ensembles and who frequently acted as music teachers (private or in church schools). The gradual development of the middle class had as one of its consequences the corresponding secular organisation of musical life, particularly in the first decades of the 19th century, a period that saw the establishment of music ensembles, music societies (1827 in Zagreb, then in Varaždin, Rijeka, Osijek etc.) and music schools.

In addition, public balls and other events were organised (music academies, theatre performances) with the participation of local and foreign musicians (from Italy, Austria, Bohemia etc.) including the private collection of music materials for playing music at home. Music became a component part of various festivities, such as the arrival of important political personalities (the new governor or the Habsburg king Frances I, etc.), the feasts of patron saints (St. Blaise in Dubrovnik, St. Domnius in Split, St. Stephen in Hvar and Zagreb etc.), for which so called art music was specifically composed, with the inclusion of popular elements (bourgeois dances, folk music of the peasantry).


Many Italian and domestic musicians worked in Dubrovnik: in the cathedral choir and orchestra, in the Duke's orchestra, at private and public festivities. An excellent early example of pre-classical symphony and chamber music was given by Luka Sorkočević, a nobleman educated in Rome, as well as his son Antun, a historian and diplomat. Ferdo Livadić (1799–1879) wrote Notturno in F-sharp minor for piano as early as 1822, which is, along with John Field's compositions under the same name, one of the earliest examples of that type of piano miniatures in general.

Tomislav Goluban

Artist Video Tomislav Goluban @ FROG

In the course of the 1830s, as a reflection of such tendencies in Europe, the Illyrian Movement emerged in Croatia which assigned not only to literature but to music as well a particular socio-political role: the forming and guarding of national awareness including the struggle against Hungarization and Germanization. Accordingly, in 1846 Josip Runjanin (1821–1878) put to music Antun Mihanović's 1835 poem "Horvatska domovina" (Croatian Homeland), which later became the Croatian national anthem. In such a setting Vatroslav Lisinski (1819–1954) composed the first Croatian national opera Ljubav i zloba (Love and Malice), which premièred in Zagreb in 1846.

Taking into consideration the presence of folk music, the aspirations of the Illyrians went far beyond the results achieved, something that is also continued in the work of Ivan Zajc (1832–1914) in the second half of the century. His masterpiece, the opera Nikola Šubić Zrinjski, ever since its opening night in Zagreb in 1876, had not lost in popularity, partly because its heroic patriotism functions as a symbol of Croatia's victory. Finally, owing to the founder of Croatian ethno-musicology and musical historiography, Franjo Kuhač (1834–1911), the systematic research of folklore evolved simultaneously with Zajc's endeavours. Finally it should be added that in Zajc's and Kuhač's era, major halls for musical performances and concerts were built: in Zagreb the building of the Croatian Music Institute (1876, 1895) with a concert hall, and the building of the Croatian National Theatre (1895), including the theatre buildings in Rijeka (1885), Split (1893) and Osijek (1907) where, along with the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, drama, opera and ballet performances are still played today.

During the 19th century, other instrumentalists and singers won international recognition, for example, the violinist Franjo Krežma (1862–1881), singers, among which Ilma Murska (1834–1889), Matilda Mallinger (1847–1920) who sang at the opening night of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1868, Milka Trnina (1863–1941) and Josip Kašman (1850–1925), the first Croatian singer to appear at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Folk music

The traditional folk music of Croatia is mostly associated with the following:



Artist Video

Ganga is a type of singing which is characterized by a lone singer singing one line of lyrics and then others joining in for what can be best described as a wail. It is a very passionate form of singing, which is one of the reasons it has been limited in popularity to small towns. Even though it is a unique and autochthonous form of singing by Croats, it is very rare to hear this music on Croatian airwaves. However, several popular Croatian musicians have incorporated some ganga into their work. It can also be heard in concert music: the American composer Craig Walsh incorporates a ganga-inspired wailing, sighing, pitch-bending, micro-tonal vocal style in his 'String Quartet No. 1' (2010), a work commissioned for the Sarajevo Chamber Music Festival and the Manhattan String Quartet, the second movement of which is clearly paying homage to ganga style.

Only recently has ganga begun to address political issues, frequently adopting overtly nationalistic overtones and incorporating themes from the Croatian Homeland War. Although both men and women regularly perform ganga, it is extremely unusual for them to perform songs together. It is not unusual at all for both Catholic and Muslim men to perform ganga together.


The klapa music is a form of a cappella singing that first appeared in littoral Croatia during the middle of the 19th century. The word klapa is derived from a word in slang Italian spoken in Trieste at the time. It refers to "a group of people" and the singing style traces its roots to liturgical church singing. The motifs, in general, celebrate love, wine (grapes), country (homeland) and sea. The main elements of the music are harmony and melody, with rhythm very rarely being very important.

A klapa group consists of a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass. It is possible to double all the voices apart from the first tenor. Although klapa is a cappella music, on occasion, it is possible to add a gentle guitar and a mandolin.

Klapa singing has become increasingly popular in littoral Croatia. Many young people from Dalmatia treasure klapa and sing it regularly when going out eating/drinking. This music has gained popularity among mainstream audiences in coastal regions of Croatia, with newer klapas formed by younger generations fusing klapa vocals with other music styles, such as klapa Libar's metal cover of "Pusti da ti leut svira" and the pop/klapa song "Kako ću joj reć' da varin" by klapa DVD-a Žrnovnica Sv. Florijan, which won the Split Song Festival in 2010.


JeboTon Ansambl

Artist Video

Tamburica (diminutive of tambura) music is a form of folk music that involves these and related string instruments. It became increasingly popular in the 1800s, and small bands began to form, paralleling similar developments in Russia, Italy and the Ukraine.

The main themes of tamburitza songs are the common themes of love and happy village life. Tamburitza music is primarily associated with the northern, Pannonian part of the country. It is sometimes said that the first sextet of tambura players was formed by Pajo Kolarić of Osijek in 1847. In 1971 one of the most famous and long lasting tamburitza ensembles Slavonski Bećari was formed led by the legend of tamburitza music Antun Nikolić Tuca.

Traditional tamburitza ensembles are still commonplace, but more professional groups have formed in the last few decades. These include Zlatni dukati and Ex Panonia, the first such groups, Zdenac, Slavonske Lole, Berde Band and the modernized rock and roll-influenced Gazde.

The style of Tambura music played most often in the United States during the latter half of the 20th Century was not significantly different from the style played at the turn of the 19th Century. Free of the influences of pop music in Jugoslavia and the nascent, independent republics, and without large quantities of immigrants bringing new methods and styles, American-style Tambura music, and to a lesser extent, Canadian-style Tambura music stayed true to its roots.

Today, the most prevalent forms of Tambura music are folk-pop combinations.



Artist Video

The gusle music is played on this traditional string instrument. It is primarily rooted in epic poetry with emphasis on important historical or patriotic events. It is the traditional instrument of inland Dalmatia and of Herzegovina, the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina with predominant Croatian population.

Gusle players are known for glorifying outlaws such as hajduks or uskoks of the long gone Turkish reign or exalting the recent heroes of the Croatian War of Independence. Andrija Kačić Miošić, a famous 18th-century author, had also composed verses in form of the traditional folk poetry (deseterac, ten verses). His book Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskog became Croatian folk Bible which inspired numerous gusle players ever since.

As for contemporary gusle players in Croatia, one person that particularly stands out is Mile Krajina. Krajina is a prolific folk poet and gusle player who gained cult status among some conservative groups. There are also several other prominent Croatian gusle players who often perform at various folk-festivals throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Diple is a traditional woodwind musical instrument in Croatian music. Sometimes called "Mih", "mjeh", "mjesina" or only "diple", it is played from Istria, Lika, over Dalmatia Islands and Coast to Herzegovina. "Mih" is made of tanned goat or sheep skin and consists of a "dulac" or "kanela" through which the air is blown and "diple" (chanter) on which it is played. Inside the "mih" on the chanter, two single-blade reeds are situated. Unlike bagpipes, "Mih" doesn't have a "trubanj" or "bordun" (drone). Although they are very similar, the "mih" from different parts of Croatia still differ in type of chanter, in the position of holes or in some tiny details (for example ornaments).

Other folk traditions

Antun Opic

Artist Video Antun Opic @ FROG

The folk music of Zagorje, an area north of Zagreb, is known for small orchestras consisting of Violins, Cimbule, Tamburice and Harmonike. The Tamburica (also known as tambura) is the Croatian national string instrument. Although there is a rich pool of folk songs in this region, traditions are not being cherished and most Zagorian folk music available is performed by amateur groups. This is also reflected in the quality of the music, which is mostly reduced to happy upbeat songs.

The folk music of Međimurje, a small but distinct region in northernmost Croatia, with its melancholic and soothing tunes became the most popular form of folk to be used in the modern ethno pop-rock songs. Beside Cimbule and Violins, there is also a tradition of Brass orchestras which used to play an important role in cultural everyday life. On one hand, they were the foundation of every regional celebration or wedding but on the other hand they were also known for playing at funerals or funeral feasts.

In Istria and Kvarner, native instruments like sopila, curla and diple make a distinctive regional sound. It is partially diatonic in nature following the unique Istrian scale.


The Slavonian town Požega hosts a known folk music festival, Zlatne žice Slavonije (Golden strings of Slavonia), which has prompted musicians to compose new songs with far-reaching influences, recently including American bluegrass.

The towns of Vinkovci and Đakovo, also in Slavonia, host yearly folklore festivals (Vinkovačke jeseni and Đakovački vezovi) where folk music is also listened to as part of the tradition.

The town of Slavonski Brod holds an annual festival called Brodfest, where many of the great tamburica bands come together to play.

The Dubrovnik Summer Festival puts on dramatic music and ballet. It was founded in 1950.

The Osor Musical Evenings was founded in 1976 and takes place in July and August. It plays classical Croatian masters.

The Musical Evenings in Donat takes place during the summer in Zadar. It was founded in 1961, and plays old music.

The music of Cinkuši is rooted in the rich folk heritage of Croatia, especially the Kajkavian-speaking region, and is a combination of original songwriting and interpolations of their literary role models, including clichés that evoke collective emotionality. It is a perfect example of «translating» traditional songs into the explosive fragments of punk rock, freak-folk, brilliant ballads or subtle combinations of waltz and cabaret with a touch of neo-folk underground. They are fully open to numerous metamorphoses of rock, psychedelia and jazz through to hints of expressive and even chamber music. Their albums Špiritus Sanctus (Spiritus Sanctus) and Krava na orehu (Cow in the Walnut Tree) won the Porin Award for Best Album in 2010 and 2018, respectively.

Putokazi was formed in 1984 and is one of the longest-running bands on the Croatian music scene. Since then, ten different generations of vocals, including more than 400 female and male singers, have left a mark on the creative output of Putokazi. Over the course of their 33-year career, during which they have explored evergreens, themes from films and musicals, Croatian ethnic music themes, world music, trip-pop and electropop via familiar polyphonic vocal performances, they have released 13 albums and two DVDs. Putokazi has represented Croatia twice in the Eurovision Song Contest and has won three Porin Awards, the Status Award for outstanding contribution to Croatian music, as well as two City of Rijeka awards in 1988 and 1994. When creating music, each project becomes a new exploration as they push boundaries in terms of style, genre, vocals, performance and energy.

The JeboTon Ansambl is a street band that has been delighting audiences with their guerrilla shows for years. The band is an offshoot of the JeboTon music collective, which includes members of the bands Spremište, Hren, Prazna lepinja, Lobotomija, Antidepresiv and Porto morto. Together they started making acoustic covers of their own songs in order to make them more suitable for busking. The JeboTon Ensemble has outlived almost all the previous bands of its members and today reigns supreme with a never-before-seen intensity. The ensemble consists of more than 30 rotating members, with 6 to 15 members performing at a time. Members of all the bands participate in the ensemble, often playing an instrument in which they are less proficient and that they don’t usually play in their main band.

The Porto Etno Festival assembled its own orchestra, the 2019 Porto Etno Orchestra. It comprises musicians from Rijeka and its surroundings whose names (and music) may sound familiar even to those uninitiated in ethnic and jazz music. Members include Zoran Majstorović (Arabic oud, saz, mandolin, ukulele, electric guitar, band leader), Branimir Gazdik (drums), Bojan Skočilić (double bass, electric bass guitar), Dorian Cuculić (piano, keyboards), Zvonimir Radišić (electric and acoustic guitar), Vanja Vitezić (percussion) and Luka Vrbanec (alt, tenor and soprano saxophone). Most members of the Orchestra attended (or still attend) jazz conservatoires in Graz, Trieste and Klagenfurt. Between them, they have given hundreds of live performances and as many coveted music awards and live collaborations with world-renowned musicians.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia []. Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Date: February 2020.

Photo Credits: (1) Klapa Maslina, (2) Rijeka 2020, (3) Galway 2020, (4) Kries, (5) Lidija Bajuk, (6) Tomislav Goluban, (7) Putokazi, (8) Jeboton Ansambl, (9) Cinkuši, (10) Antun Opic, (11) Porto Etno Orchestra (unknown/website).

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