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Serbian Music

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A Brief History of Serbian Music by William Dorich

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Serbian Music

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During the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans for 412 years, Serbs were denied the right to an education and the use of musical instruments.

After the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the destruction of Serbian nationhood, 412 years of Ottoman slavery ensued in the Balkans with the inevitable decline of the Serbian Orthodox faith and music. During this Turkish occupation, Serbs were forbidden to own property, to learn to read and write and were even denied the use of musical instruments. The Serbs however were tenacious and maintained an oral history through folk poems and songs. The only defenders of Serbian art and culture in these difficult centuries were the peasants who played the Gusle, a one-stringed instrument. As their punishment for playing a musical instrument many of these musicians were blinded by their oppressors resulting in thousands of such punishments. Being denied the right to music or dance, the Serbs invented a silent kolo (dance) in which the syncopation of the pounding feet became a sort of musical accompaniment to the dancers. This dance is still performed today by Serbian people.

Over these decades, the western parts of the Balkans were influenced by Renaissance culture, while the Serbian side "under Turkish rule" was forced into a state of dormancy. Serbian culture would not reawaken until the beginning of the 18th century, when the Serbs successfully threw off the bonds of Turkish rule, gaining their freedom and revitalizing their Orthodox Christian faith and their music.

The great poet and dramatist Goethe so loved the Serbian people, their poetry and folklore that he learned to fluently speak their language. Goethe was also the major influence in encouraging Brahms, Loewe, and Josef Maria Wolfram to create musical compositions based on Serbian folk poems and literature. Brahms' famous lullaby is derived from a Serbian folk poem.

When the Jews fled Spain the Serbs provided a hospitable environment in which the Jews resettled and prospered. The oldest Jewish Choir in the modern world is in Belgrade.

The formation of the Pancevo Church Choral Society in 1838 and the Belgrade Choral Society in 1853 resulted in each becoming centers for nurturing young talent. The first music schools were founded through the efforts of these choral societies. The Brilliant work of Serbian composers like Bajic, Stankovic, Mokranjac, Marinkovic, maksimovic, Djordjevic and Binicki accomplished in a hundred years what other cultures had the luxury of creating in several centuries. This books covers the history of over 40 of these composers.

This book was inspired by the important work of Dr. Stopjan Lazarevic of the Belgrade Choral Society, the research of Stana Djuric-Klajn, and the dedication of Serbians in the diaspora who maintained their culture and their music-at times under the most trying circumstances.

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