Musical Life in the territory of (ex) Yugoslavia – Jewish presence and contribution

Historical background

The many pictures of shofars discovered on ceramics at the archaeological site in Celarevo on the Danube river (7–9 century C.E.; Khazars?) may indicate on the presence of Jewish settlements and were the first pictures of the noted Jewish instrument in this part of Europe. This necropolis is the unique site in the Balkans and Panonia.

Ancient Jewish communities also existed on the shores of the Adriatic Sea (Split). There is no information about the music of these communities. There is also no trace whatsoever about the Jews of Dubrovnik who settled there from the 12 century C.E.

In the 16 century, a large community of Sephardim immigrated to the Balkans' parts of the Ottoman Empire up to Sarajevo. They learned synagogue music at a school founded by Rabbi David Jakov Pardo in the second half of the 18 century. Basic research on this musical tradition was done between the two world wars by Isak Hendel, Erik Elisha Samlaich, Zhiga Hirschler, and others. Unfortunately, most of the researchers lost their lives during the Holocaust, and the texts and musical transcriptions were lost as well.

From the studies of the contemporary musicologists Cvjetko Richtman (1902–1990), who was the founder of the Institute for the Study of Folklore in Sarajevo, his daughter Dunja Richtman (1970– ), and particularly the basic studies of Ankica Petrovic (1978– ) on the musical tradition of the Sephardim in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one can infer that there is a great difference between the sacred and the secular music of the Bosnian Sephardim. In this tradition, the melodies of their secular "romances" (romantigas) were influenced by medieval Spanish music, while their sacred music preserved more ancient roots from the pre-Ottoman and pre-Arab era. (see also *Greece and *Ladino (Romancero). A great number of Jewish music documents are archived in the Jewish Museum of Belgrade.

At the time of the national resurgence, the pioneers of "classical music" were of a Jewish origin, both among the Croats (Vatroslav Lisinski, born Fux, 1819–1854) and the Serbs (Josif Schlezinger, 1794–1870).

However, there are no Jewish elements in their music.

In the first half of the 20 century, the most prominent Jewish composers in Yugoslavia were Rikard Schwarz, Zhiga Hirscher, Pavao Markovac, Oskar Jozefovich, Robert Herzl, Erih Elisha Samlaich, and Lavoslav Grinski. All of them were killed during World War II.

Among the survivors who immigrated to the United States were the baritone and composer Aaron Marko *Rothmueler (1908–1993), who also wrote The Music of The Jews (1958), and the eminent musicologist Dragan Plamenac (1895–1983), known for his studies on music of the 14 and 16 centuries. Among the composers and performers who immigrated to Israel were Paul Raphael Sterk (1904–1979), who composed the symphony City of David; Uri Givon (1912–1974), who produced numerous arrangements of Jewish and Israeli songs and compositions; Reuven Yaron, who was brought to Palestine as a child in 1943, studied with M. *Seter, and was killed at the age of 23 in the Sinai Campaign of 1956. His compositions were highly esteemed.

Among the notable performers between the two world wars were pianist Ernest Krauth, conductor Milan Sachs, and violinist Mary Dragutinovic. In the field of light music Abraham Kupferberg and Raphael Blam distinguished themselves.

After World War Bruno Bjelinski, Miroslav Spieler, Ruben Radica, Dubravko Detoni, and Enriko Josif were active as composers, and performers included singer Breda Kalef, conductor Oskar Danon, violinist David Kamhi, and pianist Andreja Preger.

Music in Serbia / Jewish composers

In small and recently liberated Serbia, 19 century  music was trying to rise with great difficulties. The first piano came to Serbia at the time when Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven had already finished writing their symphonies in Vienna. Another two or three years had to go by before the first man with modest "musical training" came to this country. This was Ithe case with Josip Schlesinger.

Josip Shlezinger

That first musician, Josip Slezinger (1794-1870) founded the "Prince's Band," in Kragujevac in 1830, turning with his hard work illiterate peasants into the first musicians able to read music.

Josip Slezinger, from the very outset, pointed Serbian music in the right direction. Slezinger performed various types of music; marches, dances, potpourri, fantasies from foreign, predominately contemporary operas (Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, Halevy) as well as his own pieces dedicated to the theatre, often inspired by folk melodies.

Slezinger composed music for many plays by domestic authors and therefore became the creator of the favorite and dominant stage genre in Serbia in 19 century: a play with music similar to the Singspiel and operetta.

Enriko Josif (1924-2003)

Enriko Josif was one of the most important and most interesting personalities of the Serbian musical creativity.

His opus includes anthological examples of Serbian orchestral music (Symphony in One Movement, Symphoniette, Lyric Symphony "Out of Solitude", Sonata Antica),concert music (Piano Concerto),vocal and instrumental music ("The Death of Stefan Dechanski", "The Stone Sleeper", Oratorio Profano da Camera," Places for Glorification of Freedom", "Song of Songs"),chamber music ("Dreams", Divertimento, "Hamlet" Suite, "On the Waters of Babylon", "Callings", "Signs", "Epic Tune"),and soloist music (Four Sketches, Sonata Brevis, Ballad, Psalmody). He composed the ballet "Bird, Don't Fold Your Wings", solo songs, stage and film music. He shared his enormous creative energy among music writing, pedagogy, essay writing and journalism.

"What used to be a prayer to our predecessors, to me are only single moments of shining-cracks and wounds which help me to hear parts, particles of advancing singing which is not mine, although I'm aware of it. It exists in GENESIS", says Enriko Josif.

After graduating from the Music Academy in Belgrade, class of Milenko Zivkovic, Enriko Josif worked as a teacher in music schools "Vuckovic" and "Stankovic". He specialized in Rome in 1961/62. He taught composition for twenty-five years at the Music Academy in Belgrade, later called the Faculty of Music Art. He became a correspondent member of the Serbian Academy in 1991, and a regular member in 2000.

For his creative work he obtained numerous significant awards, such as: The Seventh-of-July Award, The October Award of the City of Belgrade, the award "Petar Konjovic", as well as awards of the theatre festival "Sterijino pozorje", of the Cultural and Educational Association of Belgrade and of Yugoslav Broadcasting Corporation.

"I believe that there is no more wondrous and amazing thing than the one that provokes the ability to hear a song within me", says Enriko Josif.

Although broken patterns of different styles can be perceived in his works, such as elements of baroque sound world ("Baroque does not appeal to me, it feeds my musical being"), and those of even earlier epochs, but also those of impressionism and of sharp and bold  sound combinations, this prolific creator has not considerably changed his style over time. He has created a recognizable musical language and has been passionately looking for a voice and voices, an instrument and instruments capable of true reproduction of his melody drawings, of expressing his poetry and individual acoustic world, of attaining the wanted tone quality, and of "uncovering his coverings".

Enriko Josif died in Belgrade, on 13 March 2003.

Rafailo Blam

Composer, professor and extraordinary musician, the founder of the first Serbian and Yugoslav society of Jazz musicians and founder of famous Jazz Band " Mickey boy".

Rafailo Blam was a member of the Symphony Orchestra RTB , member of Belgrade philharmonic Orchestra, member of National orchestra of Radio Belgrade, National orchestra Radio Beograd.

His professional career was completed as professor in "Mokranjac " music school in Belgrade.


© Makor 011 - Belgrade Jewish Cultural Forum 2014 | designed & produced by MASSVision, powered by cMASS