Music of Serbia

Music of Serbia represents the musical heritage of Serbia, both historical and modern. It has a variety of traditional music styles, which are part of the wider Balkan musical tradition, with its own distinctive sound and characteristics.[1]

Music of the Middle Ages

Serb from Herzegovina sings to gusle

Church music was performed throughout medieval Serbia by choirs or individual singers. The songs performed at the time were derived from the Octoechos (Osmoglasnik), a collection of religious songs dedicated to Jesus. Composers from this era include nun Jefimija, monks Kir Stefan the Serb, Isaiah the Serb, and Nikola the Serb, who together belong to the "Serbo-Byzantine school".[2][3][4]

Aside from church music, the medieval era in Serbia included traditional music, about which little is known, and court music. During the Nemanjić dynasty era musicians played an important role at the royal court, and were known as sviralnici, glumci and praskavnici. The rulers known for the musical patronage included Emperor Stefan Dušan and Despot Đurađ Branković. Medieval musical instruments included horns, trumpets, lutes, psalteries, drums and cymbals. Traditional folk instruments include the gajde, kaval, dajre, diple, tamburitza, gusle, tapan (davul), sargija, ćemane (kemenche), zurla (zurna), and frula among others.[5]

Sung Serbian epic poetry has been an integral part of Serbian and Balkan music for centuries. In the highlands of Serbia and Montenegro these long poems are typically accompanied on a one-string fiddle called the gusle, and concern themselves with themes from history and mythology. After the Ottoman conquest of Serbia, music was enriched with oriental influences at the expense of Serbian folk music. During this Ottoman enslavement, Serbian faith and folk music went underground so to speak since the people were forbidden to own their property, to learn to write and read and were also denied the use of musical instruments. The Serbs however were stubbornly tenacious enough to maintain an oral history through folk poems and songs recited with the accompaniment of the Gusle. These brave defenders of Serbian art and culture in these arduous and treacherous times were the peasants who played the Gusle, a one-stringed instrument in the shape of a lute. As their punishment for playing a musical instrument, many of these musicians were blinded by their oppressors. Denied music or dance, the Serbs invented a silent kolo (dance) in which the syncopation of the pounding of the feet became an instantaneous musical accompaniment to the folk dancers. This particular dance is still being performed today. The German poet Goethe so admired Serbian poetry and folklore that he learned to speak Slavonic-Serbian, the common language then spoken by Slavs in the Balkans and northern regions of the Austrian Empire. Goethe and Grimm's works were also the major inspiration in encouraging Brahms, Carl Loewe, Tor Aulin, Anton Dvorak, Leos Janacek, Josef Suk, Peter Tchaikovsky and Josef Maria Wolfram (1789–1839) to create compositions based on Serbian folk poetry 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 they could resettle and prosper, particularly in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The oldest Jewish Choir in the modern world is located in Belgrade. The formation of the Pančevo 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.[6][7]

From the Habsburg rule, Serbia was enriched by Western music.

Classical music

Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac

Composer and musicologist Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac is considered one of the most important founders of modern Serbian music.[8] Born in 1856, Mokranjac taught music, collected Serbian traditional songs and did the first scholarly research on Serbian music. He was also the director of the first Serbian music school and one of the founders of the Union of Singing Societies. His most famous works are the Song Wreaths, also known as Garlands.

During the 19th and 20th centuries numerous bands, both military and civilian, contributed to the development of music culture in Belgrade and other Serbian cities and towns. Prior to Mokranjac's era, Serbia's representatives of the Romantic period were world-renowned violinist Dragomir Krančević, pianist Sidonija Ilić, pianist and composer Jovanka Stojković and opera singer Sofija Sedmakov who achieved success performing in opera houses of Germany in the 1890s. For example, the promenade concert tradition was first established by The Serbian Prince Band founded in 1831, and its first conductor was Joseph Shlezinger, who composed music for the band based on traditional Serbian songs. This was a period when the first choral societies, then mostly sung in German and Italian language, were being organized. Later, the first Serbian language works for choirs were written by Kornelije Stanković.

The Serbian composers Petar Konjović, Stevan Hristić and Miloje Milojević, all born in the 1880s, were the most eminent composers of their generation. They maintained the national expression and modernized romanticism in the direction of impressionism.

The best-known composers born around 1910 studied in Europe, mostly in Prague. Ljubica Marić, Stanojlo Rajičić, Milan Ristić took influence from Schoenberg, Hindemith and Haba, rejecting the "conservative" work of prior Serbian composers, seeing it as outdated and the wish for national expression was outside their interest.[9]

Other famous classical Serbian composers include Isidor Bajić, Stanislav Binički and Josif Marinković.

Several notable composers used motifs from Serbian folk music and composed works inspired by Serbian history or culture, such as: Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Arthur Rubinstein, Antonín Dvořák, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Schubert, Hans Huber and other.[10] In 1788, just before the start of the Habsburg–Ottoman War, a classical period composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the La Bataille K. 535 (also known as “Die Belagerung Belgrads” – “The Siege of Belgrade”), which was most likely inspired by previous sieges of Belgrade, while some scholars state that the composition was used to support the war effort.[11] Thanks to Miloš Obrenović's good contacts during his stay in Vienna, Johann Strauss II composed the Serben-Quadrille intended for Serbian balls.[12] During the Serbian–Turkish Wars, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the Marche slave, which was based od several Serbian folk songs.[13][14] Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used some Serbian folk tunes to compose the Fantasy on Serbian Themes (1867).[15]

Serbian folk music

Ethno music

Excerpt of an accordion performance at the Pokrajinski festival of Sombor in 2010.
Frula can be heard in this performance of a Serb folk song.

The ethno genre encompasses both vocal and non-vocal (instrumental) music. Instruments include bagpipes, flutes, horns, trumpets, lutes, psalteries, drums and cymbals such as: Frula (woodwind), Diple (dvojanka, woodwind), Gajde (bagpipe), Zurna (woodwind), Duduk (woodwind), Tambura (lute), Tamburitza (lute), Gusle (lute), Kaval (šupeljka, lute), Davul (tapan, goč, drum), Bouzouki (šargija, lute), Tarambuke (drum). Balkanika, Balkanopolis, Dvig, Slobodan Trkulja, Belo Platno, Teodulija, Kulin Ban are known Serbian musical groups that use traditional Balkan musical instruments and perform traditional songs and songs based on traditional music elements.

Old folk

The Serbian folk music is both rural (izvorna muzika) and urban (starogradska muzika) and includes a two-beat dance called kolo, which is a circle dance with almost no movement above the waist, accompanied by instrumental music made most often with an accordion, but also with other instruments: frula (traditional kind of a recorder), tamburica, or accordion. The Kolos usually last for about 5–13 minutes. Modern accordionists include Mirko Kodić and Ljubiša Pavković. Some kolos are similar to the Hungarian csárdás in that they are slow at the onset and gradually increase their speed until reaching a climax towards the end.

Famous performers of Serbian folk music are Predrag Gojković Cune, Predrag Živković Tozovac, Miroslav Ilić, Lepa Lukić, Vasilija Radojčić, Šaban Bajramović, Staniša Stošić, Toma Zdravković and others. Yugoslav singer, actress and writer, Olivera Katarina, has performed music of various genres, varying from Serbian traditional to pop music, and in numerous languages. She held 72 consecutive concerts in Paris Olympia.

New folk

During the 70s Serbian folk music started to use elements from oriental music, distancing from the original sound, style that is titled novokomponovana muzika ("newly composed music"). Soon many neo-folk singers emerged: Šaban Šaulić, Jašar Ahmedovski, Kemal Malovčić, Mitar Mirić, Nada Topčagić, Šeki Turković, Ipče Ahmedovski, Ljuba Aličić, Zorica Brunclik, Marinko Rokvić and others. Serbian folk scene was not homogeneous nor uniform. On one hand, following Western models, Vesna Zmijanac was creating a star-image, being sex-symbol, fashionista and gay icon as well. On the other hand, singers like Vera Matović, for example, have created folk subgenre, sort of rural folk, singing about works in field, domestic animals and themes from Serbian village. Louis was combining Serbian folk music with jazz. Their albums were sponsored and songs were broadcast on the Radio Television of Serbia, which led to domination of this genre.

Balkan brass

Goran Bregović performing live with his orchestra

Brass bands, known as trubači (Serbian Cyrillic: трубачи, "the trumpeters") are extremely popular, especially in Central and Southern Serbia where Balkan Brass Band originated. The trumpet was initially used as a military instrument to wake and gather soldiers and announce battles during First Serbian Uprising in the 19. century, but later took on the role of entertainment during downtime, as soldiers used it to transpose popular folk songs. When the war ended and the soldiers returned to the rural life, the music entered civilian life and eventually became a music style, accompanying special occasions such as slavas, baptisms, harvests, births and funerals. In 1831 the first official military band was formed by Prince Miloš Obrenović. Roma people have also adopted the tradition and enhanced the music, and today most of the best performers are Roma. The best known Serbian Brass musicians are Fejat Sejdić, and Boban Marković and are also the biggest names in the world of modern brass band bandleaders. Guča trumpet festival is one of the most popular and biggest music festivals in Serbia[16] is a five-day annual festival with 300 000 visitors.

Popular music

Popular folk music

Pop-folk, colloquially known as turbo-folk (a term coined by rock musician Rambo Amadeus), music emerged in the 80s and reached its peak as the 90s subculture during the Yugoslav wars, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the regime of Slobodan Milošević. It contains Serbian folk music as the basis with added elements from rock, pop and electronic dance music. Although very popular both in Serbia and its region, turbo-folk is often criticised and referred to as distasteful. Some of the most popular Serbian performers belong to this genre, such as Lepa Brena, Dragana Mirković, Ceca, Aca Lukas, Jelena Karleuša, Indira Radić, Saša Matić, Seka Aleksić, Đani and Milica Pavlović. Most of the turbo-folk singers were signed to Grand Production at one point in their careers due to its former dominance over the music scene.

Pop music

Marija Šerifović, the winner of Eurosong in 2007.

Pioneers of pop music in Serbia are considered to have performed before and during the Second World War. At the end of the 1950s schlager singers such as Lola Novaković and Đorđe Marjanović appeared on the music scene, achieving great success. Since then, Serbian pop has been under the influence of the western scene. Although quite popular, pop music, like other commercial genres, has always been overshadowed in popularity by folk music. Some of the most prominent pop acts in Serbian throughout the years have included Zdravko Čolić, Aska, Bebi Dol, Zana, Tap 011, Željko Joksimović, Vlado Georgiev, Aleksandra Radović, Emina Jahović, Jelena Tomašević, Nataša Bekvalac, Ana Nikolić and many others. Marija Šerifović is noted as the only Serbian Eurovision winner, as she won it in 2007 with the song Molitva.

Rock music

As a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was a part, was far more open to western influences compared to the other socialist states. The western-influenced pop and rock music was socially accepted, the Yugoslav rock scene was well developed and covered in the media, which included numerous magazines, radio and TV shows. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia due to civil war, its rock scene also ceased to exist, but saw moderate revival in the 2000s. The most notable Serbian rock acts are Bajaga i Instruktori, Đorđe Balašević, Disciplina Kičme, Ekatarina Velika, Električni Orgazam, Galija, Idoli, Kerber, Korni Grupa, Laboratorija Zvuka, Partibrejkers, Pekinška Patka, Piloti, Pop Mašina, Rambo Amadeus, Riblja Čorba, Smak, Šarlo Akrobata, YU Grupa, Van Gogh, and others.


Jazz in Serbia appears in the 1920s when Markus Blam formed first jazz orchestra Studentski Micky Jazz. Jazz music was played mostly in salons and clubs, but it is also known that jazz orchestras toured in spas over the Serbia. This style of music has been present on the radio as well as in specialized magazines. Radio Belgrade started to work in 1929, every night after 22:30h Radio Jazz Orchestra played popular songs. First jazz society in Serbia was set up in 1953, but to the development of jazz the most contributed hosting famous musicians, among whom was Louis Armstrong in 1959 and 1960. The first Serbian musicians to rise to international fame were Mladen Guteša who worked for famous musicians such as Lee Konitz, Benny Goodman and others and Duško Gojković. These two entered The 1956 Encyclopedia Yearbook of Jazz of Leonard Feather. Other prominent names of Serbian jazz include Bora Roković who composed jazz suite The Human Piano, Mihailo Živanović, Branislav Kovačev, Branko Pejaković, Milan Lulić, Boris Jojić, Jovan Miković and others.[17] Among the most popular singers of jazz and blues in Serbia was Šaban Bajramović known as King of Romani music, who was included in the Time magazines list of top 10 blues singers in the world.[18] Vladan Mijatovic (Jazz pianist) is the young ambassador of the Serbian Jazz music in North America.


Serbian hip hop emerged in the early 80s among the b-boy crews. The first Serbian Hip Hop record release was the Degout EP by The Master Scratch Band, which was released by Jugoton in 1984. However, Serbian hip-hop scene wasn't developed until the late 90s when hip-hop groups started to break out from the underground. Best known rappers and hip-hop collectives include Gru, Bad Copy, Beogradski sindikat and Marčelo. Artists such as Elitni Odredi, Rasta and Coby reached mainstream success by switching to more commercial sound and appealing to the wider audience. Bassivity and later Bassivity Digital have been the biggest regional hip-hop recording labels.


Exit is a summer music festival which is held at the Petrovaradin Fortress in the city of Novi Sad, officially proclaimed as the "Best Major European Festival" at the EU Festival Awards. Other festivals include Belgrade Beer Fest in Belgrade, Gitarijada in Zaječar, Nišville in Niš and Guča Trumpet Festival in Guča.

In the town of Guča, near the city of Čačak is an annually held brass band festival called Guča trumpet festival in the Dragačevo region of western Serbia with 600,000 visitors per year. Other popular festivals include Rock festivals Belgrade Beer Fest and Gitarijada, and Jazz festival Nišville.

See also


  1. ^ Đurić-Klajn 1972.
  2. ^ Đurić-Klajn 1972, p. 7-20, 28-38.
  3. ^ Jakovljević 1984, p. 69-82.
  4. ^ Pejović 1995a, p. 133-136.
  5. ^ Pejović 2013.
  6. ^ Milošević-Đorđević 1995, p. 147-163.
  7. ^ Pejović 1995b, p. 243-254.
  8. ^ "Stevan Mokranjac, composer". Serbian Music. Serbian Unity Congress. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2013-09-22. Even though many say that the stimulus Mokranjac gave to Serbian music was more important than his compositions, many musicians who sing or listen to his works state that the true Mokranjac is exemplified in the Song Wreaths. ... From the moment they were composed, Mokranjac's Song Wreaths played an important role in singing societies.
  9. ^ Serbian and Greek Art Music: A Patch to Western Music History, p. 81, at Google Books
  10. ^ Tomić, Dejan (2019). Srbi i evropski kompozitori: srpska muzika i Srbi u delima evropskih kompozitora, od XIX do početka XXI veka. Novi Sad: RTS. ISBN 978-86-6195-173-2, 978-86-81086-31-5
  11. ^ Johanning, Wolfgang Franz Wilhelm (2019). Music and War: Imperial Propaganda and German Patriotism in Wartime Secular Vocal Works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber (Master of Music). University of Kansas.
  12. ^ Brusatti, Otto (1999). Johann Strauss: unter Donner und Blitz. Museen der Stadt Wien. p. 241. ISBN 9783852021416.
  13. ^ Steen, Michael (2014). Tchaikovsky: The Great Composers. Icon Books Ltd. ISBN 9781848318021.
  14. ^ Cvetković, Sonja (2019). "Sinestezija vizuelnog i muzičkog - Vićentije Petrik - Marš Miloša S. Milojević". Baština. 48: 387–397. doi:10.5937/bastina1948387C.
  15. ^ Todorov, Svetoslav (2015). Pancho Vladigerov’s Bulgarian Rhapsody Vardar and the question of national style (Master of Music). University of Edinburgh.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-02. Retrieved 2011-06-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Počeci džeza u Jugoslaviji
  18. ^ "Nišvil": Džindžer Bejkeru uručena nagrada "Šaban Bajramović"


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