Music of Croatia

Music of Croatia
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The music of Croatia, like the divisions of the country itself, has two major influences: the Central European one, present in the central and northern parts of the country, as well as in Slavonia, and the Mediterranean one, particularly present in the 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.

From the mid-20th century onwards, schlagers 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 do 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 Glagolihic chant).

Petar Hektorović (1487-1572)

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.

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).

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 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.[1] 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.

Croatian National Theatre

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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[2]

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.[2]

Folk music

Traditional Croatian musicians play for Mrs. Laura Bush on April 7, 2008 in Zagreb.

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


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 its 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.

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. In the past, it was not unusual for both Catholic and Muslim men to perform ganga together.


A Klapa group at a concert in Zagreb

The klapa music is a form of a cappella singing that first appeared in littoral Croatia during the middle of the 19th century.[3] 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"[4] and the pop/klapa song "Kako ću joj reć' da varin" by klapa Dvd-a Žrnovnica Sv. Florijan,[5] which won the Split Song Festival in 2010.


Bisernica, a traditional taburitza instrument

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.

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 than 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.


A traditional gusle instrument from Dalmatia

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

An accordion on display in Zagreb.

The folk music of Zagorje, an area north of Zagreb, is known for small orchestras consisting of Violins, Cimbule, Tamburice and Harmonike. The Tamburitza is the national Croatian instrument. It 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 up beat songs.

Several sopila instruments.

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.

Popular music


The pop music of Croatia generally resembles the canzone music of Italy, while including elements of the native traditional music. Croatian record companies produce a lot of material each year, if only to populate the numerous music festivals. Of special note is the Split festival which usually produces the most popular summer hits.

Seasoned pop singers in Croatia include: Meri Cetinić, Mišo Kovač, Ivo Robić, Vice Vukov, Milan Bačić, Arsen Dedić, Zdenka Vučković, Darko Domjan, Tereza Kesovija, Gabi Novak, Ivica Šerfezi, Oliver Dragojević, Tomislav Ivčić, Doris Dragović, Radojka Sverko, Maja Blagdan, and many others. Also, the groups Magazin and Grupa 777 have had sustained careers.

In more recent times, younger performers such as Severina, Gibonni, Marko Perković/Thompson, Toni Cetinski, Divas, E.N.I., Lvky, Danijela, Antonija Šola and many others have captured the attention of the pop audience. Each of them have successfully blended various influences into their distinct music style. For example, Thompson's songs include traditional epic themes from the Dinaric regions; Severina threads between Croatian pop and a folk sound.

Croatian pop music is fairly often listened to in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia due to the union of Yugoslavia that existed until the 1990s. Conversely, Bosnian singers like Dino Merlin and Serbian Đorđe Balašević have an audience in Croatia, as well as some others. More recently the Turbo folk - frowned upon by the establishment some music critics and social commentators - has been popular amongst some sections of Croatian youth. A general resentment to Turbo folk remains as it is not broadcast on state radio and TV. Where on private outlets it may be transmitted, it normally triggers a strong negative reaction from those not liking it.

Croatia is a regular contestant on the Eurovision Song Contest. Back in Yugoslavia, Croatian pop group Riva won the contest in 1989. Some of the other Croatians who performed on the ESC include Danijel Popović, Put, Boris Novković and Claudia Beni.


There are several rather popular and long-lasting mainstream rock acts like Parni Valjak, Prljavo Kazalište, Crvena Jabuka, Atomsko Sklonište etc. They originated in the 1970s and 1980s, and for the better part of their career resorted to a more mellow, mainstream pop-rock sound. Of some note is also the Sarajevo school of pop rock which influenced many of these bands, and which also included singers like Željko Bebek who later worked in Croatia.

However, Croatian New Wave (Novi Val) movement, which exploded in 1979/80 and lasted throughout the eighties, is considered by many to be the high watermark of Croatian rock music, both in terms of quality and commercial success. The most influential and popular bands of Novi val were Azra, Haustor, Film, even early Prljavo Kazalište. Other notable acts were Animatori, Buldožer, Paraf, Patrola etc.

In the late 1980s, the region of Istria became home to a kind of called Ča-val, which often used the Čakavian dialect and elements of traditional Istra-Kvarner music.

The New Wave scene has collapsed by the end of the eighties, to be replaced by the newcomers like Daleka Obala, Majke and Laufer. While Daleka Obala sported a pop-rock sound influenced by Novi val, Croatian pop and even Dalmatian folk, Majke were a back-to-basics, garage-rock act stylistically influenced by bands like the Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, as well as their Serbian counterparts Partibrejkers. Laufer, led by Damir Urban (who later went on to form Urban & 4), were an early nineties alternative rock band taking their cue from the grunge movement.

Let 3 and KUD Idijoti are also prominent rock acts, popular both for their music and their interesting, often controversial, performances and stunts.

Beginning in the late 1980s, folk-rock groups also sprouted across Croatia. The first is said to be Vještice, who combined Međimurje folk music with rock and set the stage for artists like Legen, Lidija Bajuk and Dunja Knebl. At the same time on the other side of Croatia, in Istria, a band called Gustafi started playing their own strange amalgamate of rock and Istrian folk, but it took them more than a decade to reach the nationwide audience.

The Split metal band Osmi Putnik has also been a success in Croatia and still are today and are also popular in other ex-yugoslav republics

The Sisak surf rock band The Bambi Molesters has in the past years gained sizeable international fame and are often touted as one of the best surf-rock acts in the world today.

Alternative rock/metal band Father have had success with their first album inspirita in countries like the UK, and have toured with bands like Korn, Anthrax and Apocalyptica.


Dance music in Croatia was an offspring of the local pop music and more Western influences. It developed during the late 1980s and early 1990s, picking up on the trends such as euro disco and eurodance. It also spawned a wave of electronic music artists, mostly house, techno and trance.

The singer Vanna rose to prominence through the dance trio E.T., and the music of Vesna Pisarović has a fair bit of dance beat.

Although E.T. still operates, they've changed singers several times and lost in popularity. The band Colonia is perhaps the only one that rode the dance wave of the '90s and today is one of the most popular performers in Croatia.


The 1990s were marked by the emergence of Croatian rap music. The Ugly Leaders released the first ever Croatian Hip-Hop album, and gained a strong following in and around Rijeka. In 1991, the Croatian Liberation Front released two widely popular protest singles. The first rap band to gain widespread and lasting acclaim was The Beat Fleet (TBF) from Split, whose members took inspiration from harsh economic and social conditions of war-torn Dalmatia, not that different from American inner cities. Their act was followed by multitude of artists and groups in Zagreb, taking inspiration from American gangsta rap. The Zagreb rappers Bolesna Braća (also called Sick Rhyme Sayazz) and Tram 11 became particularly popular, and to an extent also the duo Nered & Stoka.

The Croatian rap gained much from the fact Edo Maajka, a Bosnian rapper, signed on to a label in Zagreb. Recently a rapper known as Shorty gained a lot of popularity by having songs with strong regional flavour of his native Vinkovci. The Zagreb band Elemental also burst into the scene featuring one of the few Croatian female rappers.

Also the most popular rap/hip-hop group in Croatia is Connect. They are still very popular group all over the Balkan and Europe. Connect's biggest hits:"Jebena","Prijateljska ljubav","Nebo","Poziv doma","Kiki" and many others.


The tendency to combine different elements also has a long presence in more classical music: the opera Ero s onoga svijeta, written by Jakov Gotovac in the 1930s, blended the traditional music of the Dinaric peoples into a scholarly form and achieved great success.


Classical musicians and compositions by Croatian composers are generally not well known worldwide despite having produced an interesting contribution over many centuries. Influences of style were often taken from neighbouring influences.

Some of the most renowned Croatian composers are Ivan Zajc, Vatroslav Lisinski, Franjo Dugan, Fortunat Pintarić, Luka Sorkočević, Antun Sorkočević, Ivan Mane Jarnović, Anđelko Klobučar, Boris Papandopulo, Ivo Malec, Stanko Horvat, Stjepan Šulek, Branimir Sakač, Igor Kuljerić, Ivo Josipović, Željko Brkanović, Berislav Šipuš, Ivan Božičević, Frano Parac, Marko Ruždjak, Branimir Krstić, Dubravko Detoni and Srđan Dedić.

Croatian society of composers (Hrvatsko drustvo skladatelja - HDS) is the main organization promoting modern classical music in Croatia.

See also


  • Burton, Kim. "Toe Tapping Tamburicas". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 46–48. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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