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Contextualization of early modernism in Serbian music: Case studies of two works from 1912

Author(s): Milanović Biljana

Journal: Muzikologija
ISSN 1450-9814

Volume: 2006;
Issue: 6;
Start page: 251;
Date: 2006;
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This study deals with the first Serbian oratorio, Vaskrsenje (Resurrection) by Stevan Hristić, and the first Serbian musical drama, Divina Tragoedia by Milenko Paunović. These works are based on two different interpretations of the same theme (the Resurrection of Jesus Christ). They were composed almost at the same time (1912), but separately, with no inter-textual relations. They represent the first steps of Modernism in Serbian music. Hristić’s work follows the French and Italian heritage whereas Paunović’s is connected with the German, post-Wagnerian tradition. In this text we highlight the different intensities of modernity realized by the composers, by comparing numerous aspects of the theme, genre and style with new types of expressiveness and procedures in the treatment of all musical resources. The parallel investigation of the oratorio and musical drama shows the closeness of these two young composers in their musical attempts, but also emphasizes some factors that were decisive for the public presentation of their works. Hristić predicted that the genre of oratorio had better chances of placement than, for example, a symphonic or musical-dramatic composition. Actually, a choir had strong links with tradition and it presented a significant means of potential communication, as well as penetrating novelties into other parts of the oratorio. Due to his readiness to make an effort and to compromise, the composer succeeded in performing his work. On the other hand, Paunović did not anticipate problems in the national cultural system of his time. Numerous aspects of his work, which prevented performance, confirm this. The chosen genre of German musical drama was a very speculative investment in the local musical context. Furthermore, the score was inappropriate for the real reproductive potential of Serbian performers. In addition, an avant-garde gesture was marked by the blasphemous treatment of the New-Testament theme in the dramatic content. These were among the most important indications of the author's unrealistic estimation of potential public reception of his music. Modern works of large-scale genre had no prospects of continual survival on the concert repertoire in the period between the two World Wars, either. This testifies to long-standing problems of national musical tradition, especially in consequence of its discontinued and uneven development. This study of early modernism shows the value of researching Serbian music through different cultural models existing in the system of national art of this time. The network of political, economical and cultural institutions was imbued with modern bourgeois culture, but the struggle for its wider acceptance in the domains of everyday life, self-consciousness, and the mentality and taste of different social groups and individuals, was slow and long. Such attempts have not always and fully realized the particular burden of inheritance, reflected in recent times.
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