There almost does not exist a better way to describe Montenegro than the one to compare it with its music. From a sparse and small space, but rich with imagination and spirit, Montenegrin motif tells the most beautiful story how life of Montenegrins used to be lacerated between long and proud freedom fight, and rare and warm moments of rest, fete and mourn, which were filled with some form of music activity. Sometimes, only with the song, Montenegrins spoke more than many symphonies and operas. Through those small and melodically poor forms, they told a much deeper, and more emotional story than you would expect. To understand Montenegro and to experience all its faces means to meet every achievements and expression of Montenegro. Music, being one of them, will open you new horizons on your way of unveiling our country.
Montenegrin musical creativity had its first expression in outpours of mourn for dead, in a kind of sepulchral songs – female laments, characteristic for entire Montenegro. Filled with great emotional charge, strong words, improvisations, and drama element, laments, beside the male howl, are indefeasible Montenegrin expression of pain because of the loss of a beloved person, which has overgrown into an element of folklore. The beginnings of the vocal – instrumental music in Montenegro are neither extravagant nor mystical. The song of the Shepard, primitive, but the warm sound of fife (reed), patriotic singing of players of “gusle” (Montenegrin national instrument) or simply a song of the shepherdess in the mountain – were the first, but for Montenegrin music most significant melodic expression. Early forms of music playing were a foundation for further development of music in Montenegro, which came to its expression through singing and cultural – artistic associations, pedagogic activity etc., in the XX century. People who opened the door to the further artistic expression of Montenegro were Spiro Ognjenovic, Mirko Petrovic Njegos, and Jovan Ivanisevic, as the first educated musician and the most important Montenegrin composer of his time. Behind them Antun Kopitovic, Antun Pogacar, and the first Montenegrin writer of the symphony music, Ilija Lakesic, have continued the work on creation of original artistic expression, leaving the space for modern Montenegrin composers such as Borislav Tamindzic.
The road which Montenegrin music underwent, from howl and lament to the symphony, was long and hard. With the effort of talented and patriot creators, starting from a relatively poor grounds, Montenegrin music art has managed to stand shoulder against shoulder with other Balkan arts, according to its worth.
First records of Montenegrin music date from 1488., when for a Kotor church a procurement of organs was documented. A swing, in the domain of development, Montenegrin music experiences in the XIX century, when also the entire Europe in hey-day of Romanticism and Enlightenment is finding its specific expression. Kotor, at that time under the Austrian administration, was the first, which felt the need to give swing to its freethinking feelings, giving in that way a faith and an encouragement for freedom. The first singing association in Montenegro was founded in 1939 – Serbian singing association “Jedinstvo” (UNION). Somewhat later, as a part of the association an orchestra was founded, whose members were people from Kotor as well as several foreign musicians. The first female composer in Montenegro was also born in Kotor. Jelisaveta Popovic with a rich musical legacy is counted into the most significant Montenegrin composers of all times. Cetinje, Montenegrin capital, became the center of musical happenings in the second half of the XIX century. In the Girl’s institute special attention was dedicated to music, through various forms of practical and theoretical work, and on of the teachers, Czech Anton Shulc, the first bandmaster in Montenegro, is also know as the composer of former anthem “Ubavoj nam Crnoj Gori” (TO OUR BEAUTIFUL MONTENEGRO), whose text was written by Mirko Petrovic Njegos. Military music and opening of the schools of music profile, even more have strengthen the creation of music awareness in Montenegro, but until nowadays it will remain something that was born from the folk spirit. Musical identity of Montenegro can only be understood if you go inside its folklore and the very people.
With its multiple meaning, folklore as a source of music creativity, attracts not just music workers, but also literates, sociologists… they have all found in Montenegrin music creation something interesting, whether that is aesthetics, national or ethical interests. Enriched with myth, legend, heroism, bravery and limited just with imagination and Montenegrin cliffs, Montenegrin music has survived and remained the expression of the typically Balkan ethnos. Folklore, from which it has spurn, is a wide specter of artistic expressions. So, the music has never been an expression for itself, and it has complementary been added onto to make a recital, a dance, a narration, and even visual creativity.
Folk music and creativity of Montenegro during the centuries was formed under various influences, maintaining all the elements of specific musical expression. Folklore, and tradition of Montenegrin people played a crucial role, but also the style orientation and modern understandings of the music expression were accepted under the influence of the achievements of the European and music of South Slavs, especially. Montenegrin artistic music is with idea connected with the South Slav creativity and it is determined with the folklore, which thematically and with content is necessary for the development of the artistic musical creativity.
When we are talking about the musical expression, Montenegrin folk melodies are of small range and of short form, which according to the texts is incessantly and continually being repeated. Those are patriotic songs. Songs of pride, sorrow, and joy, and they themselves make a strong confirmation of the tumultuous history. Because they originate from village and small town areas they carry differences in them, as far as melody and rhythm, and even in the very melody and the text. With the tune, which come from the village area, the range of tones is in three cords, or tetra cords and they usually end on the second tone of the tone chain. The most characteristic aggregation of Montenegrin folk poems of country tradition is characteristic for its short air of melody. Their connection is strong with the songs of the entire “dinar” area, and their main expression mean is the text, which describes feelings or an important historical event. Laments and epic folk songs, which are being performed, accompanied with “gusle” are the best example of this and similar creativity. The second aggregation is characteristic for a longer melody, which points out the musical quality submitting the text to rhythm and melody. Melodies are connected to lyrical love poetry. They are sung with a larger range of tones, going from pent chords, over hexachords, to an octave.
The first ample data, which were exhibited about the Montenegrin folk music, were the ones in the work of Ville de Somier, colonel of French army in Boka Kotorska, n 1820. His attempt to turn into music the folk melody, even though unsuccessful, is one of the first efforts and contributions to the exit of Montenegrin old music outside the borders of Montenegro.
Vice consul from Greece, Alexandros Leonardos, has left records about Montenegrin songs and games in the second half of the XIX century. First original notes of the Montenegrin folk songs appear in Zagreb, in one of Kuhac’s collection, which represents the first serious approach of study of Montenegrin folklore. Famous Serbian composer Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac noted folk melodies from Montenegro, and the most characteristic ones of them became the structure for his Ninth quodlibet. Vladimir Djordjevic, Miloje Milojevic and other famous composer in the first half of the XX century have chosen Montenegrin music folklore as an inspiration for their achievements. With this they have introduced the original Montenegrin musical expression to the entire Balkans, its true face. This expression was made during the centuries not just with the voice, but also with the traditional instruments such as “gusle”, “pipe”, “reed” etc.
Without the word about “gusle”, not one single story about Montenegrin music and folklore would be complete. As a nation with a long history, Montenegrins were witnesses of great happenings and events through which they have built their existence and their state. The history had to be remembered, great man from Montenegro kept from oblivion, so every detail and event, every heroism and bravery was turned into a song and in that way became a part of the tradition and a legend, which with its mysticism and beauty will seduce you. They encouraged themselves with poem, celebrated, bemoaned, and “gusle” were there to contribute with their warm tone to that solemnity.
“Gusle” are a national string instrument, which originates from the East, even though with time they have undividedly become a folklore element of South Slavs. Ethnologists have found a great similarity between Slav “gusle” and eastern “rebab”, which after the fall of the Otoman Empire, even today is played by the Bedouins all over the Middle east, almost in the same way in which today “gusle” are played on the Balkans. Since the XIX century in the countries, which are inhabited by the Slavs, there are records about gusle and similar instruments, which are played almost in the identical way. Today, the area of the Balkans and Dinarids is considered to be an area on which gusle are played as an original folk instrument , and you will find them beside in Montenegro, in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even in one shape in Albania.
So gusle are a string instrument, of specific shape, which are made in special way. Solely the top masters, who are good in procession of woods, and who know a lot about the acoustic traits of the wood, are making them. For the making of this instrument and almost in any case the maple tree is used, which is extremely noble and beholden for achievement of the necessary shape, further style procession and a quality tone. Only when the master finds the quality material and leaves to be dried at least for a year, the process of making can begin – the wood, which has to be completely dry in order to achieve the desired tone, is processed and deepened with special tools. Gusle is made of “sound box”, which is round, over which the animal skin is stretched – most often goat or lamb skin; then it has the “neck” which is about 40 cm long; and it has a head with a regulator for the tension of the string which is made of about 30 horse hairs. Over it a man playing gusle goes over with “gudalo” (fiddlestick), whose strings are made in the same or at least similar way.
Much more interesting than the technology and acoustics in gusle is the artistic element, which every master implements during the creation of gusle. The back of the sound box, the neck, the head, and the fiddlestick, are parts of gusle on which a picture is being painted or carved, so every sample of this instrument will tell you its own story. Special attention is given to the head, so on Montenegrin gusle one can find a huge number of wonderful carved shapes – most often it is a two headed eagle, like the one from the state heraldry, then the shape of the mountain Lovcen , or the characters from Moontenegrin history, Petar II Petrovic Njegos. Petar I Petrovic Njegos, Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic, and many others. Montenegrin masters often decide to make also zoomorphic shapes, among which the billygoat with specially made horns is dominant, then, they also make a horse, a deer, and rarely some other symbolic representations of animals. They often also make heralds, which themselves carry some messages. The precisely carved geometrical mottles or inscriptions with a message usually dominate the neck. In the back, in the technique of deep carving, masters most often gusle make Lovcen Mountain.
Gusle produce a specific sound – it is a very distinct, somewhat elevated tone, not to diverse and rich, but a tone which has drama strength which is necessary, of course along with the song (lyrics), for achieving the effect on the listeners. The person playing gusle is called “guslar” or the folk “guslar”. He sits in a chair and places gusle in lap, leaning them and holding then with his legs mildly crossed. His left hand is on the neck of gusle, and with the right hand he is playing with the fiddlestick over the wire. The gusle are rarely played alone, without the company of the voice. Usually, after a shorter instrumental introduction, guslar, with a specific voice and signing, is starting the song. Most often those are long narration folk songs, in decasyllable, which speak about the history of Montenegro, as well as about the people who were participants or witnesses of those events. Sometimes it is a legend, and this area, rich with myths does not lack the songs of that kind. Guslar (person playing gusle) has to be a man great trade. The skill of playing is being transferred from generation to generation, in the family, and especially in the village part of Montenegro – north and the area around Cetinje. Playing of gusle as a skill, in Montenegro, is especially appreciated, so often so called gusle nights are being organized on which a great number of people gathers. People playing gusle then are dressed in the Montenegrin folk costume, and the epic poetry with which they are accompanying the sound of gusle is being listened to with great attention – as if people are hearing it for the first time. The very songs, which are being performed, were transferred through centuries orally, until finally they haven’t been written down and kept for all times.
Through the song, with gusle, Montenegro has preserved a part of itself from the long gone days, as few European countries have managed to do that. This makes it even more beautiful and worthy of your visit.
Of other instruments there are pipes and reeds, while in Malesija they also use “sargije”. What is in common for all parts of Montenegro is that with the song, most often in several voices singing together, gives an outlet to emotions. Very musical, Montenegrins, would, in the past times as well as now, sing – someone would start a song, and the others would join him in the refrain. Most often those are the songs in which girls an boys outwitted each others, in which they celebrated the nature and the strength of men. The song for Montenegrins was the weapon with which they encouraged, stirred themselves, and with which, sometime hard life became easier. During the holidays and festivities, gatherings, especially in the north of Montenegro, the gatherings don’t go by without dancing the circle (“oro”) and singing.
Great gratitude Montenegrin music owns to cultural – artistic associations, which preserved the musical folklore mainly whole and in its original form, and then promoted it on every meridian of the planet. With the folk dance, costume and language, music and song are a part of every repertoire of each CAA from Montenegro, so we are warmly recommending the visit to some of the concerts or performances, which are a kaleidoscope of Montenegrin folklore, which is dominated by the dance. As for the Montenegrin folk dances, they take an important place in te folklore creativity of Montenegro. They are very diverse, because for centuries they have been made according to the specific life conditions of Montenegrin people, adjusting to the cultural and social needs. With the creation and development, Montenegrin dances mostly belong to the “Dinar”, and “Coastal” folklore area. Most characteristic are the ones from Old Montenegro – Zetsko kolo (DANCING CIRCLE FROM ZETA), Crmnicko oro – (DANCING CIRCLE FROM CRMINICA), and the dance for two.
Montenegro, what is really interesting was the inspiration to many foreign composers. The opera Montenegrins or Les Montenegrins, of Belgium composer Limnander in the middle of the XIX century was extremely popular in the audience and critique in Paris. Hector Berlioz spoke with chosen words about the elements of the opera which speak about the country on “scary mountains which raise above the Adriatic shores”, and the special attention draw the costume and a libretto which celebrates Montenegrin courage and emotion. Musical drama Crna planina (La Montagne Noir or Black Mountain) by August Holmes, Slovenska majka (La Madre Slava or Slav Mother) by Nikol Stermich, and a ballet Roxana, Montenegrin beauty by Ludwig Mincus are just some of the pieces which were inspired by Montenegro and its citizens. All the works had great popularity, because for the first time they allowed European audience to meet an old people and a state, which for a long time lived surrounded by great forces. Maybe the biggest contribution to Montenegrin music was the one from the Italian composer who spent the most part of his life in these areas – Dionisio de Sarno – San Giorgio. With his Balkan empress – inspired by the work of King Nikola, got all the praises of Italian critique.
In the past four decades few performers of the original folk music stands out with the special feeling for that music. Among them the names of Ksenija Cicvaric and Branka Scepanovic are of great significance for the interprpetation of the female folk music. Zoran Kalezic, Ljubo Sevaljevic, Mirko Rondovic, Zdravko Djuranovic, and Drago Kovacevic are some of the names, which are significant because of their contribution to Montenegrin folk music. They have presented both traditional and modern songs with motifs of Montenegrin musical folklore outside the borders of Montenegro, contributing a lot to its popularity in other Balkan nations. On the coast especially in Boka, clapper music groups are popular, which preserve the Mediterranean spirit, such as Karampana from Kotor. On the other side, the orchestra of Sukrija Serhatlic – Zuti, best represents the honor of the capital city. On their repertoire they have folk music and old town music, which is filled with melancholy and memories of Old town and long gone times. Tambourine orchestra players from Pljevlja and Bijelo Polje are very good, and they have on their repertoire a great number of songs characteristic for tambourine music. The tradition of the choir is very long; in the second half of the XX century a great number of choirs appeared in towns supplementing the work of those from the pre war period. The activities of “Stanko Dragojevic” had a good reception in audience all over Europe. City music exists in most part of Montenegrin towns and during the festivals and festivities they are amplifying that occasion with their music. Especially long tradition has the music from Herceg Novi. For a longer period of time, great attention is dedicated to the music and songs for children and young ones – festivals Nasa Radost (OUR JOY), Zlatna pahulja (GOLDEN FLAKE), and Zlatna staza (GOLDEN PATH) are affirming young interpreters, of whom some with time have grown into real starts of domestic music scene.
Contemporary Montenegrin music
As never before, Montenegro in the past decade has become one of the leading countries in the region when we are talking about the musical expression. Beside the great number of young performers, which mostly affirm themselves through the specific, Mediterranean, pop sound, Montenegro every year opens its doors for music starts from the region. Namely, every summer, two big and recognized festivals for a couple of days gather the attention of the public. Mediterranean song is heard in Budva for already 15 years, while from somewhat northern Herceg Novi, from “Suncane skale” and from lively Kanli kula, a chance is given to younger performers, the best Balkan musicians in the past year are being rewarded, and what is important most of all is that they choose the winner among the experienced starts from Montenegro and the surrounding. Both festivals began to draw the performers from bigger European countries.
Great and refreshing program which Bijelo Polje offers in the form of the Festival of tambourine players, every summer this town in the north of Montenegro attracts tambourine orchestras from Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Czech Republic etc.
The performers who are especially popular in the region, and who come from Montenegro are Vlado Georgiev, Sergej Cetkovic, Rambo Amadeus, Biljana Mitrovic, Nenad Knezevic Knez and other. From groups, especially popular is group from Podgorica No Name, which in 2005 took part in the Eurosong, then we have Perper, Makadam grim, Crveno i Crno (RED AND BLLACK) and others. In the last perod especially active is rock scene; so often in clubs one can hear DST, Autogeni trening, VIS Gorenje…
The profile of Montenegrin musical scene is such that everyone can find something for themselves and for their taste, no matter whether he understands our language or not. Music speaks with its emotion and tones, which maybe in best way will bring close to you the sentiment of our country.