Josip Štolcer Slavenski

Josip Štolcer Slavenski was born in Čakovec on 11 May 1896 as the first child of Josip Štolcer, a local baker born in Zlatar (where his great-grandfather had moved from Franfurt am Main), and Julija Štolcer, née Novak.

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Josip Štolcer Slavenski was born in Čakovec on 11 May 1896 as the first child of Josip Štolcer, a local baker born in Zlatar (where his great-grandfather had moved from Franfurt am Main), and Julija Štolcer, née Novak. From his father, the village cittern player and ‘improviser’, Slavenski inherited a distinct gift for music, and from his mother (“living musical archives”), as J. Barlé described her) he inherited a deep feeling for the Međimurje, and generally Croatian, folk music. He completed his elementary and junior secondary education took place with A. Stöhr and D. Simon in Varaždin in 1912-1913. Having failed in his attempt to enroll in the School of Music of the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb, Slavenski left for Budapest to continue his musical education there (1913 – 1916). His teacher there, in addition to V. Herzfeld, was Z. Kodály, who was just about that time beginning his intensive study of folk music with B. Bartók. This must have, at least indirectly, helped to form Slavenski’s own artistic ties with the national musical idiom. After two years of fighting on the Rumanian and Hungarian fronts (1916 – 1918) and his first success as a composer (Nocturne for orchestra, first performed in Zagreb on 10 May 1920), J. Š. Slavenski enrolled as a student at the Prague Conservatory on 16 November 1920. He studied composition with V. Novák and J. Suk and three years later obtained his diploma in composition. His next major musical success came with the First String Quartet, first performed in Prague in 1923 and then at the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Chamber Music in 1924. In the 1923/24 academic year he taught at the Royal Music Academy Secondary School in Zagreb and then moved to Belgrade, where he began to teach at the Music School (now “Mokranjac” Music School) on 10 September 1924. From the autumn of 1925 to the spring of the following year, Slavenski was in Paris and it was during that time that he signed a contract with B. Schott’s Söhne music publishers in Mainz, under whose imprint 12 of Slavenski’s instrumental works and 21 choral compositions appeared between 1926 and 1932. Upon his return to Belgrade, he also began to teach music at the Second Grammar Scholl. In 1930, he legally changed his name to Slavenski – the name which he had used with increasing frequency since his Prague days to sign his work. When he moved to Belgrade, the range of his acquaintance with folk music from different parts of Yugoslavia greatly expanded, and his own music written at the time won recognition and acclaim in the country and abroad (Balkanofonija, Belgrade 1928, Berlin 1929; Second String Quartet, Frankfurt 1929; Religiofonija, Belgrade 1934; Muzika 36, Baden-Baden 1936; MUZIKA 38, Venice 1938; etc.). With the establishment of the Academy of Music in Belgrade in 1937, Slavenski worked first as a teacher in its secondary school (now the “Josip Slavenski” School), and then, in 1945, he was appointed an associate professor, and four years later full professor, of composition.

He died in Belgrade on 30 November 1955.

A hundred and seventy long and short compositions are a testimony of Josip Štolcer Slavenski’s productivity and the freedom with which he moved in his own musical space, working in accordance with the musical times in which he lived, yet remaining himself, seeking and predicting new ways for music. His proposals for the future, too radical to be practicable, marked him as a visionary outsider. In the history of the Croatian and Yugoslav music he is remembered as the “Slavenski phenomenon”, primarily of course because of his characteristic composing procedure and less so on the basis of an experience of his music, which – owing to the unordered state of his unpublished manuscripts, lack of modern editions and rarity of the earlier Schott editions – remains far from easily accessible. The research and publishing project entitled “The Collected Works of J. Š. Slavenski” is intended to remove these obstacles to his music and, starting from original manuscripts compared with earlier editions, to revise in a critical light the work of this composer and to offer it to the public in the form best suited to meet the requirements of the modern performing practice.

Eva Sedak © Croatian Music Information Centre

Citation: Sedak, Eva, Josip Štolcer Slavenski, Croatian Music Information Centre, Zagreb 1984