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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Croatia has had a lively compositional history in the 20th century, even if few of its composers are known elsewhere. Classical Croatian music dates back to Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854), but the major figure of the 19th and early 20th centuries was the very prolific Ivan Zajc (1832-1914, and also known as Giovanni von Zaytz), best known for his operas in a grand Romantic style, often with Croatian subjects: the most famous is Nikola Šubiç Zrinjski op.430 (1876), describing the defence of Siget against the Turks by the hero in 1566, a tuneful, and colourful work under the stylistic wing of Verdi. Opera predominated at the turn of the century, mainly because of the success and standards of the Zagreb Opera, founded in 1870. Modern Croatian opera began with Ogani (Fire, 1911) by Blagoje Bersa (1873-1934), using a continuous style with leitmotifs influenced by Wagner, married to the influence of Puccini, which has claims to be the first 20th-century opera dealing with factory workers and the proletariat. Of the many subsequent Croatian operas, the best known is probably the comic Ero s onoga svijeta (Ero the Joker, 1935) by Jakov Gotovac (1895-1982), who conducted the Zagreb Opera from 1923 to 1958.

Croatian composition in other genres, such as chamber music and symphonies, dates from the end of the First World War, and that generation of composers can be divided between those using Croatian and other local folk-music and those more influenced by new styles elsewhere in Europe. Among the former were Antun Dobronić (1879-1955), Gotovac, Krešimir Baranović (1894-1975), best known for his folk-ballet Licitarsko srce (Gingerbread Heart, 1924) but who pioneered Croatian symphonic music, and Ivan Brkanović (born 1906), whose output includes five symphonies. The more cosmopolitan composers include Stjepan Šulek (born 1914), whose neo-classical works include six symphonies, three Classical Concertos, and the opera Coriolanus (1957), based on Shakespeare's play, which contains an interlude constructed as a triple fugue based on the themes of the three main characters. Boris Papandopulo (born 1906) also adopted a neo-classical style with abstract forms, notably in the Sinfonietta (1939), but has also written operas, including Rona (1955), whose main characters are beggars, and ballet, including Qo + H3 + H2 = He4 + n + Q (1965) which is the formula of the first stage of a nuclear explosion.

That broad division continued after the establishment of communist Yugoslavia, for Yugoslavia was one of the few communist states allowing a freedom of musical style, influence, and expression, and the Zagreb Biennial, founded in 1971, has become an important forum for modern European works. The communist themes have been most overt in the choral music (including, for example, the later choral works of Papandopulo) and in opera. The two most important composers of modern Croatian music have been Ivo Malec (born 1975), who settled in Paris in 1959 but has maintained close contact with his home country, and Milko Kelemen (born 1924), one of the founders of the Biennial, who moved to Germany in 1970. Kelemen started in a neo-classical style, but after studying in Paris he introduced serial and avant-garde techniques to Croatia; the Tri plesa (Three Dances, 1956) for viola and strings attempts to merge folk-music and 12-tone technique. His Concerto Improvisations (1955) for strings, which uses continuous variations, was once widely heard, while Equilibrium (1961) for two orchestras explored unusual colours and stereophonic effects, with stone and metal objects in addition to conventional instruments. Sub Rosa (1965), in which Kelemen went beyond the serial techniques he had been using, was originally for a small instrumental group, but was extended by the appearance (in mid-performance) of an enlarged orchestra, with amplification effects. Among his vocal works, the cantata Les Mots (The Words, 1956) is based on Sartre, in which television is used both to transmit the stage but also to add commentary of its own, while the opera Novi stanar (The New Tenant, 1964) is to a theatre-of-the-absurd libretto by Ionesco. His music needs to be more widely disseminated.

The Yugoslav Music Centre (SOKOJ) was carrying information on Croatian composers (see under Yugoslavia); the current position is unclear.




MALEC Ivo (originally Maleć)

born March 30th 1925 at Zagreb


Malec is, with Milko Kelemen (born 1924), the Croatian composer best known outside the country, and the one who most comprehensively embraced the avant-garde, studying in Paris, settling there permanently in 1959 (while maintaining close contacts with the then Yugoslavia), and 1960 becoming a member of the Groupe de Recherche Musicales of French Radio (O.R.T.F.).

Starting with Mavena (1957), many of his early works were electronic, and often musique concrète. Among these is the Dahovi II (Breaths II, 1961), an effective score combining electronics with musique concrète reworkings of actual instruments, set against the breathing effects of the title, and with spatial qualities creating a varied sense of distance; it has a story-telling vividness. He then combined electronics with conventional forces in a number of works, notably the short Tutti (1962) for orchestra and tape, and in Cantate pour elle (1960) for soprano, harp and tape. Colour has played an important role in Malec's non-electronic works. Each of the five movements of the ballet Makete (Models, 1956) for seventeen solo instruments is associated with a different colour. Mouvements en couleur (1959) for the unusual combination of woodwind, brass, percussion, and nine cellos, explores gradually changing instrumental colours, interrupted by harsher ideas. Miniatures for Lewis Carroll (1964) for chamber orchestra is a tribute to the author of `Alice in Wonderland', with material transformations analogous to those in Alice's world. Cantata pour elle (1966) for soprano, harp and magnetic tape combines three layers: tape transformation of pre-recorded harp sounds, the live harp, and the solo voice, using extended techniques in all three and with the vocal line concentrating on emotional sounds rather than words. The generally ecstatic tone is enlivened by the effect of discrete use of sound `objects' in the electronic transformation, with an imaginative and delicate slow section.

Oral (1966-1967) uses the combination of reciter and orchestra, popular in the 19th century, but unusual in contemporary music. It is based on sections and fragments drawn by the composer from André Breton's Nadja, creating a Kafkaesque verbal montage of idea and surrealist incident. The presence of the reciter combines the rhythmic and declamatory effects of sound-poetry with an orchestration whose sounds are drawn from Malec's earlier electronic experience. The resultant synthesis is reinforced by the close match of the orchestra to verbal incident or mood, and the work has more than mere curiosity value. In the pulsating Arco 11 (1975) for eleven solo strings Malec applied his experience of electronic sonorities and effects to a string group, drawing from them an impressive range of sounds that nonetheless remain firmly within the string tradition. It opens with the energy and drive of a Minimalist piece, and shifts into an ethereal slow section of overlapping sonorities (layering harmonic effects) and gentle slides that emerge and die away, often with considerable beauty; the following frenetic section of fragmented string layers is gradually but not conclusively resolved as the instruments are reduced to thinner and thinner textures. This powerful, ultimately enigmatic piece is highly recommended. A similar extension of sonorities occurs in Ottava Bassa (1983-1984) for double-bass and large orchestra, extending the expressive range of the solo instrument with a number of extended techniques, set against largely dark-hued massed effects from the orchestra.

Malec has been a professor at the Paris Conservatoire since 1972.


works include:

- Examples, Miniatures pour Lewis Carol, Mouvements en couleur, Pokreti u boji, Sigma and Strukturen for orch.; Tutti for orch. and tape; Arco-11 and Arco-22 for strings; Lumina for 12 instruments and tape

- Ottava Bassa for double-bass and orch.; Sequences for vibraphone and strings

- Echos for ten instruments; Miniatures pour Lewis Carol, Noyaux-minute and Tri steća for chamber forces

- piano sonata; Dialog for piano

- Cantata pour elle for soprano, harp and tape; Oral for reciter and orch.; other works for voice including Dodecameron, Victor Hugo un contre nous and Vox, Vocis, f.

- ballets Apprendre à marcher and Makete (Models); dance play Prije doručka (Before Breakfast)

- electronic Carillon choral, Dohavani I et II, Luminétudes, Mavena, Recitativo, Reflets, Spot, Structures, Triola ou Symphoniie pour moi-même and Week-End


recommended works:

Arco II (1975) for eleven solo strings

Cantata pour elle (1966) for soprano, harp and magnetic tape

electronic Dohovi II (1961)

Oral (1966-1967) for reciter and orchestra




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