Slovene composers of the Renaissance

A central European setting

Slovenian art music was born with the Christianization of the Duchy of Carantania in the 5th century. The people were drawn to the Church liturgy - it included Hebrew and Greek linguistic elements as well as Latin - and from the 11th to the 15th centuries it helped to shape the melodic forms of medieval church songs like the plainchant 'Kyrie Eleison'.

Secular, vocal and instrumental music also flourished in these times. Art and music were important to the Slovenes, it reflected both their original creativity and the influence of foreign cultures in their lives, like that of the minnesingers: and the influence was reciprocal. Oswald von Wolkenstein for example was skilled in the Slovenian language and made use of it on his visit to the country.
But in the 15th and 16th centuries Europe was subjected to processes of discovery, in fields as far apart as the arts and sciences and navigation. Like bread leavened with yeast, the continent was in a state of ferment and growth in all aspects of life - cultural, social, and religious. Change did not come suddenly, however, and in spite of frequent conflict, as between states and religions, divisions in ideology were not always clear-cut or rigid, perhaps due to the multicultural nature of the Hapsburg empire, which embraced Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Slovak, Czech, and German peoples. 

To the south of Austria lay the Slovenian territories of the continent (brought into the empire in the 14th century). Music remained important to Slovenes and production continued at the church and popular level, but there is little available evidence of art music at this time: archives were either destroyed, or if existing, have remained unexplored. Certainly, conditions for the development of careers in music appeared to have been poor - nobles and courts with a strong economic base had been few in number, there was no university and no cathedral (until much later). It was inevitable that outstandingly gifted people would gravitate towards the centre of empire, to places of learning and the courts of the wealthy and powerful.

Such were Brikcij (Briccius) Preprost, made a member of Vienna cathedral's chapter in 1485, and from 1493 its cantor. In 1498, when the court chapel was re-organized, the next person appointed to take charge was also a Slovene, Jurij Slatkonja, born in Ljubljana in 1456. He had studied at the universities of Ingolstadt and Vienna, and on graduating was made court chaplain. The emperor Maximilian I bestowed many benefices upon him, in Ljubljana and elsewhere in Kranj, and in 1513 he became Bishop of Vienna. Slatkonja (also called Chrysippus, Slatkojna, Slatkoina, Slakana) was well-known as a humanist, skilled in various disciplines - literature, mathematics, astronomy, music - and his appointment as head of the court chapel was a sign for future improvements in its operation. To encourage quality of performance (according to netherlandish practice) Slatkonja turned the nucleus of singers into a permanent body, thus ensuring its growth, and as a further incentive provided better honoraries to its poorly paid members. He is the acknowledged founder of the Vienna Boys Choir.
Another emigre was Balthazar Praspergius from Mozirje, master of music at the University of Basle, who also taught grammar and dialectics. In 1501 he published the dissertation 'Clarissima plane atque choralis interpretatio', which displayed his familiarity with musical theory and the needs of liturgical practices.

The exodus which had already begun with people like Brikcij Preprost increased in the second half of the 16th century. Growing social unrest had affected all levels of Slovene society, while the additional strain of coping with repeated Turkish invasions added to the general impoverishment. All this inhibited cultural growth and the cross-fertilization of musical ideas with foreign centres, and although musical production continued in the monasteries, and folk music remained popular, it was insufficient ground for the development of individual gifts.

The growth of protestantism was also an inhibiting factor, although Martin Luther valued the art of music almost as highly as theology. His Slovene counterpart Primož Trubar had been a singer in the music chapel of Triestine bishop Pietro Bonomo, and his 'Catechismus'  of 1550 (the year of Gallus' birth) included numerous songs and melodies with mensural notation.  In the dedication to nobleman Georg Khisl, Trubar wrote with conviction of the power of music, and seventeen years later was to print and publish the first ever songbook in Slovenian,  Eni Psalmi. This too had been achieved 'abroad', in Tubingen, Trubar's exile in Germany.

But while it is true that the reformers aims were doctrinal rather than musical, and their beliefs hindered the development of music as an art, the age was dominated by a kind of universal culturalism that seemed all-pervasive and blurred the edges of ideological religious difference. Thus Trubar's views on the way music should be regarded and used in religious services had some common ground with the resolutions that had been brought down by the Catholic Church's Tridentine Council of 1563 (both condemned the love of ornament in sacred music), while the melodies he adopted for his songbook were drawn from historic Church Latin as well as other traditional sources - Slovenian, German, and Czech. A similar openness to the cultural as distinct from the religious was to be found in ideological opponents, like Gallus, composer of art music, who used Protestant and folk melodies as cantus firmus for his compositions. (several decades later counter reformist Tomaž Hren was also to draw up a hymnal which included Protestant songs, although it was never completed, and Hren had selected only those texts that did not conflict with Catholic teaching).

The broad spectrum of influences was perhaps given emphasis with the accession in 1576 of Rudolf II to the Hapsburg throne. Rudolf was highly educated, a polyglot who spoke several languages, including a very specialized Latin. He surrounded himself with men of learning, and his decision to move the seat of power from Vienna to Prague in 1577 may have been political, or made simply to acknowledge the contribution to the empire of non-Germanic peoples.

Among these were the Slovenes already mentioned, and others like Mihael Volgar (Carbonarius) 'capellsinger' in Vienna (1563-4), Prague and Innsbruck (1566), where he joined the court chapel of Ferdinand II: singer/composer Jurij Knez (variously written Khness, Khnes, and Khnies) from Vrhnika, who also made the court chapel of Innsbruck his home: and Ljubljana-born Jurij Prenner, referred to as Georgius Prenner Carniolus. In 1578 he became abbot of the Augustinian monastery in Herzogenburg in Lower Austria. Also musically gifted, his compositions earned the admiration of court conductor Alain du Gaucquier.

Others remain unknown, mainly due to the custom of Latinizing or Germanizing the surname.


Dragotin Cvetko, Slovenska Glasba v Evropskem Prostoru, Ljubljana, 1991
Dr. Joze Savli, Slovenian Music in its European Setting