Musical Traditions

The successive colonisation of Istria with culturally differentiated population, peripheral position of the peninsula in regards to the Roman and Slav world and the situation of being a meeting point of Central European and Mediterrenean civilization circle, made the Istrian traditional music to be variegated.
Actually, various characteristics present in the Istrian music are Alpine characteristics (greater amount of tonal music and dance repertoire), Adriatic characteristics (descant two-part singing, part of dance repertoire from Galižana and Vodnjan) and Dinaric characteristics (two-part singing from Ćićarija). Even though to a lesser extent, we also find Panonic elements.
Even if it is true that peasant culture is much more conservative and does not accept thorough changes in short periods of time, but is rather inclined to gradual transformations, with constant attempts of joining new realities with old roots, it is also true that the city was always an attractive spot and had important cultural influence on the peasant community. In that sense the presence of musical forms of obviously scholarly (or half scholarly) origin even in peasant surroundings probably has to be explained, as for example many Italian songs present today in Istria. The music of certain dances is also very similar to some tunes of art music of the 17th century. But it has to be noticed that the latter could again be under the influence of folk/traditional music.
With the insight into written sources, a considerable number of texts concerning the Istrian musical heritage can be easily noticed. While studying the published materials in terms of quantity  and quality, we notice that what is prevalent are mostly poetical components  of songs, and descriptions of instruments and dances, while their musical forms are represented to a lesser extent.

The first evidence concerning the Istrian music dates back to the 17th century, when G.F. TOMMASINI  wrote:
When the masters of the dance assembled, who as a sign of recognition wore coloured stick all wrapped in silk ribbons of different colours, and when the popular dances stopped and the sound of the shawm became deeper, they went to get their loving bride (…) when that was ended late at night, the sound of the shawm was changing into merrier galliard (…)

On another place the guitar and violin are mentioned. A manuscript in which parish priest from Grdoselo describes blessing the foundation-stone for the new church dates back to 1680. On that occasion it was danced to the sounds of the shawm from Gračišće

P. PETRONIO in 1681  also writes about the Istrians who dance during the wedding:

(… to the sounds of the shawm, or the guitar, or the violin; and these musicians play when arriving to the church, and when leaving(the church, they also play while walking in front of the bride (…), and during the wedding dinner (…) they pay the musicians who constantly play or sing during the dinner (…)
In his fundamental work published in 1689, J.V.VALVASOR  mentions the instruments of Istrians with their local names:
The instrument that was used was the roženica (or schalmey) as well as vidalice, that is, a double flute.

In another manuscript from 1777, transcript of trials from the Public Records Office in Venice, the subject was a case of armed assault. Among other, it is noticed that the victim was lying on the ground playing the shepherd’s bagpipes .
Describing Ćićarija in 1801, B. HACQUET  writes about dances of Ćići whom he calls Japodi or Japidi :
Dances of these people are similar to those of Vipavci, that I will describe later, they also danced the circle dance(kolo), during which entire music consisted mostly of the bagpipes (meshin) and hurdy-gurdy (lajne). Double flute is here common also among the shepherds.

In the year 1815 M. BRETON lists diferent instruments that were used in Istria:
Poor masses danced to the sounds of double flute called vidalice. Other instruments were of different kind like the guitar, violin, bagpipes etc.

In the French original, names of the instruments are iudalize, guitarre, violon, musette, while in German version they are Judalize, Leyer, Geigen and Dudelsacke.
Much more specific was B. BIASOLETTO in 1841who basically distinguishes two types of Istrian instruments with the bag :
(…) consisting of bag and three pipes, one for blowing which inflates the bag, the other two one next to another, sometimes connected in one, perforated on the upper side, so that the air going out of the bag would change the sound. Usage of this instrument is widespread in the surroundings of Rijeka and in Istria among shepherds, and it is known under the popular name pive (…)

G. AGAPITO from Buzet, in 1844 published  a short description of the village Peroj. According to him, people from Peroj accompany the songs full of heroic and erotic motifs with the pipe (tibia) and dance to the sounds of bagpipes (zampogna). Even though today there is no trace of the described instruments, nor do the inhabitants remember their possible usage in the past, we find a probable confirmation of the presence of the pive in Peroj in TISCHBEIN’S lithography Perojci u plesu /1842/.

In 1845 an itinerary of H. STIEGLIZ about travelling through Istria and Dalmatia was published. The writer was, among other, present at the wedding feast in Pula, where he had an opportunity to hear:
(…)the bagpipes and tambourine) (…) as well as (…) two-stringed bass, both violins and guitars very well together.

FACHINETTI wrote rather long article about the Istrian Slavs which was in 1847 published in Kandler’s magazine L’Istria. In chapter four, describing the wedding customs, he notices:
Some of the Istrian Slavs invite to their weddings players of the violin and two- {tringed bass, who mostly come from Karnia; but they generally like more players of ancient pipes (…) One player leads, the other accompanies, and as these pipes, in the shape of oboe, demand a lot of breath in order to be played, thus the players wierdly inflate their cheeks and constantly twist in the waist and look as they were possessed.
These musicians accompany the wedding procession to the church and for the whole time play the tune that resembles one ancient song of the Slavs. In this sound the Slavs enjoy more than in any other; it has been known to happen, that even though they had quite good violin and wind players, they would leave them to go and dance to the sounds of their favourite pipes. Even in the sphere of music they are such they enjoy more in an adaggio, called pastorela, that was already played three centuries ago in their churches on the organ (…).

Istrien. Historische, Geographische und Statische Darstelung from 1863 the following is said about the Istrian instruments:
The instrument is the unvaried gusle (one-stringed fiddle) (sic! author’s remark) or bagpipes that can be seen with one or two pipes. In the eastern Istria these bagpipes are called ludco (ludro? author’s remark). In the surroundings of Volosko another instrument is used, called tororo or piferi, that is similar to the clarinets or oboas.

In the article from 1886 about Vodnjan, writer P. A. VITTORI  reports that during the Carnival :
(…) a music is played on the double bass that is sometimes accompanied by the violins and that that music is a medley of several primordial notes (…) as well as the dances that they call baloni (…).
Two years later, always about Vodnjan, G. CAPRIN  testifies that on one wedding feast he saw:
(…) those fast dances, with the sounds of the violin and the double bass, accompanied by the vilotas (…).

V. SPINČIĆ edited the part dedicated to life of the Slavs in Istria in the tenth volume of ”Die Osterreichisch-Ungarische Monarchie im Wort und Bild” .
As far as the dances are concerned, it can he noticed that the dances are the circle dance (kolo) ,waltz, polka and that the musicians:
(…) play in one higher and one lower tuned instrument ( sopila ) similar to the clarinet, or into bagpipes; nowadays you can here and there certainly see the violin.
This was later taken over by S.RUTAR .

From the works of M. TAMARO published in 1893  we have a nice description of a wedding. The writer, after coming to Savičenta, followed its procedure which he describes by far:
(…)the sound of pipes, or better shawm, perfectly tuned in thirds reached my ears. (…) At the same time, a long procession of peasants passes in front of us (…) which was preceeded by two players who blew in full force in their instruments with their cheeks inflated. (I also examined the shawms, that are something like our oboes, without any keys, only with the finger holes for different tones. Mouthpiece is made of two thin reed straps that they make by themselves, very carefully put one onto each other and tied together with a thread. Music is almost always the same and the sopele are, as I said, perfectly tuned in thirds.

In the report from the journey that T. BURADA undertook among the Istrio-Romanians published in Romania in 1896  traditional/folk music is analyzed, and in the enclosure are examples of sheet music and descriptions of the instruments that the Istrio-Romanian people used as accompaniment to the dances:
The chanter of the bagpipe on which they play is double with six finger holes on the right and three on the left pipe. These dvojnice, made out of one piece of wood, are called the mišnicele. The pipe through which they blow in the bag is called garličul and is made of bone.
sopele, which have the shape of obesa, are in two sizes, large and small. Large are 70 centimetres long, some are even longer, and have six finger-holes with which it is played. The small are 50 centimetres long and have 6 holes for playing like the big ones, but at the bottom of the pipe they have two smaller ones. The mouthpiece is like in the oboe, made of reed and is called piska.
The inhabitants of Žejane on Ćićarija don’t have
sopele, they use another instrument called šurle, which is nothing other but dvojnice (…)
The length of šurle is 33 centimetres, but there are longer ones. The right pipe has four finger- holes and the left only three. On the lower part of the pipe there is a hole at the level of the fourth hole on the upper side. Other instruments than these I have not seen in Istrio-Romanian regions.

Generally, materials that concern the area north of the river Mirna are quite insufficient and only in 1901 a work by G.VESNAVER  about popular customs in Oprtalj was published. The author writes about the use of the violin:
Until several years ago, as in the villages of Italy, a wedding procession of peasants was here also entertained by the musicians who played the clarinet, double bass and violin, or only the double bass and violin, like in the villages near Brescia.

G. VIDOSSI  also, besides talking about the customs of violin-players in Vodnjan, calls attention to some obvious characteristics of northern Istria:
Only in recent times was the guitar used for accompaniment; typical instrument for vilota was the violin that did not only accompany the song but also performed one fast merry motif between the couplets (…) But it is natural that the musical accompaniment was used only for important occasions, for celebrations and patron saint’s days, for wedding feasts. Then the musicians, ”zigozaini” as they are still called in some parts of Istria, would arrive to the village; they played the violin, small double bass called bajs, or in old domestic name ”liron”, and one clarinet with five keys, later also the cornet.

First examples of sheet music related to the Istrian violin are found in the manuscript from 1913 deposited in the Regional archive in Koper. Writer I. BASSICH describes wedding customs in the surroundings of Buzet and, talking about music, also writes down two tunes, one of them a wedding march and the other one the waltz.

D. RISMONDO  confirms, alongside with the use of the violin and two stringed bass, presence of the pive and the tambourine in Vodnjan:
(…) young men, together with the players of pive-fiavola and the tambourine, entertained themselves by singing and playing on the roads; their favourite stops were crossroads and squares where they played and danced traditional dances.

Another example of sheet music was published in 1926 by F. BABUDRI.  It is about song furlana from Vodnjan and in regards to it the author notes:
That dance song is pleasant to the ear and is different from the other beautiful song from Friuli- vilota. Unconditionally, it has to be sung with the accompaniment of a popular ensemble, which is characteristic, and consisting of the violin or pipe and viola da gamba (called like that because it was squeezed between the knees, and it is the transitional level to technique of playing the cello). Viola da gamba, called among people the bajs, today very well replaced by the cello, is played on empty strings, in the range of four notes on two strings.

Between 1933 and 1955 R.M.COSSAR repeatedly wrote about Istrian customs. For Baderna he notes the use of the bagpipe (ludro), but also more contemporary instruments:
(…) on some kind of elevated stage, constructed of four empty barrels on which there is a board, are the musicians; the violin, clarinet, cornet, double bass, which are sometimes joined by ludro, a type of local pipe.

Same instruments were also present in Sveti Lovreč Pazenatički:
At the dawn of the wedding day, bridegroom and his cousins and friends, who were preceeded by four musicians – the violin, little trumpet (the clarinet?), cornet and double bass – set out towards the bride’s house (…) After the wedding, all guests go from the church to the house of an acquaintance who has a room big enough for the dance. The players stand on the podium made of trestles on which is otherwise the bed and there they play popular motifs in full force appropriate for the waltz, polka, mazurka, šetepaši and balun.

Also in Motovun on the Epiphany:
(…) several men, accompanied by traditional triplet, made of the violin,clarinet and bass go around carrying a big glittering star (…) they sing tunes dedicated to the Epiphany.

During the Carnival:
A humble and simple room serves as a dance hall, sometimes it can even be a hay-barn. A classic triplet plays, that is joined by the player of pive, primordial instrument made of fresh willow- bark, so that the sound could be modulated (ondular el sono). The players sit on the table.

Triplet was as a rule also present in the Carnival procession and in the evening different dances were danced such as the balun, kolo, šetepaši, morša, polka, polka špašel, mazurka, waltz, štajer, mofrina, bal de karega.
In Momjan, the manfrina, polka, picpolka, valservien, mazurka, quadrille, czardas, šotiš, balun, šetepaši, kolo were danced and different dancing games like the dance with a chair, dance with a handkerchief, rabbit dance, always accompanied by the violin, two-stringed bass and clarinet. Sometimes were also joined by the ludro, but probably alone, without triplet accompaniment.
In Rovinjsko Selo, also, richer families would hire players of the violin, two-stringed bass and clarinet.
In 1933, an article Sopile i zurle by B. ŠIROLA  was published, which primarily analyses the instruments mentioned in the title. One page was anyway dedicated to one example of the Istrian sopele (or roženice)(conical oboe-type shawm with 6 fingerholes).
In the book by the same author Sviraljke s udarnim jezičkom  published in 1937, folk clarinets are analyzed. From the area that we are concerned with, three instruments are included, one from Brest on Ćićarija, other from the surroundings of Kastav, and third from the island of Cres. In the examples of sheet music there are also two from Istria.

Book by N. KARABAJIĆ (with sound recordings on the record) was published in 1956 , incorporates the songs and music of Istria, islands of the Kvarner and the Croatian Littoral. There are six Istrian examples: two songs, one song with musical accompaniment (of shawms sopele), wedding tune (sopele) and two dances (bagpipe mih, sopele). Everything is accompanied with his notations with examples and descriptions of the instruments.

In 1960, I. IVANČAN  writes about the šurle (bagpipe with a wooden chanter with two single reeds), and in 1963 publishes extensive paper about Istrian popular dances with sheet music examples and notations about the instruments that were used by the Croatian and Italian population for dance accompaniment.

Presently, the Istrian traditional music consists of four different living musical traditions  for which we can only partly determine  territorial boundaries. Some musical styles of certain traditions are part of the heritage of different ethnic groups, and we can similarly talk about bi- or multilingualism in music, as very often individuals are descendants of a number of traditions:

Two-part polyphony in the so-called Istrian scale

This music is today performed primarily by the Croatian population. In mantinjada of Šišan  and singing alla bugarissa of Bale with Istrio-Venetian texts the same technique is used. Some tunes are present performed as songs in Istrio-Venetian or played as dance tunes by the Croatian inhabitants of central and southern Istria.

Passages that make this two-part singing are in parallel non-tempered sixths with moments in octaves. Cadence is always in octave. If two male voices are singing, often the upper passage moves for an octave lower, for third under the leading voice so cadence is in unison. In the first case the singing is called na tanko and na debelo and corresponds to the music of the sopele. Present tendency is to sing in thirds or in groups  and often the second voice is replaced or doubled by the small sopela in octave.
The term “Istrian scale” was coined by the composer Ivan Matetić Ronjgov who was, when searching for the characteristics of Croatian Istrian music in order to use it in his compositions, the first to establish the four scales that were as much as possible approaching the traditional performance. In any case, traditional performing remains naturalistic, with relative intonation which can considerably vary from example to example.
Typical instruments of this music arm the shawms sopele, bagpipe mih, double flute (dvojnice) and bagpipe chanter šurle.

Two-part polyphony from Ćićarija

Characteristic of this style is singing known as bugarenje, wide-spread on the whole of Ćićarija, as among Croatian people, so too among Istro-Romanians in Žejane. The style of bugarenje, which today almost completely disappeared, was never until now systematically studied. Only approximately it could be summarized that here two voices are in interrelations of non-tempered narrow intervals, usually in seconds and diminished thirds with unison moments and long unison final ending, where however one of the two voices lowers additionally for a second or diminished third. This characteristic is otherwise present especially in the Dinaric music, but it cannot be eliminated that bugarenje is an older stage of two-part singing in the Istrian scale.

Instruments that are often used are the bagpipe mih, double flute(dvojnice) and long necked lute tamburica.

Descant two-part polyphony

This two-part singing is characterized by moments when two voices have contrary motion (prevailing) interchanging with moments of drone singing. As all the analysis of this style are recent, it can be assumed that further studying will lead to the establishment of substyles, since the general approach itself enables us to see some obvious differences between different examples. This style is living today in Galižana  and in Vodnjan, to a lesser extent in Rovinj, while it almost completely disappeared from Bale. The common instruments are the bagpipe pive an the frame drum simbolo.

Tonal music

According to the information we have, tonal music of Western origin was in the past connected to northern Istria, the coast and several bigger places in the hinterland. Today it is present on the whole peninsula, and has significantly influenced the older heritage off all ethnic communities. But even among the prevailing tonal music  we can still notice not a few traces of modality, anyway.

Typical instruments are the violin, the two-stringed bass and the accordeon.

Considering the domination of wind instruments in southern Istria, it can be assumed that this domination in the past spread to the north as well. Namely, in these areas also, the greatest number of traditional terms that denote playing is connected to wind logic. In the surroundings of Buzet, common name for playing is sopet (literally blow), not regarding whether the instrument is the clarinet, violin or two-stringed bass (bajs). In the surroundings of Buje, and on Ćićarija, the term piskat is used which, even though it’s literal meaning is to play the wind instrument, is also applied to the violin, tamburica, drum and guitar.
Very often, different instruments hide under one term, or vice versa, one instrument can be denoted with more terms. Pišćala can denote the clarinet, the kazoo, and the flute; roženice could be the sopele (shawms), but also the chanter of two types of mih (bagpipe).
In time, different terms cross from one instrument to another, they merge, disappear and the new ones emerge. This happens not only according to the space principle, but also within one and the same community, even the same narrator who, first denotes the instrument using one term, then claims that it is called differently.

Despite the modernization of the Istrian society, the Istrian music continue to be a living tradition. Individuals often take part in several events, like weddings or spontaneous meetings at local pubs and even more in private meetings, through which they retain or create an identity, offering their resistance to the ever more marked tendencies towards uniformity of the mass culture. But the real public performances are the anual festivals. The many festivals in Istria are the result of many years of work towards popularization. Systematic brodcasting of Istrian music on Radio Pula (with the work of Renato Pernić) that started in 1960′s, and regular folklore festivals held since that period have contributed to a revitalization of Istrian traditional music, so that today there is a growing number of young people playing shawms and bagpipes. Unfortunately, young singers are considerably fewer.