OK, kids, gather around, it’s time for Uncle Kyle to continue your education in Serbian music. I’ve already told you about Ljubica Maric (1909-2003), who was the country’s leading modernist composer of the early 20th century, and the only woman to occupy that position in her country’s culture. Nor will I repeat what I said there about Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac (1856-1914), the country’s leading musical patriarch and composer of traditional choral music.
Instead, I’m going to start with an unknown composer I’m totally fascinated by: Ksenija Zecevic (1956-2006). (That first name might be Xenia in English, and I’m sorry I lack the diacritical markings to get the last name right, but the C’s are both pronounced CH.) She was a child prodigy on the piano and in composition as well, finishing her master’s in music at age 21. There’s quite a bit of stuff about her on YouTube, including an interview done with her when she was just 17. She was a brunette pianist then; later in life she invariably appears as a bleached blonde with bright red lipstick and well-emphasized cleavage. My friend Dragana met her once and tells me she was an incredible character who had no filter between her thoughts and her speech, and made her own career difficult by blurting out whatever came to her mind. (Composers who torpedo their own careers even more effectively than I do always intrigue me.) The music on her YouTube videos is a little New-Agey, and I gather that most of her music was for theater and film. The one recording I found in a Belgrade record store (where I bought four discs for about 1400 dinars, less than $21) is her Requiem for Nicola Tesla, the Serb who invented electricity before Thomas Edison, as the Serbs love reminding me. It’s a four-movement work in Romantic style with some minimalist touches, and I offer you as mp3s the first and last movements. There’s the occasional cursory web site about her, but little information, and she died at 50, apparently of heart problems. She looks like a real original.
In less colorful addition I offer you Lullabies for a Better World, Op. 113 for piano (1994) by Dejan Despic (b. 1930), who lives in Belgrade, and Silenzio (1996) for women’s choir, alto flute, bass clarinet, and piano by Milan Mihajlovic (b. 1945), who teaches at the University of the Arts at Belgrade. In the latter I particularly like the way a Monteverdi quotation runs into a Rachmaninoff quotation about 2/3 of the way through. This week I’ll be meeting Serbian patriarch Vladan Radovanovic – painter, poet, composer – who claims to have invented minimalism, and also be seeing my old friend Vladimir Tosic, my favorite of the Serbian postminimalists, so perhaps I’ll have more offerings later. No younger composers yet, but I’m making inquiries. Freed from Turkish dominion in the 1830s, split off from the grab-bag Yugoslavia only a few years ago, Serbia has the feel of a young nation aggressively on the rise, and one that wants to take its place at the world table. The amount of academic activity concerning new music here is astonishing, and the publishers are still idealistic enough to insist that it gets into print, like America in the 1970s. Attention must be paid.