Creating Art Song in the South Slav Territories (1900-1930s): Femininity, Nation and Performance

Verica Grmusa

PhD, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2018

mup01vg@gold.ac.uk

In this thesis I explore a double life of art song as a work of art and a symbol of newly emerging Yugoslav identity in the South Slav territories during the first three decades of the twentieth century. I examine this repertory as performance, through activities of two leading sopranos, Maja Strozzi-Pečić(1882-1962) and Ivanka Milojević (1881-1975). They collaborated with composers Petar Konjović(1883-1970) and Miloje Milojević (1884-1946), respectively, to create the repertory and establish its concert tradition. Aiding this was Bela Pečić(1873-1938), Strozzi-Pečić’s husband-accompanist.

By analysing the repertory’s creation in the context of nation-building in Yugoslavia I identify the two sopranos as ‘patriots’ – bearers of national identity. I argue they legitimized this body of work as ‘national’ high art in performance. Key performative factors in this process were gender, high vocal technique and language, and in the case of Strozzi-Pečić the star factor. As ideal female types, they harmonized and synthesized different traditions, ethnicities, religions and languages through the power of their voices. 

The two sopranos’ contrasting vocal practices: that of an opera star and an exclusively chamber singer, engendered two distinctive bodies of repertories. They shaped the composers’ vocal lines and influenced their choice of topics and traditional musical elements, resulting in Konjović’s penchant for sevdalinkatradition and Milojević’s focus on mother-figure characters.  I adopt the form of lecture recital as part of original practice tradition to retell the story of the repertory’s creation as a story of two women as authors. Rather than recreating their vocal practices, I draw on the power they had as creators to give a new reading of this repertory. I restore the unifying vision that infused this music and highlight its message for today’s audiences: the empowerment of a performer through national song for post-national aspirations.