Croatian Medieval Music


The oldest preserved relics of musical culture in Croatia are sacral in nature and represented by Latin medieval liturgical chant manuscripts. These sources can be traced back continuously from to the 11th century on, connecting musical tradition in Croatian regions with the rites of the Roman Church.


In the historical region of medieval Croatian lands, those located between the river Drava and the Adriatic Sea, approximately one hundred musical codices and fragments dating from the 11th do the 15th centuries have been preserved to date. They reveal a wealth of various influences and liturgical traditions that converged in this region.

The only written medieval secular music known to date was found in Zadar. It is a bifolio from a chant book with old French and Provençal three-part chansons.

Liturgical musical codices with their varied repertories, types of script and notations clearly testify to church divisions on Croatian soil at that time. In its southern region - Dalmatia - almost all the relevant music sources were influenced by the Benevento and central Italian cultural and musical circles.

The origins of medieval music in Northern Croatia evolved from the Gregorian chant music written for liturgy and rite of the Zagreb diocese which was established round 1094 by the Hungarian King Ladislav.

The majority of the Dalmatian liturgy and music sources were written in the Beneventan script (the calligraphic script of southern Italy and Dalmatia) whereby the Benevento type notation was used. This testifies to the strong ties that existed between Dalmatia and the south Italian Benedictine circle in Benevento. In the second half of the 11th century the Beneventan chant used in the Benedictine centres of Benevento and Monte Cassino in southern Italy was gradually substituted by Gregorian chant and liturgy. On the other hand, the Dalmatian centres of Osor, Zadar, Trogir, Split, Dubrovnik and Kotor continued to nurture the Beneventan chant all the way up to the end of the 13th century. By that time the Beneventan chant was on the whole substituted by Gregorian chant as the official liturgical chant in Dalmatia too. The main reason behind the long standing use of Beneventan chant in Dalmatia lies in the fact that in these regions it came to symbolise the striving of Dalmatian cities for an independent church and against the territorial aspirations of Venice and Norman Italy.

The most significant Dalmatian Beneventan music sources are: the Zadar (Čikin) Breviary from the 11th century, Osor Evangelistary from the 11th century (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Borg. lat. 339), the Kotor Lectionary from the 12th century (St. Petersburg, Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, F. no. 200), Missale Ragusinum (Dubrovnik Missal) from the late 13th century (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Can litur. 342), the Dubrovnik Beneventan Liturgical manuscript of St Nicholas Feast from the 11th century (Archives of the Ecclesiastic Brotherhood in Dubrovnik), Trogir Evangelistary from the 13th century (Treasury of the Trogir Cathedral).

Beneventan one-part chants notated in the mentioned medieval codices are characterized by a whole panoply of varied musical influences - from the direct influence of Greek liturgy to the music of Roman liturgy. This chant is archaic and extremely ornamental in style.

In addition to the remnants of the Beneventan tradition, the Dalmatian archives hold a number of non-Beneventan musical codices and fragments testifying to the overlapping of influences of various cultures and liturgies in the Dalmatian region. Among them are the Šibenik Liber sequentiarium from the 11th century, valuable proof of the impact of south German chant repertory in medieval Dalmatia. The following also belong to the same group of non-Beneventan sources: fragments of the Košljun codex in which the Normano-Sicilian type of notation was used. A series of fragments written in the central Italian notation, kept today in the Friars Minor Monastery in Dubrovnik, likewise belongs to this category.

As far as polyphonic church music is concerned an indicative trace was found in Zadar - in St. Mary"s Evangelistary ( so called Veccenegin Evangeliary) from the 13th century in which the two-part Sanctus was set to music in a style typical of the first forms of European polyphony.

The so called Glagolitic chant is a specific phenomenon of medieval Croatian music of the coastal region (from Istria, through central Dalmatia to the area round Dubrovnik) and its hinterland which gained recognition in the late 9th century and continued to live in the oral transmission of some of these regions to the very present.

Medieval music in the northern regions of Croatia can be documented from the time of the Zagreb diocese"s founding. This diocese was originally a suffragan of the Hungarian archdiocese of Esztergom archdiocese, and from 1180 under the jurisdiction of the south Hungarian archdiocese of Kalosca. Within that historical context, the first Bishop of Zagreb Duh began his liturgical work heavily leaning precisely on the musical codices brought from the Hungarian regions. Three important codices formed the foundation of the Zagreb church rite and music in the course of the 11th and 12th centuries. These sources are kept today at the Metropolitan Library in Zagreb (codices MR 126, MR 165 and MR 89). The oldest remains of liturgy and music written in Zagreb for use in one of Zagreb churches is the Missale Zagrabiense created in 1230. This book of music is kept today at the Franciscan Monastery in Güssing, Austria under call number 1/43. Written in Hungarian notation it contains the solemn celebration of St. Stephen"s feast, the patron of the Zagreb diocese, and his co-patrons Ladislav and Emeric.

In the following, 14th century, during Augustin Kažotić"s episcopate, a reform of the liturgy and rite including liturgical chant was embarked upon in the Zagreb diocese. In the field of music, this reform brought about the establishment of a cathedral scriptorium, including the creation of a large number of new missals and breviaries written in the Gothic script and only partly notated in the Esztergom Notation. The most important musical relics of the Zagreb Cathedral from the 14th and 15th centuries are kept in the Metropolitan Library in Zagreb. And while the 14th and 15th centuries represented an era of thriving production as far as the quantity of liturgical codices of the Zagreb rite was concerned, at the same time judging by their only partial notations, this period was marked by a distinct decline of notated music of the Zagreb rite. The need for writing down notes decreased, while the first printed versions of the Zagreb books of manuscript were published in Venice: a breviary from 1484 and missal from 1511.

The Church in Zagreb, as almost no other European diocese in Europe, held on to the medieval local rite for nearly seven whole centuries - up to 1788. That year, the Bishop of Zagreb, issuing the decree Regulatio divinorum in ecclesia cathedrali, prohibited the Zagreb rite and ordered the introduction of the Roman rite.

by: Hana Breko

  Litanije Lauretanske (.wma)
  Sanctus. Hosanna dulcis est cantica (.wma)
  Plač Jeremije proroka (.wma)
  Puče moj (.wma)



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