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date: 07 December 2023

  • Rreze Kryeziu
  •  and Visar Munishi

I. Art Music

  • Rreze Kryeziu

In the middle of the 20th century art music began to flourish in Kosovo. After World War II the Kosovo-Albanian ethnic group shared the fate of other peoples from the former Yugoslavian state. However, this period also saw the creation of favourable economic, political, and social circumstances for the professional development of art music as an important aspect of cultural life.

In Kosovo art music emerged from the activities of amateur groups: instrumental, wind, and vocal ensembles that had formed in various cities and that participated in traditional ceremonies by performing folk music. Cultural life was also enriched by performances by church choirs. The dominance of sacred over secular music means that choirs continued to constitute an integral part of the educational and cultural mission of the Catholic religion in its cathedrals (Munishi, 1988). Special note should be made of the church of Saint Cecilia in Prizren, which from 1887 to 1892 frequently held performances and featured sacred compositions. The activities of its choir as well as historical data show that the Austro-Hungarian Empire donated a reed organ which was used for accompanying vocal parts, thus enriching musical expression (Berisha, 1998). The church’s manner of organizing musical activities was later adopted by other cities. Until the 1930s, the choir’s activities constituted the only way to cultivate music of the sacred and secular traditions.

During the 1930s amateur and semi-professional chamber orchestras were formed, enriching instrumental performance and musical life, and influencing the expansion of musical culture. Among these ensembles, particularly important were wind ensembles, in which Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and, from 1941, Albanians participated. Subsequently a number of distinguished ensembles were established, including the Peja Mandolin Orchestra formed by Franjo Vakulin (later directed by Muhammad Belegu); the Mitrovica Amateur Wind Ensemble conducted by Franjo Stern; the Orchestra Hajdar Dushi, renamed as the Orchestra Bajram Curri, in the city of Gjakova; and the ensembles Kastrioti in the city of Ferizaj, Ramiz Sadiku in the city of Prishtina, and Gajreti in the city of Gjilan. These ensembles eventually developed into artistic-cultural associations (Berisha, 2004). For example, in November 1944, the Cultural-Artistic Society Agimi was formed by the Albanian intellectuals Anton Çeta and Zekirija Reksa in Prizren.

The Kosovar musicologist Engjëll Berisha divides the post-war art music of Kosovo into three phases, based on compositional styles, treatment of national folk traditions, and musical institutions (Berisha, 2004).

The first phase, from 1945 to 1955, included the decade immediately after liberation and the recognition of the province of Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia. This period was characterized by the establishment of a professional art music through a national style, expressed by the first generation of composers in Kosovo, in choral works and songs. This ‘national phase’ was also characterized by the opening of the first music institutions.

The second phase of art music in Kosovo, from 1955 to 1965, continued the folk music aspect of the first. However, the composers’ basic compositional inspiration became bound up with the fact that they became educated, professional creators, with clear views regarding European musical trends, despite feeling the need to affirm a national musical identity.

The third phase began in 1965. These five decades include generations of composers who enrich local work with the creation of a variety of musical forms, such as solo and choral music, chamber genres and symphonies, and extended vocal-instrumental forms including opera and oratorio. This period was characterized by an expanded range of compositional styles and techniques, as composers such as Rafet Rudi (b 1949), Zeqirja Ballata (b 1943), and Mehdi Menxhiqi were increasingly alive to developments in Western European art music.

The opening of a school of higher education, including a department of music, in Prishtina (1963) was considered one of the most important events of the third phase (Berisha, 1997). Later, in 1975, the department of music became part of the Faculty of Arts. Widely known as ‘The Faculty’, this served as the basis for forming students’ musical potential and productivity in Kosovo. Simultaneously, the opening of primary schools of music expanded into the opening of secondary schools of music. From 1950 to 1998, primary schools provided only three subjects: music theory and pedagogy, the piano, and the violin. As the work of professional ensembles led to the development of musical life the need arose for curricular expansion. At the same time, students returned home, having graduated from institutions in other former Yugoslav republics, subsequently filling then-existing gaps in teaching personnel.

Through the establishment of musical institutions and education in new music, during the 1970s a climate was created for the development of professional concert works. The 1970s were characterized precisely by the formation of the first fully professional music ensembles and orchestras. Subsequently, these ensembles helped promote a more cosmopolitan musical culture, and this is reflected in support for contemporary Kosovar-Albanian composers, higher standards of performance, and a greater appreciation of music among the public. This has enabled greater integration with, and presentation of, Western European art music, which has encouraged interest in art music in the general population.

In 1975 the first professional orchestra was established, the RTP (Radio Television of Prishtina) Symphonic Orchestra. By the end of the 1980s, the orchestra consisted of 40 to 45, mostly Serbian, musicians, with a minority of Albanian musicians. By the end of the 1970s, the first chamber opera orchestra had been formed in Prizren, and it continued actively performing until 1990, when it was integrated with the RTP Symphonic Orchestra. During these two decades the chamber orchestra left notable traces on musical life, mostly because of the creations of Kosovar composers. There are active attempts to promote young composers in Kosovo today, by the Kosovar Centre for New Music and also by the festival DAM, which now sponsors a composer competition. In addition to DAM, the April New Music Festival ReMusica, now a key event in the Kosovo diary, was inaugurated, directed by one of the leading Kosovar composers, Rafet Rudi.

The Kosovo Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera was established in 2000, in Prishtina, after a process that started gradually with the formation of a chamber orchestra consisting of 14 to 16 musicians. The orchestra today includes Bahri Çela, conductor and artistic director, Antonio Gashi, cellist, and Sihana Badivuku, concert master.


  • S. Vani: Kur degjojme operen [When listening to opera] (Tirana, 1979)
  • Z. Ballata: Gjurmëve të muzës [Trace of the muse] (Prishtina, 1987)
  • R. Munishi: Krijimtaria korale shqipe ne Jugosllavi [Albanian choral creation in Yugoslavia] (Prishtina, 1988)
  • E. Berisha: Zhvillimi i stileve ne veprat e kompozitorëve shqiptare [Stylistic development in the works of Albanian composers] (Prishtina, 1997)
  • E. Berisha: Historia e muzikës [History of music] (Prishtina, 1998)
  • H. Stringa: Historia e muzikes shqiptare [Albanian music history] (Tirana, 2000)
  • S. Shupo: Art Music in the Balkans (Albania, 2001)
  • E. Berisha: Studime dhe vështrime per muziken [Studies and opinions on music] (Prishtina, 2004)
  • V. Tole: Cluster (Tirana, 2004)
  • S. Shupo: Biographical Dictionary of Balkan Composers (Albania, 2005)
  • R. Rudi: Sprova estetike-Muzika shekullit XX [Essays on the aesthetics of 20th-century music] (Prishtina, 2006)

II. Traditional Music

  • Visar Munishi

Kosovar-Albanians have preserved many traditional musical characteristics through which they express their worldviews, psychology, and lifestyle. The traditional Albanian musical heritage in Kosovo is very diverse. Through objective observations and multidisciplinary approaches, foreign and Albanian ethnomusicologists, ethno-choreologists, and organologists have identified specific traditional characteristics and phenomena that were cultivated across many generations for many centuries. Traditional music-making is characterized by specific forms of singing and dancing, i.e. a dance culture that preserves many elements considered to be relics of the distant past. In addition, the use of particular musical instruments suggests not only the authenticity of this culture, but its early origin in Albanian history. This section offers a brief overview of some of the phenomena through which traditional Albanian musical culture expresses its specific identity in comparison to other cultures in the region and beyond.

1. The Life of Children through Games and Songs

Children in Kosovo spend a good amount of time playing and singing, as do all children. Kosovar-Albanian children’s everyday games and songs represent a diverse and rich heritage, which is of great interest to researchers. There are many singing and dancing styles, which separately or jointly comprise the repertoire of traditional children’s music in Kosovo. Games are usually accompanied by folk songs enriched by colourful gestures and movements of hands and legs. The most specific ones are, among others, rhythmic rhymes (numëroret), humorous folk songs, and hand-clapping songs. A few ethnomusicologists, including Munishi (1996), classify children’s games and songs into three categories: rhythmic rhymes, melodized children’s songs, and various games recited or chanted.

Shepherdess songs, known as ‘finger throat songs’, are very specific to Kosovo’s rich traditional music, performed by shepherd girls younger than 14. Their main characteristic is a utilitarian function, i.e. communication across considerable distances. A vibrating sound is realized by putting the finger against the throat, resulting in a very interesting and distinct way of singing. The realization of the song is characterized by a free rhythm, a narrow ambitus, a chromatic scale, unspecified high pitches, monophonic or homophonic textures, and many other characteristics (Munishi, 2001).

Shepherd girls usually chant these types of songs while chasing their herds. According to Munishi (1979), such songs have a double function: shepherdesses entertain themselves with such songs while grazing their herds alone in the fields; and they make contact with other shepherdesses over long distances. Such verbal-musical contacts, according to Munishi (ibid.), have different characteristics depending on the relationships that exist among the shepherd girls themselves. Sometimes, they express the love and admiration they feel for each other, while at other times they reflect difficult relationships between them. The themes of such songs are related to the everyday events that typically occur while tending their herds. However, one also encounters them in relation to other forms of agriculture, and especially the cultivation of watermelons.

1. Finger throat songs

(photo by Visar Munishi)

Besides various games and songs, Kosovo children also play simple musical instruments, or pre-musical instruments, as categorized by the ethnomusicologists Sokoli and Miso (1991). During spring time, children use willow tree branches to produce seasonal instruments, such as whit-horns (borazani or barazaku), sallow pipes, reed pipes from hollow stalks (such as pipilia made of dandelion flower), rrokatake, and many other traditional music instruments. Many of the names of these children’s instruments come from the onomatopoeic sounds they produce.

2. Rrokatake and borizani

(photo by Visar Munishi)

2. Songs and Laments of Albanian Women

Until recently Albanian women lived in patriarchal families. They were, in a way, isolated and separated from men’s activities and lifestyles. However, this mode of living, unfavourable in many respects, greatly influenced their creativity and innovation, which were closely linked to other life events. Children received their basic education from women, i.e. their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, etc. Care for children starts in babyhood, i.e. with women chanting lullaby songs to their babies, which is a widely accepted and developed genre in traditional folklore. From the textual perspective, the lullabies represent an objective reality of social life more generally, and of women’s life in particular – a happy and joyful childhood, early working years during adolescence, matrimonial life (including engagements and marriages), and, above all, an uninterrupted continuity of the family (Fetiu, 2012). Women’s melodies are not so developed because they are mainly improvised; however, there are cases in which their melodies are typical for a specific region. Lullabies are chanted in closed spaces, unaccompanied by any musical instruments, following the rhythm and swinging of the baby’s cradle.

A substantial repertoire of girls’ songs, i.e. before marriage, consists of songs dedicated to various daily activities and those related to popular festivals and important annual dates. This body of songs was known as ‘seasonal songs’ (kënget e motmotit), which were widely present in Kosovar-Albanian folklore. However, they have started to disappear due to socio-economic changes in the country. One encounters various names attached to such songs, including ‘songs on the day of Saint George’ (këngë Shën Gjergji), summer ‘day songs’ (ditët e Verës), and ‘songs for buzëm’ (këngë buzmi), etc. It is to be noted that such songs are also chanted by children before they reach the age of puberty.

Wedding songs, among the richest categories of Kosovo’s traditional music, play a crucial role in this important ritual, in which the central figures, and the subject matter, are naturally the bridegroom and the bride. These songs are widely distributed throughout Kosovo. However, each ethnographic region has its own particular characteristics. A specific subcategory of these songs is the ‘girls’ cry’. The girl getting married cries loudly, while her girlfriends chant, at the same time, different tunes to accompany her crying ritual. Wedding songs are performed as solos, as duets, or as a group singing activity. They are usually accompanied by a membranophone, such as a tambourine (defi), which keeps the beat of the song. Structurally speaking, there are one, two, three, or even more tambourine performers playing in a wedding ceremony. In the ethnographic zones of the Kosova and Dukagjini plains, one encounters monophony, while homophony is common in the region of Kaçanik, and heterophony in the region of Opoja.

3. Women Lament, Men Wail

Among Albanians the death of a family member has traditionally represented two emotional states. On one hand, sympathy is felt for the dead, while on the other, pride is associated with the deceased. Both are manifested in two separate and specific musical forms. Women lament the dead, integrating a melodic texture into their chants; men, on the other hand, wail over the dead by reciting. Women lament in isolated spaces over the corpse, improvising their texts and melody depending on the circumstances of the death. Traces of lamentations among Albanians go back to the distant past. This musical interpretation is a form of expression of a person’s sympathy for the dead: of a mother for her deceased son, a sister for her brother, or for any other close relative. When chanted, laments create an extremely tragic and emotional atmosphere, which occurs naturally given the fact that death itself is an inevitable and unpleasant phenomenon. From the musical perspective, the laments have a narrow melodic range. However, cries, deep sighs, and other expressive forms of pain and sympathy enrich the act of lamentation with a host of musical values. From the point of view of content, laments describe the life experiences and memories of the deceased, evoking the deceased’s ‘deeds’ while alive. All this happens in the very same room where the corpse is lying down before the funeral ceremony.

Ethnomusicologists and ethnographers consider men’s wailing to be one of the oldest musical forms still found today. This death ritual is performed while the corpse is still in the front yard just before the funeral ceremony. However, there are cases when it is also performed close to the tomb in the graveyard. The wailing is performed by friends and family relatives who attend the funeral ceremony. Wails are performed by a single person or a small group of people. This form of expressing sympathy and pride for the dead intertwines the textual content and the performance, in which wailings and other gestures are synthesized during such an unpleasant family occurrence. What is prominent in these rituals is that wailers strike their chest with their fists, always accompanied by the refrain, ‘Oh poor me for you, oh poor me’ (O i mjeri unë për ty, o i mjeri), addressed over the deceased person. Wailers seem to reach an emotional culmination, almost an ecstasy, expressed by face scratching, sometimes until bleeding. Women’s laments and men’s wailings are intended to mobilize the guests to remain no longer indifferent to the death, but to get emotional to the point that they can barely hold back their tears.

4. Men Quake the Mountains with Their Chants

It is said that ‘men quake the mountains when they chant’. This popular saying explains clearly the characteristics of loud singing, which is specifically known among Albanians. Some of the most interesting interpretations of traditional vocal music in Kosovo are the highland songs (këngët malësorçe). Such songs are known by different names depending on the region they come from, including, ‘songs with one’s finger close to the ear’ (këngë me gisht në vesh), ‘songs with a raised arm’ (këngë majekrahu), ‘war-cry songs’ (këngë kushtrimi), and ‘wedding guest songs’ (këngët e krushqve). This type of men’s musical performance is mainly practised by highlanders (malësorët), and it is one of the oldest types of singing passed orally from one generation to the next to survive even to the early 21st century. It is said that such songs are mainly chanted by shepherds, although there are cases in which they are chanted by others as well. It is a specific form of singing, maintaining quite an archaic vocal style, and carrying specific daily life functions. The communicative function of the cry is realized across great distances, as from the top of the hills, and in the highlands. Thanks to the long time passed and constant use, such chants have been consolidated into a specific genre of singing.

Two main, basic physical positions are used to perform highland songs: a standing position and a kneeling position. The palm of the hand is always placed over one of the ears. One of the fingers may close the ear entirely during the interpretation of such songs. According to folkloric interpretations, the finger blocking the ear or the palm over it play practical roles, which are supposed to help the singer hear and feel his own singing better or boost his voice to be heard farther afield. Highland songs are sung loudly, with a relatively free rhythm, ornaments, interjections and exclamations, glissandi, and other interpretative phenomena (Munishi, 1987, 2001).

3. Highland Singer, Junik, Kosovo, 2003

(photo by Visar Munishi)

Another repertoire of men’s traditional song are ‘war-cry songs’ (këngët kreshnike), which are known for their lengthy lyrics and melody, with the singer accompanied by a single string lute. The most well-known war-cry songs are those dedicated to the legendary heroes Muja and Halili, and Gjergj Elez Alia.

Many men’s epic and historic songs are performed as part of the rites, customs, traditions, and social life of Kosovo. Weddings and family celebrations, including casual gatherings, are arenas where popular musicians perform their songs. Accompanied by the çiftelia (a two-string chordophone instrument) and sharkia (a five-string chordophone, which in rare cases has three, seven, and up to 12 strings), singers perform love or heroic songs for the warriors of the past. Such songs, from the melodic perspective, are established pieces with a wide ambitus and definite notes. They have a regular rhythm and use time signatures such as 2/4, 4/4, 7/8, and 9/8. In family celebrations or informal gatherings, one encounters the presence of other instruments, such as the surla (a clarinet type of wind instrument) and drums (tupani) under whose rhythm men usually perform popular dances.

Other songs performed by men in Albanian traditional music include patriotic songs, historical songs, ballads, lyrical songs, and love songs accompanied by çfitelia and sharki. There are also various types of dances, such as the so-called ‘silent dance’ (vallet e heshtura), unaccompanied by any instrument, which enrich Kosovo’s cultural musical heritage from structural and performance perspectives.


  • R. Munishi: Këndimi i femrave të Podgurit [Women singing in Podgur] (Prishtina, 1979)
  • R. Munishi: Këngët malësorçe shqiptare [Albanian highland songs] (Prishtina, 1987)
  • R. Sokoli and P. Miso: Veglat muzikore të popullit shqiptar [Musical instruments of Albanian people] (Tirana, 1991)
  • R. Munishi: ‘Ritmi në recitime-numërore popullore të fëmijëve’ [Rhythm in folk rhythmic recitals for children], Bujku (1996)
  • R. Munishi: Kosova: Etnomuzikologjia [Kosova: ethnomusicology] (Prishtina, 2001)
  • S. Fetiu: Identiteti Kombëtar në Ninullat Shqiptare [The national identity in Albanian lullabies] (Prishtina, 2012)