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date: 13 November 2019

Kosovo, §I. Art Musicfree

  • 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, Federal Republic of. 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, established in 1975. 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 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, cellist Antonio Gashi, and concert master Sihana Badivuku.

See also Serbia.


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  • Z. Ballata: Gjurmëve të muzës [Trace of the muse] (Prishtina, 1987)
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  • 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)