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100 Years of Tamburitza Music in Carinthia
By Katarina Tepesh | Published  04/16/2007 | History | Unrated
A History of Tamburitza Music in Carinthia

By Katarina Tepesh

New York, March 28, 2007 - During my recent visit to the Austrian province of Carinthia or Korosko, I discovered a long history of beloved tambura music. In fact, well over a hundred years, according to the book, "100 Let Tamburanja na Koroskem"

Tamburitza music greatly influenced Slovenians to start organizing cultural events in Carinthia. It is said that tambura instruments have charm and a strong appeal which spreads easily.

Five instruments comprise the basic tambura family of instruments. They are often augmented with other traditional instruments, such as the violin, the bass and the accordion.

The tamburitza is diminutive of "tambura." It is a string instrument similar to the mandolin that is plucked. Prim or Bisernica is a small four-tone soprano instrument utilized primarily for melody or harmony. The alto Brac is also four-tone midrange stringed instrument utilized for lead, harmony and counterpoint. The tenor Celo is a four-tone stringed instrument used primarily for counter melody. The choral Bugarija or kontra, is a three or four tone stringed instrument, and its function is to provide rhythm chording. Berda is a fretted bass providing the beat. A tambura band is capable of keeping rhythm from the highest timber bisernica to the lowest berda.

Already in 1900, theologists from Celovec/Klagenfurt formed "Tamburaski Zbor Slovenskih Bogoslovcev" and decided that tambura playing was appropriate for informal musicians who could not read musical notes. They felt it is relatively easy to learn to play; the sweet sound is appealing and it reaches the widest population. Along with choir singing of religious and folk songs, tamburitza music dominated as the most important part of the Slovenian culture in Carinthia.

Originally, it was a Croatian, Milutin Farkas, who brought tambura instruments from a region of Croatia, called Slavonia, to Zagreb, and its popularity spread to Slovenia and Carinthia. The first amateur tamburitzan orchestra was formed in 1847 in Osijek, Croatia.

The Slovenians from Carinthia enjoyed friendly relations with Croatians and purchased the tambura instruments which were always in short supply. The first record of a band among the people in Carinthia goes back to 1902 in the little village of Selah, where they organized "Tamburasko Drustvo."

After WWI, during the plebiscite, the cultural life came to a standstill. It was in 1935, when the local newspaper called, Koroski Slovenec, reported a concert with 80 tambura players.

During WWII, the tambura instruments were destroyed along with the library. Most of the Slovenian population was forced to move and work in labor camps such as Frauenaurach. The original tambura organizer, a priest, Janez Hornbock, died in Dachau in 1942.

Tambura playing reached its peak after the WWII, when over 30 tambura bands played in Carinthia. It was especially popular in the village of Sentjanz in Rozu. Somehow, in Sentjanz, they always succeeded to get a tambura band playing despite the overwhelming obstacles. Janez Muller Mocivnek, 1875-1963, is the person who spent his lifetime promoting tamburitza in Carinthia. Even more so after his return from a Russian jail. He loved it when tamburitza bands arrived from other villages like Plajberg, Borovelj, Sentjakob and Celovec, but insisted on forming his own band in his village of Sentjanz, and literary climbed mountains, Vrajnco, to learn and later teach others. At age 88, he liked nothing better than to hear his beloved tamburitza music.

Tambura playing spread to other villages from Selah to Bajtise, Glinje, Podljubelj, Plajberk, Svece and Borovljah. In 1950 they formed a new tambura band in the village of Svecah.

Tambura music blossomed in 1958 and enjoyed great popularity until 1965. In 1980 another tambura band surfaced in the village of Zelezni Kapli. They expanded in 1981 to twenty players and recorded their own cassette.

Hanzi Gabriel, born in 1940, learned to play bass and gradually become a leader and mentor. He organized singing choirs, led his own tambura band, first in Carinthia and later in the Slovenian center in Vienna. Over the years, Gabriel made enormous contribution and continues to be active. He collects tamburitza instruments and old music, composes and arranges, and even learned to repair the instruments.

Another person with outstanding credentials is Ivana Weiss-Stefaner, who learned to play all tamburitza instruments and, in 1981, formed her own band. They recorded a CD in 1988 called "Sentjanski Tamburasi." The book, "100 let tamburanja na Koroskem,"" notes an important event: they received brand new tamburitza instruments.

In 1986, the volunteer fire department in Sentjanz celebrated 100 years of existence by throwing a huge party, while a tamburitza band entertained.
In 1997, again they received eleven new instruments to their delight and often performed at various celebrations.

While old photos show women playing tamburitza back in 1908, it wasn't until 2000 that a first all-female tambura band, "Tamika," reached considerable success.

By the year of 2002, when the book "100 Let Tamburanja na Koroskem" was published, the seven-generation of Slovenian Austrians tamburitza players was continuing in celebration of music and traditions in Carinthia.

Besides sharing a tragic history of WWII, the Slovenian and Croatian Catholics living in Austria, also have in common the love of tamburitza music. For example, among Croatians living in Austria, there are two tamburitza orchestras, "Ivan Vukovic" from Pandorf and "Hrvatsko glazbeno drustvo Tamburica" from Vorarlberg, also famous for having some of the most impressive landscapes of Europe and excellent skiing.

The popularity of tamburitza music in Croatia continues. Dedicated to the preservation of their folklore, annual Tamburitza festivals are held in Pozega, Slovonski Brod and Pitomaca, Croatia. Incidentally, the best tamburica for sale are made of the finest chosen maple and juniper wood from Marinko Katulic, from Busevac, Croatia.

Also, in far away Australia, "Nocna Smjena," tamburitza band is active. For Croatians living outside of Croatia, the tamburitza is a cultural symbol binding them to their homeland. Back in 1905, Croats in Punta Arenas, Chile formed a tamburitza band. But even prior to that date, in 1901, tamburitza orchestra, "Zivila Hrvatska or Long Live Croatia," performed in the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt.

In the United States today, tamburitza music is alive and thriving. It has become central to the cultural and spiritual life of Croatian Americans. It can be heard at church social halls, ski trips, golf tournaments, weddings, funerals, and celebrations of all sorts including during Catholic Mass. It is promoted by the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, which for the past forty-five years has awarded four-year scholarships to talented and deserving student performers. The Croatian Fraternal Union, in its 111-year history organized 35 junior Tamburitzans ensembles, as well as Adult Tam groups from across the United States and Canada. CFU sponsors annual festivals

Also in the U. S., the East European Folklife Center organizes annually an enjoyable learning experience in an informal and supportive atmosphere on the East and West coast

A good tamburitza band has no limits. It can play classical, pop or religious songs. To this day, tamburitza remains a modern instrument, connecting people with its past and present musical capabilities.

Formated for CROWN by Marko Pulji
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  • Comment #1 (Posted by lewis)

    absolutely dyer gave me no info whatsoever.
  • Comment #2 (Posted by Nenad N. Bach)

    We will leave your post for 24 hours, if you want to sign your comment with full name and also explain you comment into details, if something can be updated, corrected etc. Go for it, if you know more.
  • Comment #3 (Posted by Kathy Hettig Bailey)

    My daughter and I have started playing the D Prim Tamburitza. I used to play as a child and this year started playing again for the first time since I was 13. I am amazed I did not remember how easy it was to learn but I did not forget how beautiful the music sounds. I am sure there will be Tamburitza music in heaven.
  • Comment #4 (Posted by Christine)

    I am looking for a music book to learn how to play the bisernica. I have an old one with 5 strings. Can anyone help me?
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