Music of Serbia

Music of Serbia has a variety of traditional music, which is part of the wider Balkan tradition, with its own distinctive sound and characteristics.

Music of the Middle Ages

Church music was performed throughout medieval Serbia by choirs or individual singers. The songs performed at the time were derived from the Octoechos (Osmoglasnik), a collection of religious songs dedicated to Jesus. Composers from this era include nun Jefimija, monks Kir Stefan the Serb, Isaiah the Serb, and Nikola the Serb, who together belong to the “Serbo-Byzantine school”.

Aside from church music, the medieval era in Serbia included traditional music, about which little is known, and court music. During the Nemanjic dynasty era musicians played an important role at the royal court, and were known as sviralnici, glumci and praskavnici. The rulers known for the musical patronage included Emperor Stefan Dusan and Despot Djuradj Brankovic. Medieval musical instruments included horns, trumpets, lutes, psalteries, drums and cymbals.

Sung Serbian epic poetry has been an integral part of Serbian and Balkan music for centuries. In the highlands of Serbia and Montenegro these long poems are typically accompanied on a one-string fiddle called the gusle and concern themselves with themes from history and mythology.

After the Ottoman conquest of Serbia, music was enriched with oriental influences. From Habsburg rule, Serbia was enriched by Western music.

Classical music

Composer and musicologist Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac is considered one of the most important founders of modern Serbian music. Born in 1856, Mokranjac taught music, collected Serbian traditional songs and did the first scholarly research on Serbian music. He was also the director of the first Serbian music school and one of the founders of the Union of Singing Societies. His most famous works are the Song Wreaths, also known as Garlands.

During the 19th and 20th centuries numerous bands, both military and civilian, contributed to the development of music culture in Belgrade and other Serbian cities and towns. Prior to Mokranjac’s era, Serbia’s representatives of the Romantic period were world-renowned violinist Dragomir Krancevic (1847–1929), pianist Sidonija Ilic, pianist and composer Jovanka Stojkovic and opera singer Sofija Sedmakov who achieved success performing in opera houses of Germany in the 1890s. For example, the promenade concert tradition was first established by The Serbian Prince Band founded in 1831, and its first conductor was Joseph Shlezinger, who composed music for the band based on traditional Serbian songs. This was a period when the first choral societies, then mostly sung in German and

Italian language, were being organized. Later, the first Serbian language works for choirs were written by Kornelije Stankovic.

The Serbian composers Petar Konjovic, Stevan Hristic and Miloje Milojevic, all born in the 1880s, were the most eminent composers of their generation. They maintained the national expression and modernized the romanticism into the direction of impressionism.

The best-known composers born around 1910 studied in Europe, mostly in Prague, taking influence from Schoenberg, Hindemith and Haba, rejecting the “conservative” work of prior Serbian composers, seeing it as outdated and the wish for national expression was outside their interest.

Other famous classical Serbian composers include Isidor Bajic, Stanislav Binicki and Josif Marinkovic.

Several notable composers used motifs from Serbian folk music and composed works inspired by Serbian history or culture, such as: Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Arthur Rubinstein, Antonín Dvořák, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Schubert, Hans Huber and other.

Serbian folk music

The ethno genre encompasses both vocal and non-vocal (instrumental) music. Instruments include bagpipes, flutes, horns, trumpets, woodwind, lutes, psalteries, drums cymbals, tambura, tamburitza and gusle.

The Serbian folk music is both rural and urban and includes a two-beat dance called kolo, which is a circle dance with almost no movement above the waist, accompanied by instrumental music made most often with an accordion, but also with other instruments: frula (traditional kind of a recorder), tamburitza, or accordion. The kolos usually last for about 5–13 minutes. Some kolos are similar to the Hungarian csárdás in that they are slow at the onset and gradually increase their speed until reaching a climax towards the end.

During the 70s Serbian folk music started to use elements from oriental music, distancing from the original sound, style that is called “newly composed music”.

Brass bands, known as trubaci, are extremely popular, especially in Central and Southern Serbia where Balkan Brass Band originated. The trumpet was initially used as a military instrument to wake and gather soldiers and announce battles during First Serbian Uprising in the 19. century, but later took on the role of entertainment during downtime, as soldiers used it to transpose popular folk songs. When the war ended and the soldiers returned to the rural life, the music entered civilian life and eventually became a music style, accompanying special occasions such as slavas, baptisms, harvests, births and funerals. In 1831 the first official military band was formed by Prince Milos Obrenovic. Roma people have also adopted the tradition and enhanced the music, and today most of the best performers are Roma. Guca trumpet festival is one of the most popular and biggest music festivals in Serbia is a five-day annual festival with 300 000 visitors.

Pop-folk, colloquially known as turbo-folk, music emerged in the 80s and reached its peak as the 90s subculture during the Yugoslav wars, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. It contains Serbian folk music as the basis with added elements from rock, pop and electronic dance music. The songs are also under the influence of Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian folk music. Although very popular both in Serbia and its region, turbo-folk is often criticised and referred to as distasteful and grotesque.

Pop music

Pioneers of pop music in Serbia are considered to have performed before and during the Second World War. At the end of the 1950s schlager singers appeared on the music scene, achieving great success. Since then, Serbian pop has been under the influence of the western scene. Although quite popular, pop music, like other commercial genres, has always been overshadowed in popularity by folk music. Marija Serifovic is noted as the only Serbian Eurovision winner, in 2007.

As a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was a part, was far more open to western influences compared to the other socialist states. The western-influenced pop and rock music was socially accepted, the Yugoslav rock scene was well developed and covered in the media, which included numerous magazines, radio and TV shows. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia due to civil war, its rock scene also ceased to exist, but saw moderate revival in the 2000s.


Jazz in Serbia appears in the 1920s when it was played mostly in salons and clubs, but it is also known that jazz orchestras toured in spas over the Serbia. This style of music has been present on the radio as well as in specialized magazines. Radio Belgrade started to work in 1929, every night Radio Jazz Orchestra played popular songs. First jazz society in Serbia was set up in 1953, but to the development of jazz the most contributed hosting famous musicians, among whom was Louis Armstrong in 1959 and 1960.

Music festivals

Exit is an award-winning summer music festival which is held at the Petrovaradin Fortress in the city of Novi Sad, officially proclaimed as the “Best Major European Festival” at the EU Festival Awards. Other festivals include Belgrade Beer Fest in Belgrade, Gitarijada in Zajecar, Nisville in Nis and Guca Trumpet Festival in Guca.

In the town of Guca, near the city of Cacak is an annually held brass band festival called Guca trumpet festival in the Dragacevo region of western Serbia with 600,000 visitors per year. Other popular festivals include Rock festivals Belgrade Beer Fest and Gitarijada, and Jazz festival Nisville

Theatre and cinema

Serbia has a well-established theatrical tradition with Joakim Vujic considered the founder of modern Serbian theatre. Serbia has 38 professional theatres and 11 theatres for children, the most important of which are National Theatre in Belgrade, Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, National Theatre in Subotica, National Theatre in Nis and Knjazevsko-srpski teatar in Kragujevac (the oldest theatre in Serbia, established in 1835). The Belgrade International Theatre Festival – BITEF, founded in 1967, is one of the oldest theatre festivals in the world, and it has become one of the five biggest European festivals. Sterijino pozorje is, on the other hand, festival showcasing national drama plays. The most important Serbian playwrights were Jovan Sterija Popovic and Branislav Nusic, while recently it has been Dusan Kovacevic.

The foundation of Serbian cinema dates back to 1896 with the release of the oldest movie in the Balkans, The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Vozd Karadjordje, a biopic about Serbian revolutionary leader, Karadjordje.

The first-ever projection of motion pictures in the Balkans and Central Europe was held in Belgrade in June 1896 by André Carr, a representative of the Lumière brothers. He shot the first motion pictures of Belgrade in the next year; however, they have not been preserved.

The cinema was established reasonably early in Serbia with 12 films being produced before the start of World War II. The most notable of the pre-war films was Mihailo Popovic’s The Battle of Kosovo in 1939.

Serbian cinema is one of the dynamic smaller European cinematographies. Serbia’s film industry is heavily subsidised by the government, mainly through grants approved by the Film Centre of Serbia. As of 2011, there were 17 domestic feature films produced. There are 22 operating cinemas in the country, of which 12 are multiplexes, with total attendance exceeding 2.6 million and comparatively high percentage of 32.3% of total sold tickets for domestic films. Modern PFI Studios located in Simanovci is nowadays Serbia’s only major film studio complex; it consists of 9 sound stages and attracts mainly international productions, primarily American and West European. The Yugoslav Film Archive used to be former Yugoslavia’s and now is Serbia national film archive – with over 100 thousand film prints, it is among five largest film archives in the world.

Serbian-American screenwriter Steve Tesich won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1979 for the movie Breaking Away. Milena Dravic was one of the most celebrated actresses in Serbian cinematography. She has won Best Actress Award on Cannes Film Festival in 1980.

In the early 60s Yugoslav cinema was going through a mass production. More fresh faces in film making meant more topics to be tackled. Number of directors particularly wanted to show the darker sides of the communist state, the malfunctions of the society, to explore the subjects of human body and sexuality. Their projects created the so-called Black Wave in Yugoslav cinema, a period of non-traditional film making that lasted between 1963 and 1972. While directors were banned and forced to exile, their movies were getting international recognition. Two Black Wave films, both made by Aleksandar Sasa Petrovic, were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Three in 1966 and I Even Met Happy Gypsies in 1967.