Slavko Osterc's Compositional Style and Technique in the Chamber Music Composed before his Departure for Prague


  • Andrej Rijavec



When designating the composer Slavko Osterc, his work and style, international music encyclopedias only consider his mature period. This period began in 1927 after he had returned home from his studies in Prague. However, there was already a large opus belonging to the early twenties which enabled him to acquire the scholarship for Prague. The production of this early phase has been classified in the generalization that it was »in its technique immature here and there, and in its expression more or less romantic«, which is insufficient for a full picture of the composer. Notwithstanding, up to his departure for Prague the composer was able to boast of more than forty compositions; many of these show not only artistic weight but sometimes also surprising compositional knowledge, clear concepts as well as embryos of future development. Two compositions most clearly illustrate these characteristics: String Quartet in a-minor and Divertimento for String Quartet, both written in the composers favourite field, chamber music. The formal principles which the composer followed seem at first glance to be more or less traditional, and so the most logical access to the works would be by way of the symplified sequence: melody-harmony-rhythm etc. However, in consideration of the composer's later development the author decided on another approach: from the less important to the more important. The reason for this lies in the fact that the horizontal line, or rather polyphonic thinking, later becomes the essential characteristic of Osterc's idiom, sound and form. Thus, the two compositions have no special rhythmic interest. The harmonic diapason is wider. It reveals a composer who followed the traditional, although already partly modified, practice of the major-minor system, yet one who, on the other hand, was already seeking models in contemporary music and hinting in some vertical solutions future, sharper sound. One can trace from time to time parallel chords, not used with the intention of creating impressionistic colour, but for contrast, moving in the direction of indefinableness. The lesser strictness in following the classical major-minor principles is shown also in the enharmonic way of writing chords; this reveals the will to loosen the traditional functions of chords in its written form. Chords are supersaturated with seconds. However, the definability of chords becomes indefinable when they result from the horizontal layout of parts; in such cases no »interval« analysis is of any help; other more contemporary approaches are necessary. It is the horizontal thought, whether a simple figure, a small motif, or a theme, even with melodic qualities, which essentially contributes to the lucidity and exemplariness of from; it occurs in its entirity or in parts, in its original form or transformed. Thus, the composer uses principles of inversion, retrograde movement, etc., which were developed at that time in European dodecaphony; and on a thematic level there is the conscious thematic transformation and thematic union between movements. A further proof of the composer's talent is Osterc's ability to prepare a counter-thought in the »hinterland« which later contrasts with the development of the main thought, which is a characteristic and condition of every organic growth. From the formal point of view the first movement of the Divertimento is a surprise because it proves Osterc's early knowledge and use of the sonata, a form he was not otherwise favourably disposed to. It is known that after settling down in Ljubljana he made use nearly exclusively of polyphonic forms. But, here, we have a sonata which fits the most stringent criteria, in spite of the fact that we cannot speak of two explicit »themes« but only of two characteristic »complexes« of ideas. If the minute, logical, growth of musical texture as well as his clear concepts can be ascribed to the composer's talent, the mastery of the sonata form underlines the fact that the comporer already had a wide knowledge of composition before – at a relatively late point in his career – he left for his studies in Prague.


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How to Cite

Rijavec, A. (1969). Slavko Osterc’s Compositional Style and Technique in the Chamber Music Composed before his Departure for Prague. Musicological Annual, 5(1), 92–100.