The Lieder of Slavko Osterc up to his Concert in 1925


  • Tomaž Šegula



The present article deals with Lieder to piano accompaniment by the Slovene composer Slavko Osterc, dating from his earliest creative period, which comprises something more than five years, when Osterc was still a self-taught composer. The Lieder, of which he wrote fourteen during this time, played an important role in a recital of Osterc's chamber works on March 2nd, 1925 in Celje, which closes this extraordinarily interesting, fertile and original period and which at the same time opened the way for him to the conservatory in Prague. Owing to quite a high number of Lieder it is possible to follow Osterc's development in this period well. It is an interesting fact that after Prague Osterc, out of this forty or so early works (besides the Lieder there are three operas, a ballet, seven orchestral works – including a symphony – six compositions for string quartet and several piano and choral works) only acknowledged five Lieder, which he entered at the top of the list of his compositions. In his first Lieder he leans on the romantic tradition in his use of expressional media. Major-minor tonality is completely preserved and the basic tonality is indicated at the beginning of compositions. Modulations are simple, alterations appear rather seldom and a sequential construction is characteristic. As regards form, the ternary form prevails, compounded of two-bar, four-bar and eight-bar groups. The rhythmical construction of the voice part is not complicated and is bound to simple rhythmic patterns which prevail throughout the piece. The piano accompaniment is modest, completely subjected to the vocal part and mainly consists of arpeggios. Although the musical idiom of these Lieder, which display neo-romantic and partly impressionistic features, is quite traditional, a marked musical talent and above all a rich and fresh melodic flow is evident. The most important group of Lieder is that from 1924, composed, with one exception (Armado Nervo) on texts of poems by the Slovene poets Oton Župančič and Alojz Gradnik, where reflective love lyrics prevail. In these Lieder Osterc is at his most progressive with regard to expression; as well as to compositional construction. Quite surprising is his sudden transition from the ternary form, which, he was so fond of up to that time, although it was not always completely appropriate for the text, to a use of through-composed songs. The melodic construction of the voice part springs in these Lieder from a completely new base. The use of the rhytmic patterns prevailing in the first Lieder disappears completely. The melodic line is no longer constructed on the principle of groups of two, four, eight bars etc., but rather in vocal phrases, built up on individual verses or thematically closed parts of verses. These vocal phrases are organically bound together and constitute a continuous melodic arch. The entire melodic flow of individual phrases and the melodic line as a whole only define and intensify, together with rhythm, accentuation and dynamics, everthing which is expressed and required by the text for its interpretation. The most important words and their stressed syllables fall on the highest tones of the phrases. These Lieder become less and less singable, in the traditional sense of the word. However the melodic line even with a marked recitative character is strongly expressive. There is an increased importance of the piano accompaniment. The beginnings of an imitative relation between voice and piano are moulded into a real dialogue in some places, while in others the piano becomes the independent bearer of musical development. The instrumental introductions themselves also lose their identity as a standard prelude, which, we find in the first Lieder, since they mostly take part in the musical action and are no longer just a preparation for it. The composer begins to omit the indication of basic tonality, although the traditional tonality of individual parts of the composition is still discernible in spite of unusual chordal combinations in some places and bold modulations. In the course of the compositions the composer moves from tonality to tonality, so that no one tonality prevails which could be characterized as that to which the composition as a whole belongs. Besides triads and their inversions which were dominant in the first Lieder, chords of the seventh, ninth and eleventh and their inversions increase, while the use of the major with the added sixth in tonic function becomes a typical feature. Parallel chords without traditional functional progressions are also characteristic. However, it is interesting that the composer, especally at the end of compositions or their parts, makes use of traditional cadences, particularly of authentic ones. In addition, the chromatic scales becomes more prominent. On the other hand sequence still plays an important role, especially in the piano accompaniment. In spite of the dominating chordal structure of the piano part we feel that the composer begins to pay more and more attention to a linear organization of the musical fabric. The other group of Lieder from 1921 is based on poems by the Slovene poet Fran Žgur. The text contains simple, amiable pictures from nature and is strophical. In order to avoid uniformity, into which these songs could fall, Osterc again consistently used the ternary form. The whole-tone scale is now more often employed than before in the melodic construction. In these Lieder the piano accompaniment has a more illustrative character which is justified by the text. Regarding harmony, these songs do not exceed the limits of those of the former group. However, in some places we observe a tendency towards chordal saturation which the composer reaches in one of the songs by means of parallel chordal structures of minor seconds which appear on the down beat. In the cycle of four »Bela Krajina lullabies«, the last from the period under discussion, Osterc for the first time takes his texts from the folk poetry of Bela Krajina which assumes a leading role, especially in his later choral compositions. With his musical idiom he was able excellently to capture their character and through them to bring a freshness into Slovene musical creativity. The use of the whole-tone scale prevails and is often doubled in the piano part in an interval of a major third downwards or is developed in augmented triads. For the first time we find in one place a new idiom of declamation, the so-called »Sprechstimme«. One of the Lieder is based on an ostinato piano accompaniment of the left hand which we have before encountered to such an extent in Osterc's songs. The last song is composed in a »choral« style, which is so typical of the composer's later work! The prominent feature of this style, indicated by Osterc in the subtitles of many compositions as »quasi chorale« or »like a chorale«, are represented by slowly moving chords with the melody in the upper voice, which mostly doubles the vocal part of the Lieder.


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1. 12. 1971




How to Cite

Šegula, T. (1971). The Lieder of Slavko Osterc up to his Concert in 1925. Musicological Annual, 7(1), 69-89.

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