Music in the Balkans


Author: Jim Samson
This book asks how a study of many different musics in South East Europe can help us understand the construction of cultural traditions, East and West. It crosses boundaries of many kinds, political, cultural, repertorial and disciplinary. Above all, it seeks to elucidate the relationship between politics and musical practice in a region whose art music has been all but written out of the European story and whose traditional music has been subject to appropriation by one ideology after another. South East Europe, with its mix of ethnicities and religions, presents an exceptionally rich field of study in this respect. The book will be of value to anyone interested in intersections between pre-modern and modern cultures, between empires and nations and between culture and politics.

Prices from (excl. VAT):

Add to Cart
Jim Samson. Emeritus Professor of Music, Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published extensively on Chopin and Liszt, and on analytical and aesthetic topics in 19th and 20th century music. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and holds the Order of Merit of the Polish Ministry of Culture.
“Jim Samson’s Music in the Balkans is breathtaking. Its scope, theoretical sophistication, interdisciplinary breadth, and synthesis of a vast range of literatures, histories, and musical styles is unparalleled within recent scholarly literature on the Balkans.” - Roland Clark, Eastern Connecticut State University, in: Balkanistica 29
" Music in the Balkans fills a huge void in the scholarship on art music of southeast Europe and will equally serve native scholars in and outside the region. While Balkan composers' achievements should not be overstated, as Samson warns, their integration into the European music canon is long overdue. This book shows the way." - Ljerka V. Rasmussen, Tennessee State University, in: Slavic Studies 73/4
" Music in the Balkans is an important book that, like its subject, defies easy categorisation. Ambitious in its scope, the book repeatedly crosses ethnic, national, religious, historical and disciplinary boundaries in what amounts to an idiosyncratically structured yet comprehensive historical treatment of the transmission, development and interaction of a wide range of musical traditions and repertories—sacred and secular, agrarian/traditional and urban/popular, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, Ottoman and western art in South East Europe. Samson displays sensitivity both to commonality and difference as he casts light on a region ‘visited by musical styles whose centres invariably lay elsewhere’ (662) as its peoples have been affected over time by migration, imperialism, nation-building, displacement, religious change and modernisation. What emerges is a Balkans characterised by various forms of mediation conducted at levels ranging from the individual to the trans-national that he conveys through references to ‘bridges’ and states of being ‘in between’ or ‘in transition’. Samson's synthesis of vast quantities of information about demotic, liturgical, popular, art and ‘popular art’ traditions of music in the modern state of Greece is exemplary in its coverage and critical discernment." - Alexander Lingas, City University London, in: Ethnomusicology Forum 24.1 (February 2015), pp.134-136
"Samson successfully combines academic discourse and a fresh and unobtrusive personal approach, especially in polemically sensitive areas. He should be given credit for not avoiding the sensitive questions regarding the Yugoslav „wars of succession“ from the 1990s. The book as a whole is magnificently erudite, broad-minded and coherent. Music in the Balkans is indeed a brilliant achievement that will certainly prove to be indispensable and inspiring for both scholars in Balkan studies and interested laymen, and will no doubt be hard to surpass.“ - Melita Milin, Principal Research Fellow, Institute of Musicology, Serbian Academy of Sciences, in: Musicology 16
"The book’s task is ambitious, and its intentions important: to provide an account of art music, church music, popular music and traditional music in the Balkans which will identify ‘patterns in the cultural history of the region as a whole. [...] The strength of Music in the Balkans is that it places all examples into the longue durée [...] The aims and scope of Music in the Balkans mean that research libraries with serious interests in the region should not be without this book." - Catherine Baker, University of Hull, in: European History Quarterly 44 (2014) [full review text:]
"The highly innovative potential of this volume, searching for commonalities and not for differences in Balkan music history, cannot be valued enough. The extensive and complete list of references (mainly in Western European languages) on 31 pages is worth alone buying this book. The book will surely have a lasting and positive impact for all following studies on Balkan music for two reasons: firstly, the attempt to look beyond the East-West dichotomy as translated into music, and secondly, the visionary call for a denationalisation of music history." - Eckehard Pistrick, in: Anthropological Notebooks XIX/3 (2013)
"This book is a monumental contribution to musical scholarship; the depth and range of the final product is astonishing. The book is divided into five parts, of which the first, ‘Balkan Geographies’, endeavours to explain something of the hugely complex micro-geographies of the region, beginning with a discussion of the Jewish presence in Sarajevo and covering ethnic groupings and movements particularly in the former Yugoslavia and Greece. The second, ‘Historical Layers’, cuts the cake vertically, discussing such complex interrelationships as that between Byzantine chant and Ottoman music (‘A Makam-Echos Culture’), the beginnings of modernism, and the phenomenon of Yugoslavism. ‘Music in Transition’, the third part, deals with the consequences of modernism, the impact of nationalism and includes specific contextualized case studies. The fourth part, ‘Eastern Europe’, deals with the Communist period, and the political situation in Greece. The fifth and final part, ‘Global Balkans’, gets to grips with the maelstrom of confusion that has characterized the region’s post-Communist history. Conclusions might be thought perhaps impossible, but Samson does not shrink from trying to pull all the threads together in his substantial final chapter, ‘Endgame’. ‘There is’, he says, ‘a narrative of emancipation, but there is also a narrative of homecoming, of roots. There is a strong current drawing this region inexorably westwards, but there are eddies, undertows, that pull it back constantly to the East.’ This neatly enshrines the complexity, the paradoxical quality and the astounding richness of the Balkans so well presented in this outstanding book." - Ivan Moody, in: International Record Review (April 2014), pp. 78-79
"A many-voiced world of opinion and thought is opened up. This work is unprecedented in its compass, and its insights apply far more broadly than its remit." - Kim Burton, in: Songlines 98, p. 82
“a hugely significant contribution to our understanding of this region's culture.” - Adrian Thomas, Cardiff University
"Eίναι η συσσώρευση έγκυρων πληροφοριών, η σοφή και ευέλικτη ερμηνεία τους, βασιζόμενη σε αντιμαχόμενες αισθητικές, κοινωνιολογικές και
πολιτικές θεωρίες, και σε βαθιά γνώση της μουσικής ιστοριογραφίας, η μουσική ευαισθησία, η κατανόηση της πολιτιστικής ατμόσφαιρας, η ακρίβεια, η καθαρότητα και η πυκνότητα της έκφρασης." - Καίτη Ρωμανού, in: Пολυφωνία volume 24 (2014), pp. 136-144

List of Illustrations

List of Maps


Part 1. Balkan Geographies

Chapter 1 Exodus
Sarajevo: little Jerusalem
Two peninsulas: the Sephardic diaspora
Singing the community: music of the Sephardim
Opening out: themes and developments

Chapter 2 Ecologies
Music and place
Ringed by mountains: the Oaş Country
On the voice: the Dinaric Alps and other mountains
Deep in Šumadija

Chapter 3 Displacements
Investing in place
Migrations: Serbs in a Habsburg world
Trading places: Greece and Anatolia
Tallava rules: Kosovars in Macedonia

Chapter 4 Ecumenes
In the minority
All together in Vojvodina
Orchestrating Thrace

Chapter 5 Centres
All in the family: mapping Montenegro
Finding the centre: people and traditions
East - West

Part 2. Historical Layers

Chapter 6 A Makam-Echos Culture
Grand narratives
Byzantine reflections
Ottoman canons

Chapter 7 Eastern Recessions
Allahu Ekber
Coffee break
Turning West

Chapter 8 Infrastructures
Littoral Balkans: Venice and the Adriatic
Mitteleuropa: the reach of the Habsburgs
Reciprocities: modernising the peripheries
The Principalities and beyond

Chapter 9 Nations
The first steps
Two nations
The Berlin Balkans

Chapter 10 Inspirers
Building the pyramids: reflections on high culture
Greeks ….
…. and other agents
Either/or: reflections on modernism

Part 3. Music in Transition

Chapter 11 Mixing It
Discourses of transition
Nuts and bolts: elements of popular music
On the record: surveying the legacy

Chapter 12 Join the Club
Following the leader: Manolis Kalomiris
Drawing the circle: the Greek National School
Another way: the failure of Greek modernism

Chapter 13 Moderna
Garlands: Stevan Mokranjac
One people, three names: the first Yugoslavia
Late arrivals: Croatian modernisms
Parallel tracks: Bulgarian advances
Transit to Prague

Chapter 14 Serbo-Croat
Who owns Slavenski?
From the Balkans …
…to the cosmos

Chapter 15 Placing Genius
A tempting comparison: locating George Enescu
Closing in: Enescu’s journey
Wider again: in the modernist canon

Part 4. Eastern Europe

Chapter 16 The Curtain Descends
Left, right….
In extremis: the singular case of Albania
Administered music: performing communism
Composers on message

Chapter 17 Diverging Paths
Traffic with Moscow
The acolyte: Bulgarian bridges
The zealot: Albanian austerities
The maverick: Romanian renewals

Chapter 18 Another Try
Politics versus culture: the second Yugoslavia
The dark decade: mainly Serbia
In from the cold: mainly Croatia, a little Slovenia, and back to Serbia
Catching up: other republics

Chapter 19 Birthright of the People
Orchestras: classicising traditional music
Newly composed folk music
Simulacra: wedding music and more

Chapter 20 One Got Away
Popular art music: Theodorakis at large
Art music: modernism is official
Popular music: rebetika and beyond

Part 5. Global Balkans

Chapter 21 All Change
Brave new world
Another Balkans: the diasporic imagination
Composers in exile

Chapter 22 Conservation
Who needs classical music?
Has modern music really grown old?
Where have all the folksongs gone?

Chapter 23 Balkan Beat
Reinscribing Yugoslavia
Greek mythology

Chapter 24 On Boundaries and Events
In theory
Greece and its neighbours
Music partitioned …
… and not quite partitioned

Chapter 25 Endgame
Balkan ghetto: the story of Kosovo
Are we there yet?




All those interested in the relationship between culture and politics in South East Europe, as well as academics, students and lay readers with an interest in music history.