Multimedia Documentation Center of Julian Istrian Culture Fiumana Dalmata
September 29th, 2023
+39 040 771569



An introduction to Istrian popular music by  Mario Fragiacomo

Istria is a land where different languages and etnies meet, and it has been for centuries
the scene of invasions, migrations and settlements, for this reason it can claim a history  very complicated and  full of shades. Over the centuries it has been refuge for populations in general subdued and persecuted, coming from far and different geographical and cultural areas and it represents an emblematic example of how miscellaneous kinds of human beings have  been able to create their own peculiar identity.
This is the result of an historical pragmatism of Istria, because a strong regional connotation and fierce hosts in every real Istrian
In the last decades the fast social and economic transformations have defined two political and administrative divisions: Slovenian in the North and Croatian in the Centre and in the South after that the Italian ethnicity has been obliged to the biblical exodus we all know.
In the most part of the coastline we can find the Istrian-venetian, and between Rovigno (Rovinj) and Dignano (Vodnjan) it is possible to find also the ancient and peculiar Istriot language or Istro-Romance, in the surrounding area of Capodistria (Koper) there are Slovenian and Šavrin, farther inland we find Istrocroatian and Croatian Ćići and a very small community of Istro-Romanian Ćići.Historians tell that Histri and Liburni during the pre-Roman and Roman times had since long deep contacts with ancient Illyrians and were crucial even the Celtic and Roman inputs, of course. Later came the Ostrogoths, Longobard and Franks.
The Istrian latinization,during the Roman colonization, helped the formation of native Neo Latin languages. Slavs came to Istria later, from the VIII century.
It is natural that all these movements throughout history have taken also different kind of music that historians are certainly able to classify better.
Ethnomusicologist tell that the first sound produced in Istria ( from a wind instrument) was heard on a small hill, perhaps near to Buje almost twenty-three centuries ago: 178 b.C. tibiae (double-winded musical instruments) and bugles (buccine) at the head of the Roman legions, played the Istrian loss. But this is an historical tale good for an anthology of the Istrian music.
Successively, for sure, the waves of the ancient civilization in Istria like Patriarchate of Aquileia during the V century have probably taken Gregorian chants in liturgical functions, but there aren’t certain information.
Only from 1420 under the sovereignty of the Serenissima Republic of Venice with Andrea Antico from Montona (1470) and later Don Filippo from Laurana (Lovran) and Francesco Spongia from Rovigno (Rovinj) we find more tangible signs of music.  However,it’s just sacred music (psalms and madrigals) in Medieval style. More recently, in 1692 we find a famous musician and composer from Piran, Giuseppe Tartini. Antonio Smareglia,one of the most distinguished Istrian great  musicians, was born in Pola (Pula) in 1854, and Luigi Dallapiccola, born in Pisino (Pazin) in 1854, is the last great Istrian composer of 1900s.
It is to be supposed that folk – pop music has joined that more erudite kind of music over the centuries, because popular traditions have always existed, but it was only orally passed on, so it was very difficult, if not impossible, catalogue them.
I will particularly deal with popular music of the Istrian-Venetian tradition, even because I think this is the most interesting and significative of the whole Istrian popular music tradition.
In Istria the prevalent linguistic pattern for popular songs is Italian indeed ( or a sort of dialect-Italian also using hyper corrections), due to the old Italian presence, always more predominant in the bigger centres, especially in the coastal and Western Istria, while the Slovenian and Croatian presence was mostly characterised by rural settlements in smaller villages or in houses dotted around the hamlets, mainly Italian; while the most external part of the countryside was completely Slavic and was occupied by farmers and shepherds, who were poorer than the rich peasants living in the hamlet.
After the last World War, with the Istrian exodus, the coastline has been transformed in a touristic region, causing a consistent migration of new Slavic people. Almost twenty years ago, well-known Triestine musicologist, Roberto Starec, did a very thorough research on songs and music of the Venetian Istria.
We have to admit that his work was the most interesting ethnomusicologist research ever realized in Italy.
Most of the information I’m going to analyze are taken from his studies and publications on the popular songs of the Venetian-Istrian tradition.
Another worthwhile publication about the popular culture music in Veneto has been made by Giuseppe Radole, a musician from Barbana of Istria who lives in Trieste; recently the Regional Institute for the Istrian-Fiuman-Dalmatian Culture (IRCI) and the Popular University of Trieste (UPT) have published the greatest work of research, study and recovery of the popular music of these lands curated by Master Luigi Donorà from Vodnjan, who lives in Turin.
A huge handwritten work about musical notation obtained in many years of research on the field, song by song, hymn by hymn, listening to the traditional songs from the living voice of the native people and later writing them down, note by note, giving a structure to rythm, melody and harmony.
A final thought: what we have nowadays of this Venetian-Istrian musical culture, however there is a great interest from the Italian Communities in Istria to spread it through the different choirs or folkloristic groups, is that this repertory,if performed today,is scarcely relevant from an ethnomusicologist point of view. The most representative peculiarities like the “Arie da Nuoto”, the “Villotte a discanto” ( songs….), the “Bitinade”, the “Stornelli” and also the “Narrative, Begging and Religious  Songs” are barely considered, may be because they are not very well known, but above all because what it was possible to document until few years ago, it is now almost completely extinct due to the loss of the last players. After the iconic band “Istranova” in the 80s, despite their strong rock style, now only the “Vruja Histriae” has some interesting characteristics, even because they use particular instruments like a cello with two chords (bassetto Istriano) or the mih. Other bands use only some instrumental music and dance like Balun (traditional Istrian dance), Polka, Waltz and Furlana (a dance practiced only in few villages in the south western part of Istria). Today only the Bitinada hardly survives inside the Italian community of Rovigno (Rovinj).
An important musician and ethnomusicologist still active and representative of the Istrian popular music is Dario Marusic, who works also with an interesting artist from Pola (Pula): Tamara Obrovac.

Luigi Donorà - Danze canzoni inni e laudi popolari dell’Istria di Fiume e Dalmazia – Edizioni IRCI – UPT Trieste – 2003
Antonio Pauletich - Inni e Canti delle genti dell’Istria, Fiume e Dalmazia – Edizioni Unione Italiana – Fiume / UPT Trieste – 2004
Roberto Starec - Il repertorio etnomusicale istro-veneto – Edizioni IRCI Trieste – 1991
Roberto Starec - I discanti popolari della tradizione veneto-istriana
Roberto Starec - Canti e musiche dell`Istria veneta – Albatros 1983.
Giuseppe Radole - Canti popolari Istriani – Edizioni Leo S. Olschki – 2 raccolte 1965/1968
Antonio Ive - Canti popolari istriani raccolti a Rovigno – Edizioni Loescher Torino – 1877

Other relevant bibliography
Giuseppe Vidossi, Matteo Fillini, Robert Lach, Francesco Babudri, Franco Baldanello, Claudio Noliani, Giovanni Pellizzer, Libero Benussi, A. Catalan, R.M. Cossàr, D. Marusic, G. Sanga, G. Scotti, A. Tabouret, G. Timeus.

ROBERTO STAREC - “Canti e musiche popolari dell’Istria veneta” – Albatros ALB/20 – LP anno 1984
ROBERTO STAREC - “Strumenti e suonatori in Istria” – Pizzicato C 017 – Audiocassetta anno 1990
ASSOCIAZIONE NAZIONALE VENEZIA GIULIA E DALMAZIA – COMITATO DI ROMA - “Nostalgia del mar” – Coro Istria Nobilissima di Roma diretto da G. Bosazzi – CD anno 2002
DARIO MARUSIC - “Istrophonia” – Folkest Ribium CDE 11 – CD anno 2002
SILVIO DONATI - “Elegie istriane di Biagio Marin” – Folkest Ribium CDE 15 – CD anno 2002
TAMARA OBROVAC - “Transhistria” – CD anno 2001
LUIGI DONORA’ - “Danze canzoni inni e laudi popolari” – CD anno 2003 (allegato al volumeomonimo).
 - “Histria ed oltre” CD in fase di pubblicazione.

A.D.ES. –

A special thanks for the kind collaboration to:
Rosanna Turcinovich Giuricin
Paolo Simionato
Roberto Starec
Alessandro Boris Amisich
Axel Famiglini
Pierpaolo Sancin
Giuseppe Radole
Luigi Donorà

Il Ricordo a Bergamo


Fausto Biloslavo il Giornale
Matteo Carnieletto il Giornale
Maria Elena Depetroni Anvgd Bg
Coordinamento : Viviana Facchinetti