Slovak music tells a story. It has been said that by listening to its music, you can visit a country through time and collective experience. This notion is certainly apparent with Slovak music.
An encounter with it charts the course of changing times, moods, and feeling of the place. It’s not difficult to imagine a shepherd inspired by the snowy peaks of the Tatras making soulful music out of a long wooden tube known as the fujara. Or liturgical and chamber music figuring prominently in the country’s many churches and cathedrals; villages celebrating weddings, harvests, and holidays with special songs; the Roma with their close-knit community and rich musical traditions creating impressive sounds; as well as contemporary musical styles influencing the changing generations.
The fujara is a contrabass instrument that creates a long, resonant timbre. Included in the UNESCO list of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, it was originally played by shepherds; now it can be heard in folk festivals, such as those of Vychodna and Detva. Along with the fujara, you will find other traditional instruments in Slovakia such as konkovna, bagpipes, and the jaw harp.
Slovak Liturgical and Chamber Music
Slovak music in this category can be classified as church music and instrumentals played in towns and courts. Liturgical songs in the Old Slavonic language were recorded as early as the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th century; it served as the precursor to much of the country’s development of church music, along with Latin plainsong that was popular within the Kingdom of Hungary.
Slovak Classical Composers
In the 15th century, Slovakia was influenced by the Italian concertante style. Some notable composers working with this style included Samuel Capricornus and Johann Kusser. Later, Frantisek Xaver Budinsky became well-regarded; his works include three symphonies.
Nowadays, orchestral ensembles include the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Kosice, Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Slovak Chamber Orchestra. Festivals in this category include the Bratislava Music Festival, Indian Summer in Levoca, and the Festival of Piestany.
There are also three opera companies in the country.
The Role of Slovak Folk Music
Throughout Slovakia’s history, folk music developed independently in many regions, creating a rich heritage over time; naturally, national music traditions eventually incorporated it, so that modern music from the 19th century onwards fused both classical and folk elements. Exemplary composers working in this vein included Jan Bella, Liptovsky Mikulas, as well as Alexander Moyzes and Jan Cikker.
Slovak Roma Music
The music of the Roma, also known as Gypsies, also draws on a long, established tradition. To hear it is to be let in on a passionate lyrical voyage punctuated with plaintive lyrics. Typically, professional musical performance was restricted to males only; male bands comprised of violin, bass (contrabass) and dulcimer. Traditionally, Roma bands were hired to perform in weddings, and other celebrations. Subsequently, the music often bears Slovak and Romani lyrics. There are two main forms of songs: slow songs without a set rhythm, and dance songs.
Like other musical styles, Roma music has undergone transformation and fusion with different styles. Rom-pop is one current trend, in which strands of traditional Romani songs are applied in a pop context. Festivals dedicated to Roma music include the International Gypsy Fest, and Khamoro (in the Czech Republic).
Contemporary Slovak Music
Starting in the 1950s, popular music trends trumped traditional folk music. Jazz, R&B, rock and roll became popular, alongside closer-to-home polkas, waltzes, and the Hungarian czardas. At this time, Slovak popular music incorporated cool jazz, bossa nova, and some rock, often with communist, party-sanctioned lyrics. People who wanted another kind of sound looked to Radio Free Europe, or ORF (Austrian Radio).
During Communism’s more relaxed periods in the late 60s and early 70s, many experimental bands and musicians made their mark; Marian Varga and Jaro Filip being two examples.
Following Communism and the Velvet Revolution, the local music scene received a rapid influx of exposure to musical genres, notably pop. Some notable pop and rock acts to emerge after the revolution were: Richard Muller, Bez Ladu a Skadu, Zuzana Smatanova, Jana Kirchner, and more recently Malevil and Ivan Tasler’s IMT Smile.
Slovakia Music Festivals
One of the main festivals to hear contemporary Slovak music is the Pohoda Festival in Trencin.