Ivan Zajc

1832 - 1914. Croatian composer

There have not been many examples in recent cultural history of one artistic personality dominating the music of a nation for more than forty years, but this was the case with the composer Ivan pl. Zajc between 1870 and 1916.

Born in Rijeka in 1832, Ivan pl. Zajc began to study the piano and violin when only five years old, while at the age of 12, he began to compose and make his first public appearances. All these were clear indications that the boy would devote his life to music and not to law, as was the wish of his father, a military band leader. Indeed, in 1850 Zajc entered the Milan Conservatoire with his father's consent, bringing with himself his first twenty compositions.

As a pupil of the leading Italian composers and teachers S Ronchetti-Monteviti, L Rossi and A Mazzucata, Zajc took up his studies with the greatest seriousness. Evidence of this is provided by many prizes awarded to him, frequent performances of his works, and, in particular, the offer to stay in Milan, made to him in 1855, on the completion of his studies. But Zajc, whose parents had died in the meantime, returned to Rijeka to become very active as a teacher of the Philharmonic Society, as conductor of visiting opera companies and as a composer. A great success was his opera Amelia , or Il bandito performed in 1860, but there are also other two operas from that period, Adelia and Mesinska nevjesta , as well as other compositions, vaudeville I funerali del Carnevale and compositions dedicated to his home town, Rijeka (Fiume), Die schöne Fiumanerin (La bella Fiumana) , I musicisti fiumani , Vittoria quadrille - Liepa Riecanka and Fiumaner Marsche .The Mediterranean climate, however, did not seem to appeal to him, and after a prolonged illness he decided to find a more suitable place of residence. Although he still could have found employment in Milan, he chose Vienna as his new home, convinced that his music would be more to the taste of that city.

Indeed, his hopes were not unfounded, for his eight-year stay in Vienna (1862-1870) was marked by great success in the field of musical comedy. Although Vienna was dominated at the time by the melodies of Strauss, Suppee and Millöcker, Zajc soon made a name for himself, and many of his works for the musical stage - On Board Boys, Fitzli-Putzli, Lazaroni of Naples and, in particular, The Boissy Witch - achieved great popularity.

However, joining the group of Croats rallying round the Croatian Academic Society " Velebit ", Zajc found himself confronted with the alternative between worldfame as a composer of musical comedies and a difficult and responsible duty towards his fatherland. Influenced by Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer and the poets Petar Preradovic and Ivan Trnski, as well as August Šenoa, Mirko Divkovic, young students Ivan Dežman and Franjo Markovic, he decided to choose the second alternative. And so, early in 1870, Zajc came to Zagreb to become Director of the Opera and Principal of the School of the Croatian Music Institute. He held his appointment at the opera until 1889, when owing to financial difficulties, the organization lapsed for a time, but retained his post at the school until 1908.

In addition to his great activity as conductor and teacher, Zajc was extremely active as a composer. In this period he wrote almost thousand works (from Op. 234 to Op. 1202)! These include the operas Mislav, Ban Leget, Nikola Subic Zrinjski, Lizinka, Pan Tvardovski, Zlatka, The King's Whim, The Original Sin, The Girl from the Coast, Galileo Galilei, and Armida, musical comedies, numerous cantatas, songs and choral compositions, concerti, chamber music and works in every field of music.

The importance of Ivan Zajc lies chiefly in the fact that, at a time when there was complete musical stagnation in Croatia, he created a Croat opera with a modern repertory, and that by his activity as a teacher, he contributed a great deal towards a suppression of the dilettantism which had flourished before. To achieve this was neither a simple nor an easy task.

Zajc died in Zagreb in 1914. In his old age he lived to see the awakening of new forces which were to raise Croat music to the high artistic level where it stands today. His own share in this awakening was by no means small.

Nikola Šubic Zrinjski, a musical tragedy in three acts (eight scenes), Op.430, is based on the story of the death of Nikola Zrinjski IV at Siget in 1566. The libretto for Zajc's most successful stage work was written by Hugo Badalic, based on Theodor Körner's drama.


Ivan pl. Zajc Choir, Zagreb

Stage Works

  1. Amelia or Il Bandito; after Friederich von Schiller Die Räuber - Rijeka 14 April, 1860
  2. Adelia and Mesinska nevjesta
  3. I funerali del Carnevale
  4. Nikola Subic Zrinjski; a musical tragedy in three acts (eight scenes), Op.430; libretto by Hugo Badalic after Theodor Körner's Zriny - Zagreb 4 Novembeer, 1876
  5. Lizinka libretto by J.E. Tomic, after Alexander Pushkin's Mistress Into Maid - Zagreb, 12 November, 1878
  6. On Board Boys
  7. Fitzli-Putzli
  8. Lazaroni of Naples
  9. The Boissy Witch
  10. Mislav
  11. Ban Leget
  12. Pan Tvardovski
  13. Zlatka
  14. The King's Whim
  15. The Original Sin
  16. The Girl from the Coast
  17. Galileo Galilei
  18. Armida
  19. Oce Nas (Our Father); libretto by J. Benesic after François Coppée - Zagreb, 16 December, 1911