Negotin is one of those beautiful towns on the Danube, in eastern Serbia, where one can found lot of landmarks, hence numerous reasons for tourists to visit it. The event “Days of Mokranjac”, which marks on January 9 the birth of famous composer Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, is a good opportunity to also visit the house in which the father of the Serbian music had spent his childhood.
Mokranjac was a composer of national style, having merged the traditional folk music with European music heritage. He was born in 1856, and later grew to be a composer, conductor and educator, holding the greatest merit for laying the foundation of the modern music pedagogy. He wrote 15 orchestral suites – Rukoveti, and along with secular, also did spiritual music. He lived until 1914, mostly in Belgrade, and in 1964 the authorities in Negotin bought and restored the house into the Mokranjac Museum. Namely, Mokranjac was the nickname of the family, after the village of Mokranj, near Negotin, in which the composer’s father was born.
The entrance room displays predominantly the photographs, letters, diplomas, truest testimonies to the life of the family and the four children, whom the mother had to bring up alone, due to her husband’s premature death. Stevan was a very gifted child, so he got his first violin as a gift from uncle, at the age of ten. It would suffice to just hear a melody once and then play it by ear. When he turned 15, the mother sold the house and moved to Belgrade with the children, which was an outstandingly courageous move for that time. In the capital, Stevan finished the lyceum and enrolled the faculty of natural science and mathematics, since there was no music school in Serbia of that era. However, the talent and love for music took him to the first Belgrade Singing Society. There, he became the youngest member, and soon after he was given the scholarship from the Government, which lead him to Leipzig and Rome. Neverthless, the money did not suffice for him to earn the diploma of a music academy, so Mokranjac had to take private lessons, which helped him in further work.
Already as a student, Mokranjac started composing, and his work on the Rukoveti was especially interesting. While traveling across Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo, he was listening to and writing down folk songs. Afterwards, he would collect all those characteristic of any particular region into one of the suites. He followed the similar path with his liturgies. Composing did not exhaust him, so upon returning to Belgrade, Mokranjac was the conductor of the Jewish Singing Society, as well the founder and member of a string quartet.
Among the displayed photographs, the locals in Negotin are especially fond of one from 1892, depicting his only official arrival to the birthplace, on the occasion of setting up the monument to the local hero from Serbian Uprising – Veljko Petrovic. That was when the Belgrade Singing Society did the 6th Rukovet for the first time, as it is dedicated to this region of Serbia.
In the Mokranjac Memorial House, a large number of wall mounted panes are showing the writings and photos, portraying a quarter of a century of his conducting work in the Belgrade Singing Society, concerts and contests. It was in this society that he met his later wife Marija, the niece of Uros Predic, our famous painter. The visitors can also see their love letters, photos with their son Momcilo, with whom the family tree ended. It is interesting to note that in 1966, his son lived to see the first “Days of Mokranjac” festival in Negotin.
The son of our renowned composer had donated to the museum all the exhibits from their house in Belgrade – working desk, chair and portraits from 1913, done by Uros Predic. There is also Mokranjac’ personal piano, as well as the one he played as the professor in the first music school he had founded in the Serbian capital. Also attracting attention are the lire and the beacon, awarded to Mokranjac on the 25th anniversary of his work in the Belgrade Singing Society. The beacon has titled of his compositions engraved, thus symbolizing that Mokranjac was the guiding light of then music culture in Serbia. Namely, many believe that Mokranjac did for the musical literacy the same thing that Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic had done for the Serbian alphabet.
Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac died in Skopje in 1914, as a refugee of the WWI. Nine years later, owing to the Belgrade Singing Association, his mortal remains were transferred to Belgrade. The Mokranjac Memorial House in Negotin hosts lot of visitors, and every year, on his birthday – the St Stephen Day, after Christmas, the house is open the whole day, while smaller concerts, panel discussions and promotions of books and magazines are held.