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The Rukoveti are a cycle of 15 musical rhapsodies, often including a sixteenth called Primorski napjevi ( Songs from the Coast). They were composed by the Serbian composer Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac between 1883 and 1909, based on folk music motifs from Serbia, Macedonia (then also known as Old Serbia), Bosnia and Bulgaria.


The name rukovet (engl. garland, wreath of flowers) comes from the vernacular and was intended to symbolize the musical composition of various songs from different peoples. In Serbian, rukoveti is also considered a musical term or a synonym for rhapsodies based on folk songs. The form Rukoveti is based on the work Kolo by the Serbian composer Josif Marinković.

Principles of composition

The following principles were developed for composing the Rukoveti of Mokranjac:

  • The revised folk songs first had to meet high musical criteria. In the process, a collection of 500 songs in total was created.
  • The folk songs were classified according to themes or according to their place of origin.
  • Mokranjac attached great importance to forming a coherent unity from the various folk songs. In doing so, he was inspired by other cyclical musical forms such as the suite or the sonata. With the interplay of fast and slow or sad and happy folk songs, Mokranjac succeeded in creating a varied and dynamic composition. Following Marinković’s example, Mokranjac uses a large number of folk songs in the first two Rukoveti, in contrast to the later ones, which are mainly limited to a few themes.
  • The folk songs were not allowed to lose their original melody. Rather, Mokranjac insisted on detailed processing, using polyphonies or counterpoints.
  • In the Rukoveti, the psychological connection between words and music should also be emphasized. Thus Mokranjac creates an expressive dialogue between male and female voices, as is customary in opera. The fifth and eleventh Rukovet are considered successful examples.

The Rukoveti in detail

1. Rukovet, From My Homeland (1883)

The 1st Rukovet and a modified version of the 4th Rukovet are composed exclusively for a male choir. All the others are intended for mixed choirs. Because of the large number of songs (nine in all), Mokranjac tries to form a unity here by repeating the melodies several times. The then 27-year-old composer still borrows from his older colleague Marinković. The verses of the first song “Bojo mi Bojo” are repeated after the second “Jarko sunce otskočilo”. Motifs from the first and third songs “Što ti je Stano, mori” are heard just before the end of the rukovet. The fourth song “Karavilje, lane moje” is rendered gradatively from stanza to stanza. This is followed by the fifth “Igrali se konji vrani” and the cheerful sixth “Reče Čiča”. The duet for tenor and bass is captivating in the seventh song “Protužila pembe Ajša”. The eighth song is the short motif of “Imala majka, jado”. An effective finale of the first rukovet is achieved by the song “Imala baba jedno momče”.

2. Rukovet, From My Homeland (1884)

The 2nd Rukovet begins romantically and lyrically. In contrast to the 1st Rukovet, Mokranjac uses five melodies here. The coherence is further supported by the tonal unity, using only F major and F minor.
The Rukovet consists of the following songs: “Osu se nebo zvezdama”, “Smilj Smiljana” and “Jesam li ti, Jelane”. This is followed by a baritone solo with “Maro Resavkinjo”. The 2nd Rukovet ends with the witty song “U Budimu gradu”.

3. Rukovet, From My Homeland (1888)

The 3rd Rukovet contains a total of nine songs, in which it is very similar to the 1st Rukovet. However, Mokranjac interweaves the songs here more closely, which leads to a more coherent fusion of the melodies.
The first song “Zaspala devojka” consists of a dialogue between the male and female choir. The second (“Urani bela”) and third songs (“Lepo ti je javor urodio”) are only fragmentarily hinted at. The next two songs are intertwined in the form of a rondo. These are “Tekla voda Tekelija” sung in baritone and “Razbole se Grivna mamina” sung in alto respectively. The songs “Aoj Neno” and “Ovako se kuća teče” form a stylistic unity, although motifs from the sevdalinka “Čimbirčice” and the humorous theme “Ala imaš oči” are interspersed. The dynamic Kolo am of the Rukovet ends abruptly with the verse “Niko ne zna kako mi je”.

4. Rukovet, Mirjana (1890)

This piece does not have the classical form of a rukovet, as it consists only of the song “Mirjana”, which belongs to the group of orientalized urban folklore, or the so-called sevdalinka. Two versions of this piece exist; in E major for a solo (bass) and a mixed choir, and in B flat major for a solo (tenor) and a male choir. Both versions are followed and accentuated by piano and castanets.

5. Rukovet, From My Homeland (1892-1893)

The 5th Rukovet consists of a total of ten songs. Compared to the first four Rukoveti, the fifth impresses with a musical leap in quality. Despite its diversity, it succeeds in maintaining a coherent unity.
After the lively first song “Šta to miče”, followed by the rather slow “A što si se Jano” and a short repetition of the first, there is a lyrical dialogue between a soprano and tenor in the song “Konja sedlaš”.
The melody of “Povela je Jela” consists of gradations achieved through a modification of the choral texture, which are repeated after a short episode “Moj se dragi na put sprema” in the song “Lele Stano, mori”. The latter begins quietly at first, but develops through the six stanzas into a dramatic culmination of six choral voices. The seventh song, “Oj za gorom,” is pastoral in character. The two songs that follow, “Oj, devojko” and “Višnjičica rod rodila” are intertwined. The melody “Ajde, mori, momčeto” is richly decorated with motifs that form an effective finale to the 5th Rukovet.

6. Rukovet, Hajduk Veljko (1892)

Before Mokranjac finished composing the 5th Rukovet, he composed the sixth. He dedicated it to the legend of the hero Hajduk Veljko from his hometown Negotin, where the first performance took place on 13 July 1892 during the dedication of a monument to Hajduk Veljko.
The first song “Knjigu piše Mula paša” begins with tenor singing, followed by a choir. As a contrast to the heroic beginning, the slow lyrical love song “Raslo mi je bagrem drvo” follows. This is followed by two short song episodes: “Hajduk Veljko po ordiji šeće” and “Kad Beograd Srbi uzimaše”. With “Bolan mi leži Kara Mustafa” the Rukovet ends with an imposing and melodic-heroic finale.

7. Rukovet, Songs from Ancient Serbia and Macedonia (1894)

Already in the 2nd Rukovet it becomes clear that Mokranjac pursues a stylistic unity of composition. In the 7th Rukovet this becomes the rule. The two fast songs “More, izvor voda izvirala” and “Ajde, ko ti kupi kulančeto” are followed by “Što li mi je”, a tenor song underpinned by a male choir. The fourth and fifth songs are again fast. These are the scherzo “Poseja dedo” and the kolo “Varaj danke”, the music of which is reminiscent of a gajda game.

8. Rukovet, Songs from Kosovo (1896)

The melographic analyses for the 8th Rukovet were collected by Mokranjac during his visit to Pristina in 1896. The rather lively and rhythmic beginning with “Džanum na sred selo” contrasts with the following song “Što Morava mutna teče”, which seems slow and melancholic. The third song “Razgrana se grana jorgovana” captivates with a scherzo in the sonata cycle. The Rukovet concludes with the cheerful song “Skoč’ kolo”.

9. Rukovet, Songs from Montenegro (1896)

The limited choice of melodies initially presented a challenge for the Montenegrin rukovet. Thus Mokranjac decided to treat the harmonies in an untypical way. This is especially evident in the final song “U Ivana gospodara”, where the musical phrases are used asymmetrically and resolved with a dissonant chord. The first three songs are “Poljem se nija”, “Rosa plete ruse kose” and “Lov lovili građani”.

10. Rukovet, Songs from Ohrid (1901)

Mokranjac composed the 10th Rukovet during his highest artistic strength and maturity. This work represents the culmination of his work in the field of secular music and became a prime example of the artistic stylization of folkloric musical themes.
In the 10th Rukovet, all desirable elements were achieved: excellent melodic themes, clear forms consisting of three fast and two slow alternating movements, as well as the masterful implementation of harmonic solutions. The melody “Biljana platno beleše” is exemplary of one of the new harmonic solutions and is considered a successful paraphrase of the folk song. Mokranjac gives this song new liveliness by oscillating between a B flat major and G minor, and a combination of female voices and a tenor.
The second song “Do tri mi puške puknale” evokes a rather sad mood, whereas the following third song “Dinka dvori mete” sounds more joyful. The fourth song “Pušči me” is characterized by its classical simplicity, which is considered one of Mokranjac’s best realized slow movements. The final song “Niknalo cvekje šareno” is melodically tuned and decorated with inspiring chords.

11. Rukovet, Songs from Ancient Serbia (1905)

Due to their form (Allegro-Adagio-Scherzo-Finale) the 11th and 8th Rukovet are very similar. In addition, in both pieces the first and last songs are written in F major. The Rukovet begins with the joyful song “Pisaše me, Stano mori,” which is dominated by the alternation of phrases sung by the male and female choirs in dialogue. The following melody “Crna goro” is characterized by frequent entrances. The third song, “Oj, Lenko, Lenko,” stands out for its rhythm in five-four time. After a short repetition of the previous song, the rukovet concludes with the cheerful kolo “Kalugere, crna dušo”.

12. Rukovet, Songs from Kosovo (1906)

The 12th Rukovet is lyrical in character. The most beautiful part is the fourth song “Cvekje cafnalo”, which captivates with its beauty of melody and harmony. It is preceded by the following songs: “Deka si bila”, “Aman, šetnala si” and “Da l’ nemam, džanum”. The finale is the cheerful song “Sedi mi moma na pendžeru”.

13. Rukovet, From My Homeland (1907)

Mokranjac composed two different versions of the 13th Rukovet. They differ in tonalities and in the elaboration of details. The combination of songs chosen for this purpose consists of two slow and two fast ones, sung alternately. The rukovet begins with the sad song “Devojka junaku prsten povraćala” and continues with the cheerful “Oj, ubava mala momo”. The third song “Slavuj pile” contrasts with the concluding witty theme of “Krce, krce, nova kola”.

14. Rukovet, Songs from Bosnia (1908)

The songs from Bosnia in the 14th Rukovet are characterized by a wide melodic scale. This is especially evident in the first song “Kara majka Aliju” and the fourth song “Štono mi se Travnik zamaglio”. The second song “Svaka ptica u šumici” is melancholic, whereas the third song “Devojka viče” is very lively. The final song, “Uzrasto je zelen bor”, is characterised by a change from a slow beginning to a lively development.

15. Rukovet, Songs from Macedonia (1909)

Very melodic material was used for the 15th Rukovet, which is characterized by fine elaboration. The first song “Marije, bela Marije” is marked by an elegiac mood, while the following two songs “Obasjala mesečina” and “Bog da ga ubije, mamo” are rhythmically tuned. This is followed by the tenor solo “Prošeta, majko, devet godini” in oriental manner. The 15th Rukovet concludes with the graceful song “Sejala Dinka bosiljak”.

Primorski napjevi (Engl. Songs from the Coast) (1893)

The Primorski napjevi are in no way different from the rest of the Rukoveti, consisting of eight cheerful, bell-bright, Daurian songs. These are: “Vozila se šajka, mala”, “Zbogom, neharna dušo”, “Popuhnul je tihi vjetar”, “Aj zelena, zelena”, “Oj, Jelena, vodo ti ledena”, “Zibala Jane”, “Vrbniče nad morem” and the concluding “Majka Maru preko mora zvala”. The collection had previously been created by the Croatian choirmaster Slavoljub Lžičar.


  • Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac: Sabrana dela. Part 1: Svetovna muzika. (rukoveti), Part 1, Publishing House Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, Beograd 1992, ISBN 86-357-0317-0. (Serbian)