YOUTH IN DALMATIA
Antun Dobronić was born on April 2, 1878 as the ninth, youngest, child in the family of sailor Prošper and Barbara, nee Selem. He experienced his first contact with music in Jelsa, listening to two brass bands from Jelsa, Vela and Mala banda.
He received his first music lessons from priest Pavle Matijević. He self-educated from various textbooks, and later he studies by correspondence and occasionally goes for lessons with the composer Josip Hatze in Split. He is studying to become a teacher at the Teacher’s School in Arbanasi near Zadar. He got his first teaching positions on the island of Hvar in the towns of Gdinj and Vrisnik, then on the island of Vis and in Drniš. In these environments, he is actively involved in founding and leading choirs and tambura orchestras. He writes and publishes a series of didactic articles on the improvement of education, the theory and history of music, and musical life. While teaching in Drniš, on the basis of field research of folk singing, Dobronić wrote a comprehensive study on specific singing in the Drniš region – ojkanje. In it, he presents a thesis about singing as the first element of music, that is, as the first stage of our musical art.
He collects and writes down folk songs from Dalmatia, especially Jelsa and the island of Hvar.
At the famous “First Dalmatian Art Exhibition” in Split in 1908, he participated in the lecture “Music in relation to painting and sculpture”.
For the first time, he publishes his compositions, a collection of six romances for small throats with piano accompaniment, “Sumorni akordi”. He composed them to the verses of young Croatian poets Lovrić, Marušić, Domjanić, Katalinić-Jeretov, Galović and Tresić-Pavičić, and dedicated each one to a close friend.
STUDY IN PRAGUE
Studying composition at the Conservatory in Prague was a turning point in Dobronić’s creative life. He was admitted to the Conservatory in 1910, directly to the third year of studies.
He studied composition with prof. Karel Stecker (1861 – 1918), and conducting by František Spilko (1877 – 1960). The following year, he moved to the master class of the then leading figures of Czech modern music of national orientation, prof. Vitezslava
Novak (1870 – 1949), who became a key figure in shaping his composition. Novak encouraged Dobronić’s tendency towards the artistic stylization of folklore elements, and Dobronić remained faithful to his view of music until the end of his life. Dobronić follows cultural and artistic events, absorbs the spirit of the Czech metropolis and transfers his enthusiasm, impressions and knowledge into inspired letters to friends in his homeland. In 1912, he graduated with the symphonic composition “Calling to the Circle”, which he conducted himself at a concert in Rudoplfinum.
The return to the homeland was less successful. His desire to move to Zagreb did not come true, so he spent the next 6 years in Split. There, however, he writes some of his most inspired compositions, among others the symphonic portrait “Carnival”.
ZAGREB SPRING OF 1916
Three major cultural events marked the year 1916, and at the same time Dobronić’s compositional and life path.
The “First Symphony Concert of Young Croatian Composers” was held at the Croatian National Theater on February 5. Along with compositions by Krešimir Baranović, Božidar Širola, Franjo Dugan, Svetislav Stančić and Dora Pejačević, Dobronić’s larger orchestral work, the symphonic portrait “Carnival”, was then performed for the first time. Dobronić and the new young generation of composers performed their works at that concert, marking a break with the late romantic currents and heralding a new direction, the modern one. Because of its importance, the concert was rightly called “historic” later.
For Dobronić, this performance was a triumph and the best ticket to Zagreb’s musical life. At the same time, the concert marked an intimate turning point for him. That evening he meets Miss Jerka Marković, a piano teacher, who will become his wife a few years later.
Two months later, a concert of vocal compositions by young composers of the “historical concert” follows, and choirs from the series “Songs of Unrealized Love” perform Dobronic’s compositions.
Along with the opening of the Spring Salon, on May 2, a “Chamber Concert of Young Croatian Composers” was organized. Dobronić’s solo songs from the series “Primavera” and “On the battlefield” are performed here, and a few days later Dobronić gives a lecture “On the development of Croatian folk music art”.
After the colossal success in Zagreb, the young composer goes to Arbanase near Zadar, where he works as a music teacher, writes about music and composes intensively. Then the cycles of solo pop songs “Snovidjaji djevojački” and “Dilberke”, the first string quartet and the first opera “Sunset” were created.
In 1918, Dobronić received the much-desired move to Zagreb, the metropolis of musical life. He was employed as a teacher at a male teacher’s school, led the male student choir “Mladost” and writes a number of articles on improving musical life.
His critical views and visionary ideas based on the experience of the Prague metropolis in Zagreb’s conservative environment bring him many enemies and difficulties. Despite this, in 1923 he became a professor of composition at the Academy of Music, where he taught until his retirement. He intensively maintains ties with Prague, his teacher V. Novak and excellent Czech musicians. The famous “Czech Quartet” premiered his first string quartet, Maja Strozzi and Bela Pečić performed his solo songs abroad, and an all-night concert of his chamber compositions was held in the Musikverein in Vienna in 1922. The performance of the opera – symphonic drama “Dubrovan Diptych” achieved great success. Choirs from the Czech Republic often perform his compositions, and the Slovenian National Theater in Bratislava stages his musical comedy “The Widow Rošlinka”. All-night programs with his works are performed at the Croatian Music Institute, and in 1938, Lovro pl. Matačić conducts
with the first performance of the first symphony “Vigoros”. In that period, Dobronić’s best-known and most performed work “Jelšonski tonci” was created, inspired by the folk melos of his native Jelsa. After retirement, he devotes himself even more to writing large forms; symphonies, operas and ballets, many of which remain unperformed. Until the end of his life, with the same fervor of a reformer and propagator of the national direction in music, he fought for his ideas with a critical pen and public lectures. He dies in 1955 with the hope that future generations will perform and objectively evaluate his work with the passage of time.