A group of accordion players

Photo: Matej Povše

The accordion is the main instrument in Slovenian folk music. The composition "Na Golici" by Slavko Avsenik is the most played instrumental composition in the world.

Popular folk music is a genre derived from folk music (by which we mean the traditional music produced by folk musicians and folk singers). Folk musicians in Slovenia were for the most part gifted individuals, usually cottagers or craftsmen, who played music to earn a little extra money. They played and entertained people at weddings, private or religious feasts, and at harvest festivals and similar events.

The most popular combinations of instruments were a fiddle backed by a clarinet, a trumpet, a horn or a flute. The accordion did not become popular until later, but its popularity then spread very quickly. The first mass-produced accordions appeared in Slovenia in the mid-19th century. The commonest type of accordion among Slovenian musicians was the diatonic accordion. With this type of accordion, each button or key produces two notes, depending on whether the bellows are pressed (closed) or drawn (opened). Before the invention of the accordion, singers usually sang without musical accompaniment. As the accordion spread, however, it also took on the role of an accompanying instrument. 

The number of bands or ensembles began to grow rapidly, particularly after the Second World War. To begin with these were amateur ensembles, but later some professional ensembles appeared. The greatest popular folk musician in Slovenia – and the world – is widely considered to be Slavko Avsenik, who together with his Avsenik Brothers Ensemble created, over the course of a 40-year career, beginning in 1953, an enormous number of songs, many of which may be said to have entered the national consciousness. Avsenik was also the originator of the "tremolo" or "beat note" style of playing that is today universally used for accompanying singers. 

The use of the term "popular folk music" coincided with the formation of the Avsenik Brothers Ensemble  in 1953/54. For all Slovenians and for most connoisseurs of this style of music around the world (where it is known as Oberkrainer music), Slavko Avsenik remains its greatest exponent. Over the course of a 40-year career he wrote around 800 songs, many of which have entered the national consciousness. He was also the composer of Na Golici, reputed to be the most broadcast instrumental tune in the world. He is also considered the originator of the "tremolo" or "beat note" style of accordion playing. The Avsenik Brothers Ensemble was notable for the fact that instead of the diatonic accordion they used the 120-bass piano accordion. They were also among the first ensembles to come up with their own original compositions. They developed a special form of playing that incorporated the rhythms of the polka, the waltz and the march. They strove for perfection in their performances, a fact underlined by the high level of training of all the members of the ensemble. 

Another of the finest ensembles in Slovenia is the Lojze Slak Ensemble , whose music emphasises folk-tinged melodies and lyrics. The Beneški Fantje, who have been playing and writing music since 1952, are officially the longest-running ensemble in Slovenia.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan