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CROATIA - WORLD MUSIC - instrument SOPILA

*The sopila (or roženica, as a similar instrument is called in Istria) is an old traditional instrument similar to today’s oboe. It has been preserved in the areas of Kvarner, Kastav, Vinodol, and on the island of Krk.

The sopila is a descendant of the old European shawm, an instrument that developed near the end of the Middle Ages and whose main characteristics were double reeds and a conical bore along the entire instrument. This primitive instrument disappeared completely from European music around 1700, when it was replaced by the much more refined oboe. The old shawm was still to be found here and there in Europe, but only as a folk instrument (e.g. in the Swiss Alps, in Abruzzi, Italy, where it is called the piffero, and, of course, in Istria and the Kvarner region of Croatia).

The characteristic features of the sopila are double reeds and a conical bore made of wood. The parts of sopila are: reed, the špulet, the pipe and the krilo (side). There are large and small, or thick and thin, sopilas. They are always played in pairs.

Sopila players play the instrument on three occasions. Its first and most significant role was to play it with the tanac on Sundays and holidays when young people gathered on the square or in front of the church after the evening mass. While playing, sopila players would stamp the ground with their feet, giving rhythm to themselves and the dancers. They sometimes put a wooden board under their feet, so that the sound would be stronger.

The second reason for playing the sopila was at weddings. The third one was playing in church. For this purpose the sopila was specially tuned for one-part playing. Sopila players would play during for the duration of the Mass and during processions (e.g. for Corpus Christi).

Sopila players were always highly respected and pairs of sopila players were often remembered for their virtuosity and style of playing.
Although it is a quite simple instrument, the sopila has interesting possibilities and a very powerful sound. The sopila is an instrument that is very much alive, even today in the folklore of the Kvarner region and on the island of Krk*

Journal Comments

  • Danica Radman