A Short History of the Tamburica, a Croatian Traditional Instrument

Tamburica or tambura is a traditional plucked string instrument that came to South-eastern Europe from Asia around 15th century through the Turkish conquests. Although by no means an endemic Croatian instrument, tambura became a symbol of Croatian ethnic identity in the early 19th century, when the process of formation of national identities was taking part all over Europe. Croatian nationalist movement in the mid-19th century had a decisive impact on the popularity and perception of tambura, resulting in its gradual inauguration as national instrument. At that time, tambura also experienced changes in construction and function. In the earlier stage of its history, tambura was a soloist instrument mostly found in villages. In 19th century, larger ensembles and orchestras of tambura were starting to form in towns, modelled on bourgeois singing choirs. The first such ensembles were even called “tambura choirs” since they had developed into different variants and sizes of the instrument covering ranges from soprano to bass. There are commonly five variants of tambura still used in ensembles and orchestras today with their own distinctive names. From the highest in pitch to the lowest, they are called: bisernica or prim, brač, čelo, čelović and berda or bas.

Based on a photo we received from one of the Orchestra member’s family, the Sydney Croatian Tamburitza Orchestra had seven players with instrumental arrangement of 2 bisernicas, 3 bračes, 1 bugarija and 1 bas. As for the instrument’s name and spelling, tamburica is a diminutive of the word tambura. The spelling tamburitza where „tz“ replaces the letter „c“ is characteristic for the Anglophonic or other non-Slavic countries. Some other variants of spelling are also tamburitsa, tamburiza, tamburizza and others.