Composer, conductor, director and teacher Ivan Zajc dominated Croatia’s musical culture for over forty years. Born in modern-day Rijeka in 1832, his musical talent was evident very early on in his life, performing the piano and violin in public at the age of 6, and composing his own music by the age of 12. Zajc paved the way for new and significant Croatian musical achievements in the 20th century.
Zajc went onto studied in Milan in the 1850’s, and during this period he regularly won prizes as one of the most talented students. He was awarded first prize at his graduation examination for the opera La Tirolese (1855), which was performed on stage in the same year. Zajc’s future as a composer and conductor in Milan was secure, but the death of his parents in the meantime forced him to return to Rijeka.
Upon his arrival in Zagreb in 1870, Zajc was presented with two posts: director and conductor of the Croatian Opera and director and teacher at the Croatian Institute of Music. It was during this period that Zajc made his colossal contribution to Croatian musical culture, not only through his compositions, but also through his leadership in reorganizing Zagreb’s musical institutions. He was also an excellent vocal teacher and succeeded in training several prominent singers. Zajc was an exceptionally prolific composer as evidenced by almost 1000 works, from Op. 234 to Op. 1202, produced during his time in Zagreb. Included in this number are Mislav (1870), Ban Leget (1872), his masterpiece Nikola Šubić Zrinjski (1876), and Lizinka (1878), in addition to operettas, musical comedies, cantatas, songs and choral compositions, concerti, chamber music, and many other works. Zajc passed away on 16 December 1914 in Zagreb.