Dalmatia has a reach and long musical tradition. The music is typically Mediterranean one and often strongly resembles seaside Italian, Spanish or Portuguese music in the temperament and structure. What distinguishes it from the latter, are the solely vocally sung (a capella) songs by male five-to-eight ensemble - "klapa" - so called "klapa" songs.
The musical tradition consists of dances, instrumental, and above all vocal music. Because of its immense richness, it has served as inspiration for new forms of music, like opera (Jakov Gotovac, Ero s onoga svijeta), operetta (Franz von Suppe, Des Matrosen Heimkehr and Ivo Tijardovic, Mala Floramye) and, finally, pop music. During the last decades, composers and folklorists-musicologists have put great effort into preserving the original, traditional music.
Dances and instrumental music
Dances range from simple reels in the inland, to much more complex seaside urban dances. They are accompanied by instrumental or combined instrumental-vocal music. The most common instruments are "gusle" (a one-stringed fiddle) in the inland, and mandolin at the seaside.
The most prominent segment of Dalmatian culture is of course its vocal music. When we speak of it, we primarily think on urban music, which is much better known and preserved than the not so attractive, and often dissonant, inland music.
Dalmatian "klapa" songs
So called Dalmatian "klapa" songs are at the core of this music. "Klapa" in Dalmatian dialect means company or group, while in musical terms it refers to five-to-eight member ensembles. Traditionally, the ensemble consists only of male voices, but nowadays we witness the emergence of many mixed and female ensembles with a varying number of members.
Nevertheless, its basic characteristic and distinction are, and remain, solely vocal harmony-singing, only rarely discreetly and quietly accompanied by instruments. Part-singing, usually in four parts, is originally spontaneous, performed by the ear and not by following note recordings, so harmonization is simple. A low-pitched accompaniment is stressed by a larger number of singers, giving the songs a more intimate atmosphere.
Klapa songs have slow, free rhythm and are often without any measure mark (libero). Sometimes it even includes complex measures. The songs are usually quite serenade-like love songs, usually addressing a beloved girl. However, marry and satirical songs also exist. Regardless of a theme, they are always in a major key.
It is, therefore, not surprising that in the preservation of original folk music composers and musicologists-folklorists invested most of their effort into this particular segment. Consequently, a special annual festival of amateur Dalmatian singing was established in Omis - Festival of the Dalmatian klapas. In only few years, this festival has grown into a cultural institution of great importance and reputation. The lack of original records and the limited number of available songs prompted the composers to write more complex harmonizations to existing songs, as well as many entirely new songs, still respecting the tradition (Ljubo Stipisic - Delmata, Dalmatino poviscu pritrujena).
Other Dalmatian urban songs
The klapa songs are the most valuable and distinct part of wider urban song heritage. Other urban Dalmatian songs also have more or less all of the above-mentioned characteristics. However, they include a wider and more varied repertoire of songs, performed by various mixed, vocal-instrumental ensembles. From this fact, the most striking difference arises - the rhythm is no longer totally free. The most common accompanying instruments are mandolins.