Avsenik Ensemble

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Avsenik Ensemble
Begunje 21, SI-4275 Begunje na Gorenjskem
Phone386 (0) 4 530 7031 (music studio)
Marjan Legat

Phone386 (0) 41 358 060
Past Events
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The history of the Avsenik Ensemble goes back to 1953, when the accordion player Slavko Avsenik (1929–2015) formed his first trio and later regrouped it into a quartet that also featured his older brother Vilko Ovsenik (who had changed his name to the pre-WWI spelling of the family's last name). Together they embarked on a path which led them – more or less single-handedly – to create and develop a whole new musical style, the so-called Oberkrainer music (in Slovenian called narodno–zabavna glasba, a term roughly translatable as "folk pop music"), today included in the register of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Slovenia. With stellar success soon following, they quickly popularised this polka and waltz based genre around the world and incessantly toured Europe and North America up until 1989.

The dynamic duo of the brothers Avsenik recorded over 800 songs, with the self-taught Slavko responsible for the tunes and Vilko, being an academic (jazz) musician, handling the arrangements, texts, and notations. The latter was also responsible for the original instrumental idea of joining up an accordion, a trumpet, a baritone, a clarinet, and a guitar. This merging of a small brass orchestra with a traditional folk trio and the incorporation of the respective musical styles was the brother's primary innovation and the foundation for their musical genre. With the added vocals, the sound of the Avsenik Ensemble was completed and, so to say, ready for take-off.

The band had – mostly due to various promotional reasons – a wide variety of names. While they are usually known in Slovenia under the name Ansambel bratov Avsenik (Avsenik Brothers Ensemble), the German-speaking audiences – for reasons described below – most commonly remember them under the name Slavko Avsenik und seine Original Oberkrainer.


The Avsenik brothers, born in Begunje in the Gorenjska region of Northern Slovenia, started playing together as early as 1936, when the family established a quartet of the brothers and sisters Avsenik and played in the garden of their family inn (with Vilko on the accordion and Slavko – only seven years old at that time – on the button box). After WWII, though they still occasionally played together, their courses parted and while Vilko started studying music, Slavko went after sports and was even a member of the national ski-jumping team. Vilko eventually got a job at the Dance Orchestra of Radio Ljubljana. When an injury prevented Slavko from further pursuing his ski-jumping career, Vilko suggested to his brother and knitter-by-necessity to join an audition at Radio Ljubljana. Slavko passed it and recorded his first few solo songs in 1953.

The early years – from Slavko Avsenik's Trio to the Oberkrainer quintett (1953–1955)

Slavko's first band, an accordion-guitar-bass trio was short lived, as in that same year of 1953, he and Vilko formed the Gorenjski kvartet with Vilko on clarinet, Slavko on accordion, Franc Kosir on trumpet, and Franc Ogrizek on baritone. In 1955, with the addition of Lev Ponikvar on guitar, they became known as the Gorenjski kvintet and sometimes also "The Brothers Avsenik Quintet".

The band had a few live gigs at the Carinthian Radio in 1954, where in that same year they recorded their first few songs, among them their biggest hit, the powerful polka song "Na Golici" (dubbed in German as "Trompeten-Echo"). The editor at that radio station had by his own accord translated the band's name and presented them as the Oberkrainer quintett (Oberkrain being the Austrian name for the Gorenjska region). This name stayed as their international name (much to the displeasure of the nationalist sentiment in Slovenia) and even though the band became very big rather fast, the term Oberkrainer in the meantime actually started to denote their particular musical style. Because of the many bands, be they from Germany or Serbia, who then started to call themselves the Oberkrainer this or that, the group changed their name to the Original Oberkrainer Quintet in 1959.


In 1955, the editor of a Bavarian radio station in Munich heard the band while in Austria, managed to get their tapes from the Carinthian Radio and started playing them on his station in Germany. Soon after, the quintet recorded their first short album with four songs for the German publishing house Telefunken, with whom they stayed for the better part of their career.

The golden decades of Slavko Avsenik and his Original Oberkrainers

In 1956, the band had their first tour in France. Later that year, Slavko Avsenik, by himself, performed his songs with hired German musicians in more then 60 different Bavarian towns. In 1957, the Avsenik Ensemble, which had occasionally included male and female vocals even back in the times of the quartet, was permanently enlarged with vocals, at that time, the singing duet of Franc Koren and Danica Filiplic.

After that, things sort of got out of hand and for the next few decades, the Avsenik Ensemble – with a varying line-up – toured with spectacular success around the whole of Europe (being especially popular in Germany) and North America. They usually had somewhere between 150 and 300 performances per year and played before crowds that could number up to 80,000. They performed in 1976 at the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck and appeared on numerous television emissions worldwide (one of them was supposedly seen by more then 80 million viewers all over Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden).

Their list of recordings is also prolific and is not only a result of the demands from the label but also of Slavko's seemingly unending flow of new tunes. In 1964, after having sold more than a million albums, their first golden record was achieved and when they disbanded in 1989, they had sold more then 31 million records and tapes. In Slovenia alone, around half a million of their recordings have been sold (in a country of two million inhabitants).

Even though Vilko Ovsenik stopped playing the clarinet in 1959, he remained a crucial band member until the end, taking care not only for the arrangements but also for finding the best lyric writers, with some of them being Fery Souvan, Elza Budau, Marjan Stare, Fran Milčinski, Ivan Sivec, etc....

Later years

After retiring from music, Slavko Avsenik and his wife started a restaurant establishment in Begunje. Because his wife had been the band's manager for quite some time, her expertise was vital for them to also develop the Avsenik brand and legacy by way of a museum, a memorabilia shop, a concert venue, a publishing house, and a music school. Slavko Avsenik also had a brief return to the stage as a solo accordionist in 1997 and after that for a time performed with the band Gašperji.

Slavko never stopped composing music and while during the 1990s his music was mostly played by other Slovenian bands, in the last couple of years of his life, he focused entirely on his grandson's band, the Sašo Avsenik Ensemble. This band has also rapidly earned notable international success. Of Slavko's offspring, one could also mention Slavko Avsenik Jr, who actively collaborated with Laibach during the 1980s. His other son Gregor Avsenik is a guitar virtuoso and since 2008 is the head of the Avsenik Festival.

Until he retired in 1999, Vilko Ovsenik remained the artistic director at Helidon, a production and publishing house which was started on his initiative in the 1960s and was the main Slovenian publisher for the Avsenik Ensemble.

Awards and achievements

Besides having 1 diamond, 4 platinum and 29 gold records to their credit, the Avsenik brothers and their ensemble have countless other awards. For example, they won 8 consecutive German television competitions, 12 times on the yearly German radio stations chart and 18 times in the broadcasting emission Hit Parade mit Lustiger Musikanten at Radio Köln. They received the European Music Oscar for the most original, quality, and popular compositions from the European recording industry association, the Golden Rose Award for the most requested ensemble on Austrian radio and the Golden Clog for being the most popular ensemble in the Netherlands. In 1979, the Linhart Plaque (Linhartova plaketa) was given to them in Slovenia by the Union of Cultural Societies of Slovenia (ZKDS). In 1990, they received the Hermann Löns Award (Hermann-Löns-Medaille) from the Ministry of Culture of Germany. In the USA, they were also awarded the title of the Polka Kings of the World.

In 1987, they were listed in The Guinness Book of Records as the most fruitful folk band in history. Nowadays, the song "Na Golici/Trompeten-Echo" is considered to be the most played instrumental tune in history. It has also been covered more than 600 times all over the world.

Slavko Avsenik was named as the honorary citizen of the Begunje Municipality. Together with his brother Vilko they were awarded the Silver Order of Freedom of the Republic of Slovenia and were also put on stamps by the postal services in Slovenia.

Cultural impact

Even today, the Avsenik Ensemble is still one of the most influential and popular polka and waltz music groups in the world. For over 40 years, the Avsenik Ensemble's original "Oberkrainer" sound has strongly influenced the folk music scene in Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Benelux countries, spawning hundreds of Alpine orchestras in the process. In the USA, their style has profoundly informed the so-called Cleveland-Style and, in 1958, Johnny Pecon's English lyrics transformed Slavko's Tam kjer murke cveto into one of the Greatest All-Time Cleveland-Style Hits, "Little Fella". Since then, Cleveland-Style orchestras have recorded well over 200 Avsenik songs, which is sort of explained by the fact that Cleveland is home to the largest community of Slovenian immigrants and their descendants in the entire Slovenian diaspora.

The Avsenik Ensemble's decision to wear the national folk costume of the Gorenjska region was at first a pragmatic choice because of the durability of this attire and its suitability for outdoor events. Nevertheless, till this day, this fashion has became the primary way of dressing for Oberkrainer bands all around Europe.

The genre of music popularised by the Avsenik Ensemble, usually accompanied by an accordion, is the biggest musical industry in Slovenia today and presents the defining characteristic of the cultural scape in most of Slovenia. Its position in Slovenia's culture has often led (and still does) to heated debates, as it is thought by many that it represents (and features) the urban deficit and a primarily rural cultural mode of sensibility and sociability in Slovenia.

See also

External links

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Avsenik Ensemble +
SI-4275 Begunje na Gorenjskem +
The history of the Avsenik EnsembleThe history of the Avsenik Ensemble goes back to 1953, when the accordion player Slavko Avsenik (1929–2015) formed his first trio and later regrouped it into a quartet that also featured his older brother Vilko Ovsenik (who had changed his name to the pre-WWI spelling of the family's last name).e-WWI spelling of the family's last name). +
The history of the Avsenik Ensemble goes bThe history of the Avsenik Ensemble goes back to 1953, when the accordion player Slavko Avsenik (1929–2015) formed his first trio and later regrouped it into a quartet that also featured his older brother Vilko Ovsenik (who had changed his name to the pre-WWI spelling of the family's last name).e-WWI spelling of the family's last name). +
Begunje na Gorenjskem +
SI-4275 +