Thursday 24 June 1971


The following article is an overview of the career of Serbian conductor Radivoje Spasić. The main source of information is an exchange of letters and emails between Radivoje Spasić and Bas Tukker in the summer of 2010. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Radivoje Spasić's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2010

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Radivoje Spasić
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: July 6th, 1932, Belgrade, Serbia (Yugoslavia)
Nationality: Serbian


In the 1960s, Radivoje Spasić was the conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Sarajevo, the Bosnian broadcaster in former Yugoslavia. As such, he was commissioned to conduct the two Yugoslavian Eurovision Song Contest entries in those years which were originally submitted by Bosnian song writing teams, ‘Život je sklopio krug’ in 1964 and ‘Čežnja’ in 1965. These songs were performed by Sabahudin Kurt and Vice Vukov respectively.


Radivoje Spasić was born and raised in Belgrade. At Belgrade’s Music Academy, he studied the piano, solfège, counterpoint, musical form, score playing, instrumentation, harmony, conducting, singing technique, history of music, and history of art. As a student, he was given the chance to follow a two-month conducting course at the International Summer Academy of the Mozarteum University in Salzburg (1954). There, his talents were quickly recognized by two renowned musicians who taught the master classes in Austria, Igor Markevich and Volker Wangenheim. Thanks to this, back in Yugoslavia, the Sarajevo Opera offered Spasić the opportunity to conduct an opera. Satisfied with the performance of the promising young student, Sarajevo Opera decided to give him a scholarship, upon which Spasić moved to the Bosnian capital in 1955; there, he finished his music studies two years later.

Spasić continued working for the Sarajevo Opera until 1963, when he was appointed chief conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Sarajevo, the broadcaster of Bosnia-Herzegovina within former Yugoslavia. With the orchestra, he recorded over 4000 minutes of music for RTV Sarajevo. On top of that, on many occasions, he conducted it during concerts with music by Haydn (‘The Creation’, ‘The Seasons’), Beethoven (Symphony no. 9), Liszt (‘Faust’ Symphony), Shostakovich (‘The Execution of Stenka Razin’), Gershwin (‘Cuban Overture’, ‘Rhapsody In Blue’, extracts from ‘Porgy and Bess’), and many more. 

Occasionally, jazz musicians were added to the orchestra in order to be able to accompany pop and jazz performances for radio and television, most importantly Vaš Šlager Sezone, an annual music contest which was first held in Sarajevo in 1967. Moreover, Spasić conducted in the Opatija Festival for popular artists such as Arsen Dedić and Dragan Stojnić, as well as waving the baton during studio sessions with Sabahudin Kurt, Indexi, and Bele Vrane.

During his spell as chief conductor in Sarajevo, Spasić was often invited to conduct other classical orchestras as a guest, both in the former Yugoslavia and abroad: he made appearances in France, Italy, Greece, West Germany, Romania, Poland, and Slovakia. He worked extensively in the former Soviet Union, receiving invitations from Odessa, Vilnius, Tbilisi, and Yerevan. Spasić had the opportunity to collaborate on the concert platform with some of the world’s most praised classical music soloists, such as violinists Leonid Kogan, Igor Oistrakh, and Stefan Milenković, cellist André Navarra, pianists Shura Cherkassky and Alexander Uninsky, and operatic tenor Luigi Alva.

In 1976, Spasić moved to his native city of Belgrade to become the artistic leader and conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Belgrade, which was later renamed the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Serbia. This exclusively classical ensemble was managed and conducted by him until 1990. During the nearly fifteen years he was in charge of this orchestra, he worked on countless TV productions and numerous theatre concerts with music by, amongst others, Liszt (Symphony to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’), Tchaikovsky (‘Manfred’ Symphony), Borodin, Prokofiev, Sibelius, and Saint-Saëns (Cello Concerto no. 1). He also worked with several other classical ensembles, including the RTV Belgrade Female Octet, which he conducted in their 1979 performance at the Zagreb Music Biennale. In 1980-81, Spasić was the president of UMUS, the Association of Musical Artists of Serbia.

From 1990 onwards, Radivoje Spasić worked as the Director of Music Production at RTV Serbia, having the responsibility for not only the symphony orchestra, but for the RTV Belgrade Jazz Band (led by Zvonimir Skerl), the mixed chorus, two child choruses, two folk music ensembles, the music library, and the recording department of the broadcaster as well. After his retirement in 1997, Spasić moved to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Rehearsing with the orchestra in Copenhagen at the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest


In the 1960s, twice a song from Bosnia-Herzegovina represented Yugoslavia in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1964, Sabahudin Kurt won the Yugoslavian heats with ‘Život je sklopio krug’; one year later, Vice Vukov, a Croatian artist, won the national pre-selection with another brilliant ballad submitted by Bosnian authors, ‘Čežnja’. On both occasions, Radivoje Spasić accompanied the winning artists as their conductor to the Eurovision finals, in Copenhagen (1964) and Naples (1965) respectively. Quite undeservedly, both songs did badly in the voting, finishing 13th and 12th; nevertheless, the 12th position obtained by Vice Vukov in 1965 is the best result of a Bosnian Eurovision entry submitted by the former Yugoslavia.

For Spasić, his two appearances in the Eurovision Song Contest were not exactly the highlight in his career, “My great love has always been classical music. I have never been fond of listening to pop or rock – not even to jazz. As a young conductor at RTV Sarajevo, I was given all kinds of commissions, ranging from operas, oratorios, and symphonies to popular music, for example the Eurovision pre-selections and the international Eurovision Song Contest. Conducting and recording popular music was, what I would call, showing professional attitude towards my job. That is the reason why I accompanied Sabahudin Kurt to Copenhagen and Vice Vukov to Naples, one year later."

"Although, of course, there was a language barrier, I did not find it extremely difficult to work with the Danish and Italian orchestras. As a conductor, you do not always need words – you can resolve most problems by simply using your hands. Moreover, the music was very easy. I mean, conducting classical works such as Schuman’s ‘Piano Concerto’ or the ‘Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso’ by Saint-Saëns is infinitely more complicated than leading the orchestra for a 3-minute popular song! When we scored so few points, that did not come as a surprise to me and it certainly did not hurt me personally. For me, this was just another job.”

The Yugoslavian pre-selection of 1965 was marred by two scandals. Originally, nothing pointed to Spasić conducting in the contest in Naples; he was not even included on the list of invited musicians for the Yugoslavian pre-selection. What was more, a shortlist containing the vocalists, arrangers, and conductors, from which the participating song composers could choose, did not include a single name from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because of this, the Union of Bosnian Composers organized a protest, as a result of which Radivoje Spasić, in the end, was added to the list of conductors. 

In the Yugoslavian pre-selection held in Zagreb, he led the orchestra during the rendition of the two songs which had been submitted by Bosnian composers. One of those songs, ‘Čežnja’, was chosen as the Yugoslavian representative for the international contest. Prior to the pre-selection in Zagreb, ‘Čežnja’ had nearly been disqualified, when it transpired that composer Julijo Marić had written the orchestration to his work himself; as he was not included in the previously mentioned shortlist of arrangers, this was considered as a breach of rules. In the end, however, because Marić’s orchestration was generally thought of as good, it was decided upon to not disqualify the song and publish the arrangement under the name of one of the short listed musicians, Vojislav Simić from Serbia.

Spasić never returned to the Eurovision Song Contest podium after 1965, although there were two more Bosnian songs to represent Yugoslavia in the 1970s. Spasić about this, “After some years at RTV Sarajevo, my reputation as a conductor grew. This meant that, sometimes, I had the option to give some of my commissions to other, younger musicians. For them, this was an opportunity to advance their own careers. As I was not fond of working on pop music, I decided to give away the particular job of working on Eurovision to Esad Arnautalić, who was a staff arranger for Bosnian radio and television at that time.”

Sabahudin Kurt (left) and Radivoje Spasić at the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen


So far, we have not gathered memories of other artists who worked with Radivoje Spasić.


Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Život je sklopio krug”
Rendition – Sabahudin Kurt
Lyrics – Stevan Raičković
Composition – Srđan Matijević
Studio arrangement – Srđan Matijević
Live orchestration – Srđan Matijević
Conductor – Radivoje Spasić
Score – 13th place (0 votes)

Country – Yugoslavia
Song title – “Čežnja”
Rendition – Vice Vukov
Lyrics – Žarko Roje
Composition – Julijo Marić
Studio arrangement – Julijo Marić / Vojislav Simić
Live orchestration – Julijo Marić / Vojislav Simić
Conductor – Radivoje Spasić
Score – 12th place (2 votes)

  • Heartfelt thanks to Radivoje Spasić himself for providing us with minute details about his career in music in an exchange of letters (2010)
  • Heartfelt thanks to Jasna Lubura of the Netherlands Embassy in Sarajevo for helping us to get in touch with Radivoje Spasić, and to Amina Šišić for translating some Bosnian source material
  • All photos courtesy of Radivoje Spasić

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