A Play for Two

The Sociable Instrument of Sopila

By Croatian National Tourist Board

In the Far-off Kvarner...

In Croatia, the folk art traditions of the Kvarner region, as well as of neighboring Istria and the Croatian littoral, are a rich and idiosyncratic combination of music, dance and song. 

... and Istria

When singing and dancing are accompanied by music, it often comes from the sopila, a traditional woodwind instrument with a very distinct tone.

Detail of sopileCroatian National Tourist Board


The sound of sopile, shrill and very characteristic

Sopile detailCroatian National Tourist Board

Sopila / Sopile

Sopile (plural of sopila) are small wooden horns most closely identified with the Croatian island of Krk but used throughout the Kvarner region, comprised of the islands and shorelines of the Gulf of Kvarner, the body of water between the Istrian peninsula and the mainland Croatian littoral.

Sopile closeupCroatian National Tourist Board


Sopile, called roženice in Istria, are similar in form to the oboe, in that they are double-reeded and have a long stem that flares out to a bell shape. Unlike the oboe, which has more than 20 holes, the sopila has six holes and is played on the Istrian scale—the six tone scale developed on the Istrian peninsula.

Sopila close upCroatian National Tourist Board

To ears accustomed to traditional Western music, sopile music — and that of other instruments and singing in the Istrian scale — can sound shrill and off-key.

Sounds of Croatian Littoral

In Kvarner, Istria and the Croatian littoral, sopile are always played in pairs. The two sopile — a larger, fatter "male" instrument with a deeper tone and a smaller, thinner "female" instrument with a higher tone — are played together and to the same melody, except at high and low keys.

Men starting to playCroatian National Tourist Board

Sopile playing is an integral component of two-part singing and playing of music in the Istrian scale. This unique folk music form is so distinct to Istria and the Croatian littoral that it is inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Musicians in the olive fieldCroatian National Tourist Board

Sopile playing

Soplia musiciansCroatian National Tourist Board

On Krk Island

On Krk and surrounding islands, sopile were traditionally played during informal gatherings, often in the evenings when townspeople gathered together after mass. They were also played at weddings, masses and religious processions.

Man playing the instrument, sitting on stoneCroatian National Tourist Board

Close up of a man playing the instrument, sitting on stoneCroatian National Tourist Board

Two sopila players from the distanceCroatian National Tourist Board

On the island of Krk, the annual Krk Music Fest always devotes a section of the festival lineup to traditional folk music, with several performances by sopile musicians.

Carved wooden sopile can also be purchased as souvenirs of the island.

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