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Serbian composer and teacher Vasilije Mokranjac was born in Belgrade on 11 September 1923 into a prominent Serbian musical family. His parents were both cellists. Initially he studied piano, with Alexei Butakov and then at the Belgrade Music Academy with Emil Hajek, but became interested in composition, which he studied with Stanojlo Rajičić, thereafter working as a composer and teacher but never performing as a pianist. One of the Belgrade music schools he taught at was the 'Mokranjac', named after his relative, the composer and teacher Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac (1856-1914).
Vasilije Mokranjac was promoted in his teaching career, working as a lecturer, then senior lecturer and then professor at the Belgrade Music Academy, and he was known as a tolerant and broad-minded teacher, supporting his students in finding their own means of expression. This generated some criticism from other more conservative teachers.
As a composer, Mokranjac concentrated on instrumental music, writing initially in a folklore-embroidered neo-romantic style, mostly for piano. Later he concentrated on orchestral music, often in a neo-expressionist style, writing his first three symphonies. In his final period, he combined earlier elements with the 'new simplicity', creating a refined and lyrical sound world with neo-impressionism elements, and producing single movement structures, which included two more symphonies and works for piano and orchestra.
He was, during the 1960s, president of the Association of Serbian Composers, and became a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He also won many prestigious awards from the former Yugoslavian state.
Vasilije Mokranjac's life ended suddenly on 27 May 1984, aged sixty when, for unknown reasons, he jumped from the window of his flat in New Belgrade, leaving many unfinished works.
He remains known as one of the most prominent Serbian composers from the second half of the twentieth century.