Petar Perunovic was the greatest and the most popular gusle player known
in the history of epic poetry and gusle players. The tumultuous times of
the first couple of decades of the present century were an extremely significant
turning point for our people, especially for the Serbians and Montenegrins.
Balkan Wars, First World War, legendary retreat through Albania, Thessaloniki
Front, and finally the reliberation and union of the fatherland were the
events that could be, in a way, understood as a pendant to those of 1389
at Kosovo, since they, by all means, represent their final episode.
At that time, besides great military leaders and statesmen, the unsurpassable
gusle player, Petar Perunovic, also emerged as one the famous personages.
Petar was born in 1880 in the village of Drenovstica, in Pjesivci. Montenegro.
He began to sing at the very early age. Often he sang sitting on an elm
tree in front of his house; he was usually late for school because he would
stop by Ilija Kontic, the gusle player and successor of the style elaborated
by the celebrated hero, priest Milo Jovic. After he had completed his elementary-school
education, Petar moved of Serbia, to Sabac, where his friend, Stanislav
Vinaver, welcomed him warmly and offered him unconditioned hospitality.
Under the influence of Ruza Vinaver, the famous pianist, and Stanislav's
mother, Petar learned to appreciate music and decided to take her advice
and go to Belgrade to attend the Mokranjac Music School. However, there
he was advised to stick to his gusle and to go to a teacher-training school.
Since he had no means to support himself while attending school, he
found a job us a clerk in Valjevo. There he used to visit his friend's
homes and sing accompanying himself with gusle. In Valjevo he made acquaintance
with two Chetnik voivodas, Vuk Popovic and Voja Tankosic. At one gusle
player's concert held in Valjevo in 1908, Dobrivoje Nenadovic presented
him the gusle, formerly the gift of knjaz Nikola to Jaksa Nenadovic. On
the occasion Dobrivoje said: "Good gusle, but to better hands I give them,
so hew the Turks". From that time and until his death. Perun (Petar's nickname)
never let go of this very instrument, and today it is kept in his nephew's
home in Cetinje.
That night Valjevo Perun became a professional player. He left his job,
bought folk in Valjevo and set on a tour, singing at gatherings and in
schools. On St. Vitus Day in 1908 he sang "The Battle of Kosovo" seated
at the Monument dedicated to the heroes of Kosovo in Krusevac, while a
company of soldiers fired a gun salute in his honour.
At the meeting protesting against the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Perun, attired in rich Montenegrin folk costume, mounted the statue of
Knez Mihailo in Belgrade and sang several folk songs and his own improvisation
"Oh, Bosnia, you poor, unfortunate one", in a strong, ecstatic voice.
He won the attention of Belgrade audience, and his photograph appeared
in the papers the following day. At the meeting of the Drina detachment
volunteers, he sang in front of the royal palace, and when presenting,
in the name of the people, a sword to price Alexander, heir to the throne,
he said: "People give you this sword to break the chains of Bosnia and
Herzegovina, and gusle will praise your glory". After that, volunteers
carried him on their shoulders to the Parliament, where he sang again and
called people's representatives to fight for their brother's freedom. He
also performed in all Belgrade advanced schools, and then he continued
his tour in Serbia, and via Zlatibor, he crossed over to Sanjak. In Priboj
he was imprisoned because of his singing, and knjaz Nikola was the one
who interceded for his release. After that he went to Montenegro and sang
at various places. In Cetinje he performed at the Zeta Center. Knjaz Nikola
received him the following day and, after his singing, decorated him with
Danilo Cross order. When he was leaving Marinic for Spuz and Niksic, a
group of horsemen, firing their guns, saw him off, which demonstrated best
of all how Montenegrins were enthusiastic about Perun's gusle playing and
In 1910 he sang to the subjects of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: in Sremski
Karlovci, at the celebration of the "Prosveta" (Education) Society in Sarajevo.
At the "Bulgarian hero's " jamboree in Sofia he had great success with
his poem about "Slavic Brotherhood". In the following year he revisited
the Vojvodina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Zagreb.
Among the most successful Perun's tours was the one to Herzegovina.
"You cheered and inspirited wherever you were" are the words written in
his Commemorative volume commenting this tour.
At the Panslavic Sokol gathering held in Prague in 1912 Perun performed
before 60.000 participants, and then he placed his gusle on Palacky's monument
as a symbol of Slavic glory and greatness.
At the outbreak of the Balkan Wars Perun joined the Montenegrin voluntary
troops. During the First World War, 1914-1918, he fought with the Serbian
army and he was wounded several times, first on Gucevo. His commander noted:
"That the VI Regiment could endure all the strain and suffering on Gucevo,
was largely made possible by the gusle player and hero, volunteer sergeant
Petar Perunovic". For his accomplishment at Gucevo he was promoted to the
rank of officer and decorated with the Takovo Cross order. He also passed
through the Albanian Golgotha. After the Serbian army had landed at Corfu,
Perun continuously sang to the thinned regiments. Old Serbian warriors
always remembered Perun's song "Maiden from the Morava". On April 6th 1916
when this already famous gusle player sang "Flight to the Fatherland",
the supreme commander, prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, decorated him with
St. Sava order of the V degree. Soldier's impressions were unforgettable.
Sreten Vukosavljevic, remembering Perun, wrote among other things: "I also
remember the day when we saw you off to the boat... and we cried because
we were afraid of submarines. We believed that God will guard you, because
you are a God's man ... you left for America and we went to the front".
With his tireless voice, that like a crystal mountain spring poured
into his listener's hearts and souls, Perun managed to gather about 10000
volunteers in America for the Tessaloniki front. When they had gathered
in Chicago before their departure for Europe, a ceremony was held at which
Dr. Biankini in the name of the American government gifted Perun with a
sword as a token of recognition. A unit of soldiers paid honour to volunteers
leaving to fight for their conquered homeland.
At the end of the war Perun had the rank of a I class captain and numerous
decorations, including Karadjordje's Star.
After the war, as a gusle player, he visited almost every corner of
his united fatherland. He sang the well known epic poems but also his own
improvised refrains on patriotism, moral and brotherly life in harmony.
Everywhere he was eagerly welcomed and cordially seen off.
Years between 1924-1934 he spent once more in America. There was not
a single immigrant's colony or respectable home that Perun and his gusle
had not visited. He was also Tesla's and Pupin's guest and he filled them
both with enthusiasm. From many compliments we cite the one uttered by
Dr. Marinkovic from Washington: "Petar Perunovic holds like a lit up torch
out of which warmth and light sprout, it becomes a torch of the entire
On his way back he was invited to visit Paris. There, at the Sorbonne,
he gave a performance with introductory lecture by professor Omanne, a
great admirer of our nation. When he returned to the country, he was not
pleased at all with the state it was in, very different from what he hoped
for and aspired. He was overwhelmed with disappointment and bitterness.
He sang rarely.
Two prominent features of the gusle player, Petar Perunovic, maybe discerned
from what has been said so far: he was a zealous national missionary and
he hand his own poetic and singing individuality Radoslav Medenica says
about Perun: "He is a God given artist who lives with his art, who is completely
saturated with it, and who is its very personification: that is why Perun
could penetrate into the soul of every man and establish permanent ties
between people and their past".
Living with the Vinaver family helped him develop enthusiasm for music
and "accomplish the highest standards among all Yugoslav gusle players...
reform and modernize both the epic and lyrical singing, adapting cautiously
to the European musical idiom, without any radical disturbance of the folk
tradition", as Jovan Vukmanovic put it. "The gamut of his singing was very
broad: heroic high tones, some melancholic, soul-stirring grief, and ghastly
tragicalness, lyrical ardour and ecstasy. Pero could masterly conjure up
all that for his listeners", says Stanislav Vinaver.
He had gentle and meek personality, feeling no envy, or a desire to
impose or distinguish himself. He soon gave away all of his fortune earned
in America. He spent years of occupation in scantiness. He rejoiced when
the liberation came but, alas, political slogans had replaced the gusle.
Soon he left for his village, where he slowly, withdrawn to himself, waned
He quietly passed away in the Zeta River on June 10th 1952.
From Mirko Dobricanin's book "Guslar Perun", Belgrade 2001