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8.223142 - ENESCU: Symphony No. 2 / Vox Maris, Op. 31
George Enescu (1881-1955)
The Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu may now be seen as the most important figure in the musical history of his country. He was born in Moldavia in 1881 and had violin lessons there with a pupil of Vieuxtemps, before moving, at the age of seven, to the Conservatory in Vienna, where he studied with Joseph Hellmesberger. In 1893 he went to Paris for further study with Marsick and took composition lessons at the Conservatoire from Massenet and Fauré. In 1897 a concert of his work was given in Paris and by 1899, when he won the first violin prize of the Conservatoire, he was already known as a composer, his Poeme roumain having proved particularly successful. His subsequent career brought him similar distinction both as a performer and as a conductor.
Although Enescu's career was centred on Paris, with the formation in 1904 of the Enescu Quartet, and increasing commitments both as an unwilling virtuoso and later as a teacher, he retained his connections with Romania and did much to encourage music there, through the Bucharest Conservatory and through the Conservatory at lasy, where he established the George Enescu Symphony Orchestra in 1917. His influence on younger Romanian composers was to remain considerable.
Yehudi Menuhin, in his autobiographical Unfinished Journey, has described the powerful impression that Enescu made on him, when, as a small child, he first saw him at a concert in San Francisco. He was later to become Enescu's pupil in Paris, and has given testimony to the strong influence that Enescu had on his musical development. Other pupils included Arthur Grumiaux, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel.
Enescu was a remarkably versatile musician. He was a competent pianist, accompanying Thibaud in the first performance of his own second Violin Sonata, and able to play all of Wagner from memory at the keyboard. In his phenomenal memory he held the complete works of Bach, and Menuhin describes now he was able to play Ravel's new Violin Sonata from memory after two brief readings with the composer. His natural ability as a small child had led him to become a virtuoso violinist, but his interest was always rather in composition than performance, the second providing the means for the first. His life was divided between Paris and Romania, his character and his music presenting a similar contrast between cosmopolitan urbanity and the more passionate elements that were part of his Moldavian inheritance.
Enescu wrote four "school" symphonies, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, compositions he regarded as mere exercises. His earlier orchestral successes were with works of an overtly national kind, the Romanian Poem of 1897, played under Edouard Colonne in Paris in 1898, and the two popular Romanian Rhapsodies of 1901. The first of his five numbered symphonies was written in 1905. The second, the Symphony in A Major, Opus 17, was composed during the years 1912 to 1914 and was only performed once in Enescu's life-time.
It seems that Enescu intended to make further revisions in the second symphony, probably with the idea of simplifying what is a very complex score. The form in which we now have the work contains relatively few of these changes but is perfectly accessible to modern orchestras and proves, indeed, to represent an important stage in the composer's development, coming, as it does, at the threshold of his maturity as a composer. There is here a wide romantic sweep and melodic flow, coupled with intensity of contrast and a masterly use of polyphonic and heterophonic techniques.
The three movements of the symphony are broadly in traditional sonata-form, with cyclic ideas ensuring the organic unity of the whole work. The first movement, marked Vivace ma non troppo, contains four cyclic ideas, an impetuous and vigorous first subject, that introduces the work with all the restless energy of a Richard Strauss, a transitional idea, the Romanian inspired second subject and the French horn signal theme that leads into the development.
The slow movement adds two further melodic elements, the first adding a mood of serene lyricism and the second plaintive in character. The following movement, written as war swept Europe, opens with a long introduction suggesting danger to come, with its distant drum-beats, leading to the outburst of the Allegro vivace, also marked Marziale. The symphony ends, as symphonies had traditionally tended to, with a mood of triumphant optimism, bringing to an end a work that is a further musical demonstration of Enescu's musical principle of continual action.
The symphonic poem Vox maris, Opus 31, occupied Enescu intermittently between 1929 and 1951 or later. Scored for tenor, chorus and orchestra, the work contains traces of an earlier stage of the composer's development, and has been compared in some respects with the Third Symphony, completed in 1921, and the opera Oedipe, which he wrote during the following ten years. Vox maris is in free sonata-form, swelling to climax, before tension decreases once more. Based on a French and Breton text by Willy, the text was prepared by the composer himself.
Enescu wrote of his personal experience of everything described in Vox maris: Imagine a stormy sea. A sailor stands motionless, watching, his eyes on the horizon. The wind grows stronger, becoming a gale. A siren is heard in the distance, a warning, and cries can be heard in the storm. The lifeboats are lowered. The sailor takes the oars and starts rowing towards the sound. People on shore follow with their eyes as the boat rides the crests of the waves. Suddenly it vanishes. The waves hurl themselves against the frail craft, which sinks. The wind blows over the waves, as night falls. The only sounds now are those of waves on the shore, and far away the sound of the sirens' song. The sea has swallowed its prey, and sated now grows calm again. Sacrifice has appeased the angry gods of the sea, and now the moon shines over all.
Horia Andreescu is the conductor of the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra of Bucharest and is permanent guest-conductor of the East Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and Bucharest Radio Symphony Orchestra.
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