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8.223146 - ENESCU: Romanian Poem / Romanian Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2
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 Poème 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 Iaşi, 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 how 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.
In an interview on Radiodiffusion Française in 1951 Enescu explained that the Romanian Poem, written in 1897, contained impressions and memories of his childhood in Romania, transposed or stylised, a distant evocation and a way of recalling some of the images of a country he had left as a child of eight. The work, which had met with the initial approval of his teacher Gedalge and of Camille Saint-Saëns, was first performed at one of the Concerts Calonne at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in February, 1898. Its success was immediate.
The Romanian Poem is a programmatic suite, pastoral in mood, and making use of a wordless chorus to produce its effects. The first movement offers the picture of a summer evening in the country on the eve of a holiday, and the second brings a thunderstorm, depicted with a use of the orchestra characteristic of the period in French music. The storm dies down and the cock crows as dawn approaches and the bells ring in the holiday. The work ends with folk-dances in triumphant celebration.
The two Romanian Rhapsodies, Opus 11, completed in 1901, have continued to enjoy popularity. They make relatively few demands on a listener, and rely heavily on loosely connected episodes based on folk-dances and folk-songs, in a world far removed from the Wagnerian atmosphere of the First Symphony. The first Rhapsody uses Hora lui Dobrica, the song Mugur, mugurel (“Little Bud”) and the lively Ciocirlio (“The Lark”). The second Rhapsody is based on a Moldavian ballad, an important element in Romanian folk-music, in which the heroic past is imaginatively related.
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