After a lovely, peaceful Sunday on my balcony reading in the sun with a cat (or three) on my feet and Romanian classical works blaring from my long-suffering speakers, I couldn't go to bed without sharing some of my most favourite works with you. There are few things more soothing than shutting one's eyes and drifting off, bewitched by the spells of Enescu, Dimitrescu, Porumbescu and Negrea, to the swirling mist-enveloped mountain peaks, endlessly rolling hills, babbling brooks, joyous waterfalls, villages trapped in time....
Of course, the most famous piece known by everybody (even those who don't like the classics) must surely be George Enescu's lovely Rapsodia Romana (op.11 in A major), Nr.1.
Enescu wrote two Romanian Rhapsodies (HERE'S the second) which are probably his most well-known and loved compositions. As Yehudi Menuhin said, they are the heart-beat of a country of unequalled beauty, of powerful roots and a noble soul... Even if one has never set foot in Romania, listening to either (or both) of these works is a far better introduction than a guide book. The first chords seem to rise up through your toes and take over your very being... Once you have begun, you cannot escape - you must hear it all the way through to the end, and then, when the last note has evaporated, you sigh an aggrieved sigh and long to hear it all over again.
The two rhapsodies were composed in Paris and premiered together in a concert at the Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest, which also included the world premiere of Enescu's First Suite for Orchestra, Op. 9 (1903). The Rhapsody No. 1 is dedicated to the composer and pedagogue Bernard Crocé-Spinelli (a fellow-student with Enescu in André Gedalge's counterpoint class at the Conservatoire) and the essence is a dance. Enescu claimed that it was "just a few tunes thrown together without thinking about it", but his surviving sketches show that he carefully worked out the order in which the melodies should appear, and the best instrumental setting for each one. It was completed on 14 August 1901, when Enescu was still only 19 years old.
(Image source) This first rhapsody begins with the folk song "Am un leu şi vreau să-l beau" (basically translated selon moi as "I've got a coin, so gimme a drink!"). It is full of energy, full of exuberance - and soon replaced with a slower melody first introduced by the violins. As the work progresses, this theme grows faster and livelier to climax in a vibrant whirling folk dance.
Wikipedia notes: "Enescu conducted the First Rhapsody at what proved to be his New York farewell concert with members of the New York Philharmonic on 21 January 1950. The concert was billed as a commemoration of his 60th year as an artist, and in it he appeared as violinist together with Yehudi Menuhin in Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, as pianist in his own Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano (also with Menuhin), and as conductor of his Suite No. 2 for Orchestra, Op. 20, and the Rhapsody, which concluded the programme."
The next work I'd like to share with you is Ciprian Porumbescu's (1853-1883) beautiful Balada (op.29). Born in Sipotele Sucevei in Bucovina (today in the Ukraine), he was among the most celebrated Romanian composers of his time. See THIS video of his house. His popular works include Crai nou, Trei culori, Song for the 1st of May, and Serenada. He also composed the music for Pe-al nostru steag e scris Unire, which was used for Albania's national anthem, Hymni i Flamurit. Learning music from his father at an early age, Porumbescu was well prepared for the Vienna Conservatory where he studied under Krenn and Bruckner. He helped establish the Conservatory in Romania for instrumental and vocal music.
For political reasons, he was confined within a specific district and became a leading musical organiser and musician of the area. He conducted, composed and helped to establish a society for students. Subsequently, his music became the rallying cry for young Romanians. Popular music was Porumbescu’s inspiration. He composed most of his works in his later years while in service at the church of St. Nicholas, Brasov. There are certainly worse places to be confined, for St Nicholas's is simply lovely and Brasov 'probably the best town in the world' as it says on the parasols that today adorn str Republicii and Pta Sfatului - no 'probably' about it, if you ask me!
Balada is Porumbescu's best-known work. Alone in seclusion at Stupca, he meditated, drafted and finished the piece in 1880. It is full of poetry and bitter nostalgia, a mixture of "doina", old dance and song, everything in the environment of serene melancholy.
He died at the age of only twenty-nine in Stupca which was renamed Ciprian Porumbescu in his honour.
(Image source) Next, Constantin Dimitrescu's (1847-1928) Dans Taranesc (op.15) - best heard very loudly! A superb 'cellist, remarkable pedagogue and a fine composer, Constantin Dimitrescu studied in Vienna, Paris and Bucharest. Born in Blejoi, Prahova County, he was both prolific and versatile, founding the first string quartet in Bucharest in 1880. He won an international prize for composition in Turin (1889) and wrote an impressively vast amount of incidental, symphonic and chamber music. He is especially known for this elegant, supple 'Rustic Dance' for 'cello and piano which he also transcribed for orchestra under the title Danse Villageoise.
Constantin Dimitrescu was principal 'cellist in the Bucharest Philharmonic and the National Theatre Orchestra. Later, he conducted both. He was also engaged as a professor at the Bucharest Conservatory where one of his students was George Georgescu, who later became an important conductor after a hand injury forced him to abandon a successful career as a 'cellist.
This wonderful, light and yet profoundly colourful work transports you at once slap-bang into a Romanian village within the first few bars. The tempo and energy ebb and flow as the dances alter. One mood merges with yet another and then another until you're lost in a whirling haze of skirts, embroidered iie, headscarves and opinci... Although it is not heady like Porumbescu and Enescu, you have little time to catch your breath before you are whisked off for more.
Grigoras Dinicu (1889-1949 - photo source) is next on my list. He was a composer and virtuoso violinist and is most famous for his Hora Staccato, as well as for making the Ciocarlia for "nai" (a Romanian pan flute) so popular, composed by his grandfather, Angelus Dinicu. Jascha Heifetz once referred to Grigoraş Dinicu as the greatest violinist he had ever heard.
In the 1930s he was involved in the political movement of the Romanian Rroma and was made honorary president of the "General Union."
Of Grigoras Dinicu, Wikipedia says, "He was born in Bucharest in a neighbourhood of the lăutari. Because his father was busy with his own activity as a lăutar, he handed him over to "moş Zamfir", an elderly violinist, who taught him his first pieces. He attended the Bucharest Conservatory, where he studied with Kiriac-Georgescu. The most famous of his teachers was Carl Flesch, the violin pedagogue, with whom he studied in 1902. He received a scholarship at the Vienna Conservatory, but was forbidden to attend because of his Rroma origins. This was an episode he never forgot." I bet.
The Hora Staccato is a short and lightening work for virtuoso violin which has become one of the favourites for showing off technical prowess. The piece requires an exceptional command of staccato whilst its very nature demands the pain-staking articulation of every single note. The listener is literally bombarded with the vibrance and spontaneity as it hurtles outwards and is, at last, set free. Just listen and you'll see exactly what I mean. Wow!
Dinicu wrote the Hora Staccato for his graduation from the Bucharest Conservatory in 1906, performing it at the ceremony himself.
(Photo source) Next must definitely be Paul Constantinescu, born 1909 in Ploiesti. He is known for, amongst others, his song cycle Şapte Cântece din “Uliţa noastră” (Seven Songs from Our Lane), his brilliant comic opera, O noapte furtunoasă (A Stormy Night) and his two Byzantine oratorios.
Constantinescu first studied theory and violin in his hometown of Ploiesti. His studies at the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory (now known as the National University of Music) from 1928-1933, included courses with Mihail Jora and Constantin Brăiloiu. In 1934, Constantinescu spent a year in Vienna studying direction and composition with Joseph Marx. The following year he accepted a teaching position in Lugoj and commuted to Bucharest for further compositional study, again, with his mentor Mihail Jora. His work with Jora along with his professorship at the Academy of Religious Music in Bucharest from 1937-1941 influenced his compositions dramatically.
My favourite Constantinescu work is the Olteneasca, in which he incorporates his Romanian folk music influences that literally overwhelm every bit of phrasing. Simply superb.
Constantinescu's former teacher, Mihail Jora (1891-1971), my next choice, was a composer, pianist and conductor who studied in Leipzig. From 1929-1962 he was a professor at the Conservatory of Bucharest and from 1928-1933 was director/conductor of the Broadcasting Orchestra also in the capital. He became vice-president of the society of Romanian composers in 1944, but soon found himself in the line of fire from the new communist government. In 1953, he was rehabilitated and permitted to join the Composers' Union.
Amongst his works, one can count four ballets, one symphony, two major orchestral works, chamber music, choral music, vocal works and a large amount of pieces for piano. Listening to Jora brings Ravel to mind. There are moments in his works I find disturbing, uncomfortable, discordant. And yet, in those moments of haunting discomfort, those fragments of losing one's footing, one knows that indeed, that was exactly what Jora meant you to feel.
HERE is one of his songs, "Lumina", written for soprano.
(Photo source) Finally on my 'favourites' list (and it should have been up at the top rather than all the way down here), I can't possibly end without the Transylvanian born Martian Negrea (1893-1975) and his delightful Isbuc Tarantella from the 'Apuseni Mountains' suite. A composer, teacher and conductor from Valea Viilor, Sibiu, his works encompass a kaleidoscope of musical forms and genres with a very personal melodic style.
He studied in Vienna from 1918-1921 where he absorbed a generous amount of the great German masters. On his return to Romania, he taught theory, counterpoint and chamber music at the Conservatory in Cluj (1921-1941) before moving to the Conservatory of Bucharest (1941-1963). He was awarded the Ordinul Muncii in 1963, which sounds rather ominous, but... just stick to the Tarantella!
There are so many more - Ioan Scarlatescu, Dumitru Capoianu, Mircea Chiriac... I could go on for hours. But it's time for bed. My ears cannot take another note and my heart can absorb no more.
A country so rich in so many ways, and yet so poor in others. Through her classical music written by her myriad of gifted, talented tune-smiths, one is able to truly see Romania as God intended...