The first Romanian Composer whose Music Belongs to the Universal Cultural Heritage
A genius. A free man. A genuine modern spirit, not only for fashion’s sake. A man of his word. A character. George Enescu, the first Romanian composer who crossed the threshold into the universal cultural heritage, loved equally the cockcrow, the folkloric tones and the thrilling Wagnerian chords. Furthermore, he merged them inimitably and miraculously in his creation, making possible this way not only his ascend from national to universal, but also his worldwide recognition amongst the greatest composers in the world.
What makes George Enescu a pioneer is precisely the fact that he is the first Romanian composer who transcended the national cultural heritage by reinterpreting Romanian traditional cultural elements, entwined with the finest influences of the international music, in a distinctive and matchless way.
“A general characteristic of our [Romanian] national music is the ubiquitous sadness, present even in happiness. This dor [painful longing, nostalgia] is indefinite yet deeply moving. But to me this music is, above all, a music of reverie – a music prone to the minor mode, the color of nostalgic dreaming”, thought George Enescu.
The creator of an unique body of work which embodies his life goal
George Enescu was three years old when he fell in love with the Romanian music, hearing by chance a traditional fiddlers’ band the same day he listened, hidden in an orchard, to an old gardener playing his flute. A child prodigy, he was only five when he began to study at the Iasi Conservatory. Although he became a brilliant violinist and pianist, having studied in Vienna, where he was appreciated and envied for his technique, George Enescu has never ceased to follow his life dream – to become a composer. That was the reason he left Vienna for Paris, where he could devote himself to composing.
What is important in art is to vibrate and make others vibrate
“Perfection, which is the passion of so many people, is irrelevant to me. What is important in art is to vibrate and make others vibrate”, said Enescu.
In Paris, the famous French opera composer Jules Massenet perused the young Enescu’s manuscripts catalogue, looked him in the eyes and said: “You will succeed!” It was the same enthusiasm that made the Belgian violin teacher Martin Pierre Marsick affirm: “This student has the qualities of a great virtuoso to the highest degree when it comes to tone, intonation, technique, and profundity of style.”
His debut as a composer took place in 1898 (when Enescu was only 17) at the Colonne Concerts in Paris, with the musical work “Romanian Poem”. It was considered the first national opera in the Romanian music history and was extremely well received. But the music the composer has created surpassed the folkloric element and managed to integrate the authenticity of Romanian rhythm into universality, alongside the most sophisticated European influences like Brahms and Wagner.
For George Enescu – the composer, the essence of music resided in the polyphony, in the overlapping which he always treated with the utmost exigency. “No matter its length, a piece may be called a musical composition if it has a line, a melody or -even better- overlapping melodies”, thought George Enescu.
His genuine calling for composing, seen as a rendition of emotion through sound, was magically proven in writing the “Oedip” opera, one of the most complex and challenging score in the world to the day. By the end of the 1920s he was already thinking of a second opera, inspired by the story of the Romanian legendary builder Manole, but regrettably he didn’t get to compose this one.
George Enescu has been such an exceptional teacher – Yehudi Menuhin’s family left the United States for Paris so that he may study with Enescu. Dinu Lipatti, Arthur Grumiaux, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel numbered themselves among his remarkable students as well.
A generous man, a pure character, a model
Even as he worked hard all his life to fulfill his dream of becoming a composer and gave concerts throughout Europe, George Enescu never stopped contributing to the wellbeing of his country.
If it weren’t for its wonderful peacefulness and purifying echo, the music would be just an absurd sequence of sounds.
During the two World Wars George Enescu chose to stay in Romania, where he used to take the violin and play to the wounded in hospitals. “I had the chance, not only once, to see the ailing brighten up after just a few notes. This transformation of the soul is the supreme raison d’être of music. If it weren’t for its wonderful peacefulness and purifying echo, the music would be just an absurd sequence of sounds.”
George Enescu was dedicated also to the encouragement of young musicians. Many of the concerts he played in Sinaia or Bucharest supported local or national charitable causes. As the Honorary Director of the Romanian Musical Association, George Enescu made substantial donations to pay for musicians’ scholarships. In 1912 he took a tour through Romania and raised over a thousand sterling pounds – a huge amount of money at that time – in order to launch a national composition award.
What makes George Enescu a man of his word, not only a great musician?
It is his dignity, his generosity, and the warmth he showed his friends.
The story of the friendship between painter Ștefan Luchian and George Enescu, told by poet Tudor Arghezi, is now legendary. During Luchian’s final days, when the painter was bedridden, paralyzed and almost unable to speak, Arghezi paid him a visit one morning only to find him crying. He found out that in the course of that night, while Luchian was ailing in bed, Enescu came to his room, took out his violin and, without saying one word or even turning on the light, played for his friend for two hours tirelessly.
All this in total modesty and discretion. A friend of the Maestro remembers that in his last years, although he was ill, he never asked for anything. “I stand corrected, he asked once for a spoonful of jam…”
But maybe the most powerful appreciation of George Enescu comes from his closest pupil, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, renowned violinist and conductor, and one of the most prestigious musicians of the 20th century. “If the reader would be able to imagine an encyclopedic mind twinned with the most generous and selfless heart that could be, all these – in a man with a noble and handsome appearance, with a romantic face always animated by creative genius whether he was speaking, teaching, conducting, playing the violin or the piano, but mostly while he was composing – the image would still not be complete. To me, Enescu is the most extraordinary human being, the greatest musician, and the most powerful influence someone has ever had over me.”
He left Romania after the installation of communism
And still, following the Communist seizure of power in Romania, this talented man had to leave his country in 1946. He relocated to Paris, where – while he had devoted friends close and kept in touch with his Romanian friends as well – the years until his demise in 1955 were nothing else but an exile. In 1951, the Communist authorities of Romania invited him to come back as the patron of the Romanian Music Week. He demanded in exchange that Dimitrie Gusti and Constantin Rădulescu-Motru be readmitted to the Romanian Academy, and also that composer Mihail Jora’s wife be released from prison. Since his terms haven’t been met, George Enescu never returned to Romania. This stance makes sense when we read Yehudi Menuhin’s words about his Maestro, whose fatherly love he treasured – George Enescu was a “free and powerful man”.
“Enescu captivated me before the first note was played. His face, his attitude, his dark hair, his entire being – all stated that in front of me stood a free, powerful, untethered man, one endowed with fervor, spontaneity, and creative genius. And his music, when he started playing, had an incandescence that surpassed all I had heard until then.”