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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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20th-century Romanian classical music has meant, to all intents and purposes, a single figure, the violinist and composer George Enescu (1881-1955), one of the major composers of the twilight of Romanticism, who evolved in his later works an individual, complex, and leaner style with elements of folk music. The very attractive music of this undervalued composer deserves a resurgence of general interest.

Enescu, out of necessity, spent much of his working life outside Romania, and no other major Romanian composer emerged in the first half of the century. Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) produced mainly late-Romantic concertos, of which the Violin Concerto (1957) is pleasant but unremarkable. The second half was dominated by the excessively repressive Communist regime, and the paucity of musical quality scarcely deserves comment. Composers such as Doru Popovici (born 1932) and Sigismund Toduta (born 1908) seem to have retreated into a soft regurgitation of early Romanian musics, while the Symphony No.4 `From West to East' by Serban Nichifor (born 1954) has to rank among the worst ever written, a set of musical postcards of all that is most kitsch in American music, popular and serious. There is also a Symphony No.3 `From East to West'. As Romania develops after the liberation from communism and more of its music becomes disseminated, a clearer picture of the music of such composers as Stefan Niculescu (born 1927) may emerge to revise this otherwise gloomy picture.

Two composers of Romanian origin who left their native country deserve mention. Roman Vlad (1919) moved to Italy in 1938, becoming an Italian citizen in 1951. Marius Constant (born 1925) settled in Paris following his studies there (1945-1949). He has pursued an unconventional path using conventional means, drawing on an eclectic range of styles, often with a touch of humour, regularly with jazz elements. He came to prominence with the Twenty-Four Preludes (1958) for orchestra, and his subsequent orchestral works include Turner (1961), a reaction to three Turner paintings. In Les chants de Maldoror (1962) a reciter's words prompt reaction from the conductor, and consequently from the orchestra of twenty-three instrumentalists in aleatoric fashion, while ten cellos have pre-determined material. His concertos are entertaining and sometimes startling: the Barrel Organ Concerto includes reworkings of music by Mozart and Beethoven written for mechanical organ, and an astonishing range of sonorities from the solo instrument; it is recommended. Chorus and Interludes for horn and orchestra is almost pure jazz, with improvisatory tenor saxophone, double bass, piano and drums, the colours of the first two neatly matching those of the solo instrument. He collaborated with Peter Brook in the famous reworking of Bizet's Carmen (1981), and he has written a number of ballets and music theatre works with Roland Petit, while Candide (1970, concert version 1971 for harpsichord and orchestra) was written for the famous mime artist Marcel Marceau. His activities as a conductor of new music have been considerable, and he founded the celebrated ensemble Ars Nova in 1963.




ENESCU George (also spelt ENESCO, Georges)

born 19th August 1881 at Liveni-Virnar

died 4th May 1955 at Paris


George Enescu, acknowledged as the father of modern Romanian music, was also one of the greatest violinists of the century, an infant prodigy who entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 7, as well as a pianist, organist, and cellist, a distinguished teacher (the violinists Menuhin and Grumiaux, and the pianist Lipatti were among his pupils), and, to a lesser extent a conductor, who always claimed that composition was for him the most important of his activities, although his output was necessarily limited.

He studied in Paris (1893-1897), and spent much of his life in France (with regular visits to his estate in Romania), reflected in such works as the Sept chansons de Clément Marot (1908), with their delicate French romantic charm. French sensibilities remained a factor in his music, but it was with music of a strong Romanian folk flavour that he first came to fame, in particular the two Romanian Rhapsodies for orchestra of 1901. These, in particular the stunningly exciting No.1 - perhaps the most convincing fusion of folk (here Romany) rhythms and orchestral forces yet written - have threatened to eclipse the rest of his compositional achievement outside his native country.

His music is one of the last flowerings of the Romantic age, and is tinged throughout with the suggestions of Romanian folk music, but only rarely brings an overt folk idiom to the fore. He is in many respects the Romanian equivalent of such composers as the Pole Sz ymanowski and the Czech Suk, and like the latter, his own personal language only achieved full fruition in his last works.

The opulent, thick late Romantic textures of his symphonies have dissuaded many, but would probably attract as many more were they better known. In the Symphony No.1 in E flat (1905) the strong echoes are those of Brahms, but the work has an effective, rather sensuous slow movement, and a rousing ending. The Symphony No.2 in A major op.17 (1912-1914) is a less obviously earnest, more complex work, with sensual echoes ofStrauss and Szy manowski, combined with a suggestion of folk influence and with cyclic construction. It is a mixed work, at times demanding emotional attention, at others long-winded, but those who respond to the last flush of the twilight of Romanticism may find it rewarding. The opulence of the polyphony of the closing music, ending in a kind of Edwardian disintegration, is as rich as anything of the period. The rhapsodic Symphony No.3 in C op.21 (1916-1918, written while the composer was looking after wounded troops on his estate in Romania) uses piano, organ and wordless chorus as well as orchestra, not for the massed effect one might expect from the previous works, but for an intense and still rich and lyrical, sometimes almost introverted, expression of colour effects (with a lovely delicate and Impressionist close), in a work that is more a triptych of symphonic poems than a symphony. A fourth (started 1934) and fifth symphonies were left incomplete on his death.

Of his other orchestral music, the three orchestral Suites are in many ways more rewarding than the symphonies, as the narrower ambition of scale seems better to suit Enescu's language. The Suite No.1 in C, op.9 (1903) has a remarkable opening for strings and timpani, while the very attractive Suite No.2, op. 20 (1915, also in C) is one of the earliest works with a strong neo-classical flavour, with extended polyphonic writing in the first movement (prefiguring Ro ussel and Martinu, complete with piano in the orchestra), recalling Enescu's encyclopedic knowledge of the music of Bach. This is combined with touches of Enescu's typically sensuous and heady colours and with Romanian folk-music, in a work that deserves wider appreciation, standing as it does at the crossroads between two musical epochs. The Suite No.3 in D major op.27 (1937), is subtitled Suite villageoise ( Village Suite), and is different in tone and intent, describing his childhood village with beautiful late-Romantic detail and contemplation, full of lovely transformations of folk material in the process, as well as a more complex and more dissonant harmonic language.

Enescu's chamber music includes three works for larger chamber forces, the Deux intermèdes op.12 (Two Intermezzi, 1902-1903) for strings, the Dixtuor op.14 (1906) for wind instruments, gentle and sonorous in spite of its symphonic scale, with a touch of the exotic in its middle movement, and the very assured Octet op.7 (1900) for strings, in which the whole piece is one sonata form, the four movements providing exposition, the development of the first and then the second subjects, and the recapitulation in addition to their traditional contrasts. Of the two string quartets, the String Quartet No.1 in E flat major op.22 (1920) is over-long, while the String Quartet No. 2 in G (1950-1953) is full of French colour effects. Of his violin sonatas, the third (op.25, 1926, with strong Romanian influences) is the best known, while the second (op.6, 1899) exemplifies the twin influences of the French and of Brahms.

But (the youthful Octet apart) Enescu's masterpieces are to be found among his last works, as he changed the polyphonic flow into a more complex and more personal harmonic style, and converted the thick orchestral textures into a more luminous use of colour. Chief among these is his only opera, Oedipus, based on Sophocles' tragedy, which he started in 1921 (though it had been conceived earlier) and finished in 1936. Again paralleling the sensual Mediterranean colours of Szymanowski (including at one point a nightingale), its individuality is founded on its echoes of Romanian folk music sublimated into the general style, and the extensive use of chorus. The libretto, by Edmond Fleg, distils the complete Oedipus trilogy into one opera. The two longer central acts of the four-act form provide the drama; the first act is a prologue, the last an epilogue. The ending (unlike the Greek models) is one of reconciliation and peace, with Oedipus retiring peacefully, his eye-sight restored, to die as an old man. The score, with its subtly shifting rhythms, its beautiful details of orchestration, and extensive use of chorus, has a strong French influence entwined with the Mediterranean atmosphere. Oedipus is Enescu's finest work, and given the immediacy of the plot, it is surprising that this opera is not central to the modern repertoire. More likely to be encountered is the marvellous Vox Maris op.31, a symphonic poem describing a storm overtaking a small craft, the lifeboat being launched, and the sea swallowing up the small craft to the sound of the Sirens. The sea then subsides, satiated. It briefly uses soprano, tenor and chorus to create the effect of a human drama overcome by the power of the sea. The shifting rhythms of the sea (including the broken effect of turbulent storm-waves) and the drama are beautifully evoked, and Enescu produces vivid colour effects (including a wind-machine) within the largely Impressionist sound. It was begun in 1929 but not finished until 1951, and long thought to be unfinished.

Enescu taught at the École Normale (Paris), at the American Conservatory in Romania, and later in New York (1946-1950). He founded his own string quartet (1904), and the George Enescu Symphony Orchestra (now the George Enescu State Philharmonic Orchestra) in Bucharest in 1917, and was notable for his partnerships with Thibaud and Cortot.


works include: (33 acknowledged works)

- 3 symphonies (No.3 with organ and chorus) and Chamber Symphony

- Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orch.

- Concert Overture, 2 Romanian Rhapsodies, 3Suites (No.3 Suite villageoise) and Voix de la nature for orch.; symphonic poem Vox Maris for tenor, chorus and orch.

- 3 violin sonatas; string octet; Dixtuor for winds

- 3 piano sonatas (the second never written down)

- opera Oedipus


recommended works:

Chamber Symphony op.33 (1954)

Octet op.7 (1900) for strings

opera Oedipus (1921-1936)

Romanian Rhapsody No.1 (1901) for orchestra

Romanian Rhapsody No.2 (1901) for orchestra

Suite No.2 in C op.20 (1915) for orchestra

Suite No.3 (Suite villageoise) op.27 (1937) for orchestra

Symphony No.3 in C op.21 (1919)

Vox Maris op.31 (1950) for tenor, chorus & orchestra



N.Malcolm George Enescu - His life and Music, 1990


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