Brâncuşi And The World Of Music

For the sparkling sculptor of modern art, music represented a secret passion. It was only after the master's death that his close friends, V.G. Paleolog and Marcel Mihalovici revealed to the world the place the art of sounds took in the atmosphere of the mysterious studio in Impasse Ronsin, Paris. Hours upon hours, days and night, months and even years of serious theoretical disputes and scholarly auditions took place there in the company of Toto Brăiloiu (the great scholar of Romanian folklore), boisterous parties lulled by songs from the banks of the Oltenian Jiu river, in the company of famous composers like Erik Satie, Marcel Mihailovici and Darius Milhaud. Or graceful dance recitals of the Codreanu sisters (a Romanian folk costume was sketched here for ballerina Lizica Codreanu who wore it in a choreographic show). Unforgettable moments in the life of this artist, this stone and wood cutter, stimulated in his creation by the archaic melos, to which he listened thanks to the latest gramophone records, hidden somewhere between boulders and logs that peacefully awaited their turn to be "polished" by the master.Constantin Brâncuşi left the heart of Romania, the village of Hobiţa in Gorj to go to France. From his childhood he learnt to play the leaf, the pipe, the ocarina and especially to sing. Tens of folk songs from Oltenia entered his sentimental archives to be brought to light and presented to the French, Irish or other nationalities of guests that visited him in his Paris studio. When he was a boy he used to sing for the church, and once he made a bet that he would build a violin. Which he did, and then learnt by himself to accompany professional artists. This happening prompted him to enroll with the School of Arts and Trades of Craiova. Once in the capital of Oltenia region he became part of the choir of the Madona Dudu Church, and it seems that the priests there greatly appreciated the quality of his voice and his innate musicality. Above all he came to master the art of bell ringing. He became a virtuoso as he discovered special effects, "with the clapper on the side." In Bucharest he was a paid singer with the Mavrogheni Church, and to make a leap to classical music he got hired in the Carmen choir conducted by D. G. Kiriac. By his care, Brâncuşi took the post of singer in the Romanian Orthodox Chapel of Paris. "I was grotesque in the grease-stained, funny-looking surplice, incensing the whole place and then passing the thurible to the priest, but when it came to Alleluia or The Angel Has Cried I was second to none. Priest and cantor, they both went green with envy, especially the cantor who was so vain about his deserts which he deemed absolute," V. G. Paleolog quoted the words of his devoted friend, Brâncuşi, in the magazine Tribuna of Cluj, dated March 10, 1969. A neighbor in the house on Izvor Street was Dimitrie Cuclin, another great Bucharest professor and composer. "I don't remember exactly how I met Brâncuşi," said the author of the Meleagrides in Tribuna României, issue 79 of February 15, 1976, "but I think that it was in the studio and apartment of painter Emil Damian. We became good friends and as it happens in such cases we saw each other so often that we came to ignore each other mutually." They met again in 1926 in New York and then continued to write. "I had a composition, Round Dance that I dedicated in 1938 to his ensemble of Târgu Jiu, on the staff of which artist Burada drew the head of the sculptor." Another "head", that of Zoe Cuclin, the composer's wife sketched by Brâncuşi, as well as the sculpture Prometheus could be found in the collection of the musician until after the second world war.In Bucharest, in the Dr. Suţu residence (where Eminescu died) the sculptor met with poet Ion Minulescu, conductor Alfred Alessandrescu, composer Ion Nonna Otescu, painter Steriadi, writer Ion Vinea, journalist Pamfil Şeicaru, while pianist Monique Haas, wife to Marcel Mihailovici (the author of that piece of information) played pieces by Chopin. Perhaps it was then that the unique composition Songs and Dances was born. Marcel Mihailovici dedicated it to Brâncuşi and it featured folk texts from the famous collection of G. Dem. Teodorescu, "a work written in one day, in the summer of 1924."Many and precious are the testimonies of composer "Cip" or ""Cipică" (as the sculptor used to call Marcel Mihailovici endearingly). "I cannot forget the first visit I paid to his studio, that extraordinary, dizzying impression I had; it was like a trauma, a shock to see that sculpture that I knew from reproductions, which didn't mean a thing, and especially to be in that studio, that entire universe that he had created. It was a stellar, lunar realm, I don't know, an extraordinary world and there he stood in his white overalls, wearing a beard…" Other intimate testimonies are given by Valeriu Râpeanu in the volume Memories about Enescu, Brâncuşi and Other Friends (Eminescu Publishing House, 1987). The musician and the sculptor played duets on the violin, Brâncuşi accompanying the Bucharest fiddler. Once he received a phone call: "Cipică, come to have dinner with me tonight. I am half a century tonight!" He cooked deliciously, but if you made any comment about this "talent" you were immediately excluded from his close circle. The house wine was "Borjolie" (he could not say the French word Beaujolais). The sculptor was religious without being actually faithful. For instance, Mihailovici possessed an Antiphonary "that had belonged to Brâncuşi when he had been a reader in which he had noted a gamut invented by him. As he could not read scores he had concocted signs after which he sang. He was prodigious! He had also given me the cliches made for Satie at his expense after 'The Liturgy of the Poor' by Satie. He liked the French composer for the hilarious side of his character and also for his crazy music. In the famous Gymonopedias he has used Romanian folk songs, many heard in the studio of Brâncuşi, whom Toto Brăiloiu constantly supplied with records. The sculptor also adored African folk music, and even the music of Black Americans (jazz with Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, George Gershwin). He was so fond of Erik Satie that he sent Mihailovici to visit him in hospital: "Go see how the old man is faring." And Satie had replied, "Tell the old man that I fancy some caviar." The following day, Marcel Mihailovici went on, "I went with a kilo of caviar to the hospital and asked to see Satie. They inquired if I was family so that I realized he was dead."In 1939, Brâncuşi met Maria Tănase and Grigoraş Dinicu at the New York World Exhibition. He sang many folk songs to her for he had not forgotten the verses that he used to whistle gently and humorously: "Chirps the cuckoo somewhere near/ In the meadow let's go, dear/ To make love in scented bier." A manuscript page from the Library of the Romanian Academy Maria Tănase read: "I met Costache Brâncuşi in New York and I left him in the bed brought from his Paris studio. It was raining that day and he asked me to sing for him. Not to see him cry he propped his back against mine so that I could not spy his face. Later on, after many songs, he fell asleep. Not to wake him up, I put a pillow to support him instead of my back. I kissed his hand and I left a letter for him on the table. In an hour I had to leave for the country." The meeting was caught in a photo document. Seemingly, "the laments" of Maria Tănase did not enchant the sculptor, if we are to believe architect Octav Doicescu, since he preferred doinas and playful, merry tunes, with jocose lyrics. He favored spontaneous, direct, simple music. For this visionary artist of simplicity, the music of Wagner sounded "barbarian", that of Beethoven "too dramatic", whereas Mozart he deemed "gentle and sweet." He compared J. S. Bach with a lion stepping majestically in the desert (V. G. Paleolog).It is a fact though that music accompanied him along all his life, and the Romanian folk song soothed his longing after the country, comforting the immigrant to Paris until his death.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)