Dimitrie Cuclin

COMPOSER, MUSICOLOGIST, WRITER, FOLKLORIST, INSTRUMENTALIST, ESTHETICIAN, PROFESSOR, BYZANTINOLOGIST, PHILOSOPHER Born in Galatzi (24 March 1885), he began his musical studies with his father, the composer and professor Constantin Cuclin, continued at the Bucharest Conservatoire (1903-1907) under D. G. Kiriac and Alfonso Castaldi, and perfected his art at the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique in Paris (1907), under Charles Marie Widor (composition), and at Schola Cantorum, also in Paris (1908-1914), under Vincent d'Indy (composition). Professor of the history of music, musical esthetics and composition at the Bucharest Conservatoire (1918-1922, 1930-1948), violin professor at City Conservatory of Music and Brooklyn College of Music in New York (1924-1930), Dimitrie Cuclin was also a prolific journalist (he founded and headed the Foaia Volanda magazine in Bucharest, 1932-33), held conferences and presented scientific papers in Romania as well as in the USA, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, etc., published poems, essays, plays, sonnets, 333 parables, novels, philosophical and art dialogues; he made translations into French and English (all of Eminescu's poems), wrote librettos for his own operas (Soria, Trajan and Dokia, Agamemnon, Bellerophon, Meleagrididae). He published music textbooks, musicology treatises, a treatise of musical esthetics, and a treatise of composition. He collected folklore, and wrote hundreds of instrumental and vocal works inspired by folk songs. As a philosopher, he left the manuscript of a Treatise of Metaphysics and La Théorie de l'Imortalité. He was a redoubtable polemist, with extreme ideas that cost him years in prison during the communist regime (he was sent to labor on the Danube-BlackSea canal between 1950-1952), and brought about significant individual, political and professional, enmities. He was a recluse, especially in his final years. He died in Bucharest, aged 93, isolated from the colleagues in the Union of Composers, who granted him their Great Prize for his entire lifetime activity… after he died (7 February 1978). He received awards of the Romanian Academy (1923, 1934), the George Enescu National Composition Award (1931), the State Prize (1955), the Labor Order (1955) and Cultural Merit order (1969). An encyclopedic scholar and huge musical personality, Dimitrie Cuclin's artistic heritage is impressive and surprising in its diversity of musical genres and forms, unique in modern music. A declared supporter of grandiloquence in music (he composed, for instance, 20 monumental symphonies of 650-1235 pages each, which he didn't even have the chance to listen to in public), he wrote cycles of hundreds of choruses and lieder, successfully approached camera music, from string trios and quartets to wind quintets, sonatas and suites (10 suites for solo violin!), wrote gigantic operas in five acts, cantatas, oratorios and vocal-symphonic poems – all in all, an unparalleled body of compositions in world music. The exceptional merit of Dimitrie Cuclin's theoretic works consists in the unitary system of Romanian thinking, comparable to any models of universal culture. Certainly, his points of view may be accepted or rejected, but the logical arguments, and the abundant culture he invests in his theories, remain captivating and original, when not utterly bizarre. Cuclin decried any modern sound syntax, for music – in his opinion – had come to an end with… Vincent d'Indy, that is, at the beginning of the 20th century. His downright hostile attitude towards atonal, serial, and avant-garde music isolated him as years went by, the climax of loneliness coming at a patriarchal age (80-90). He never made concessions to either the officialdom or the professionals, and especially the experimentalist esthetic trends or fads. Dimitrie Cuclin fell prey to many exaggerations and exclusivist thinking in his judgments, sometimes marked by strong feelings (superbly reflected in his correspondence and diaries, revealed after his death).As a man, Dimitrie Cuclin charmed through modesty and ethical probity. As a teacher, he impressed through the range of information he had and the profundity of his ideas. As a scholar, he dominated through intelligence and spirit. As a man of letters, he surprised with the purity and expressivity of a language spoken by ancestors, as well as in his direct contact with the world of the village and folklore. As a musician, he attracted through the monumentality of his sound constructions, the balance of forms, their variety and originality. Owing precisely to this combination of exceptional virtues, the thinker and composer Dimitrie Cuclin became singular, remaining, ironically, foreign and opaque to the rejuvenating esthetic and technical progress of the 20th century, and thus a particular "case" among Romanian composers. At the theoretical level, Dimitrie Cuclin advocated a radical reform of the functional system, attempting the change of classical definitions, and this relegated him among bizarre musicians. Today it is difficult to penetrate the labyrinth of his musical thought, but no one can deny the uniqueness of his esthetic and theoretical system. In particular when he expresses in sound relations such as subject-object, abstract-concrete, absolute-relative, truth-reality, Dimitrie Cuclin remains hard to decipher, though not impossible. Thus, his fascinating, elaborate works are difficult to classify, understand, or construe right after a concert. One feels, however, the presence of a scholar of sounds lost in a world of contrasts, which he conquers from the height that only great minds come to know.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)