From The Musical Folklore Of Children To The Comic Opera For Children

In 1954, the great Romanian ethnomusicologist Constantin Brăiloiu (1893-1958) held a scientific presentation at Colloque de Wegimont in Belgium that amazed all specialists present in the audience, because it unsettled all theories regarding the musical culture of children from 'civilized' countries as opposed to that of children from 'primitive' countries. He demonstrated – with the help of authentic audio samples – that, in spite of the linguistic diversity it can never escape, "childish rhythms remain unchanged across all Europe …and the same stays true, in any case, with the Kabyles, the Tuaregs, the black people of Senegal, Dahomey and Sudan, with the indigenous people of Taiwan." Even in the case of languages with different stress systems (for example: in Hungarian it is the first syllable that is stressed, whereas in Turkish the last one bears the stress), the rhythmical stress remains the same. The very particular rhythmical system of children's music – Brăiloiu concluded – has its origins if not in dancing, then in a common regular movement, foreign languages having adapted themselves to this invariable pattern, from "the Hudson Bay all the way to Japan." Half a century after this theory was formulated, folklorists everywhere have come to understand how revolutionary the Romanian ethnomusicologist's ideas really were, and all intellectual creation dedicated to children, from the mid-19th century to the present, stands as proof. That was how the songs of the Fröbeliene German kindergartens made their way into Romanian schools: O Tannenbaum, a German folk song, became O, Mouse!, and Fuchs, du hast die Gans gestohlen, another German song, circulated in our country under the title Fox, You Stole My Goose! The simplicity of Romanian carols was a success story at the beginning of the 20th century, when carols massively entered children's vocal repertoires, and great composers, such as Timotei Popovici, D. G. Kiriac, Isidor Vorobchievici and Eusebie Mandicevschi created an entire musical literature for the small ones. The duck, the frog, the skylark, the nightingale, the cuckoo, the raven, the kid, the hedgehog, the dog and the cat widely infiltrated into the children's musical universe through songs of folk essence and with strong roots in children's authentic folklore. The authors were reputed composers: D. G. Kiriac, Gheorghe Dima, Ion Vidu, Eusebie Mandicevschi, Max Eisikovici. Songs such as Aia-baia, Nani-nani, or Two Shepherding Sheep have turned children's games into genuine hits. One particular Romanian song (Oh, What a Joy!) by Alexandru Paşcanu (1920-1989) was released to great success in Italy (1974), then spread across the world. Even if some 20th century composers wrote instrumental miniatures of great effect by using pop music rhythms (Cornel Fugaru, Aurel Giroveanu) or certain forms of classical music, such as the suite (George Onciul), the children's universe of sound was significantly enriched by complex compositions which led them towards the great repertoire of 'heavy' music, e.g. the symphonic tales of Constantin Bobescu (The Restless Colt, A Tale from the Forest), Aurel Giroveanu's radio fairy tales (The Golden Hen, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Red Riding Hood) and the vocal-symphonic compositions of Theodor Bratu and Nelu Ionescu (The Purse A'Tuppence). It is altogether interesting that composers had the idea to resort to the great classics of Romanian literature (Ion Creangă, Vasile Alecsandri, Petre Ispirescu) and of world literature (Marc Twain, the Grimm Brothers, Edmondo de Amicis), but also to fairy tales (Ileana Cosânzeana, White Moor, Prince Charming), which gave birth to ample compositions for children: ballets, operettas, musicals, fairy plays, comedies. Based on librettos created around classic literature that children usually study in school, many compositions have had great success: the fairy-tale-opera The Goat and her Three Kids by Alexandru Zirra, the fairy-play-opera Prince Charming by Herman Klee, the ballet White Moor by Alfred Mendelsohn, and the comedy Păcală by Sabin Drăgoi. Besides this national repertoire, Romanian composers also tried to adapt various foreign popular subjects to music, for example The Prince and the Pauper by Laurenţiu Profeta, Cuore by Carmen Petra-Basacopol, Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood by Aurel Giroveanu, Puss in Boots by Cornel Trăilescu, Peter Pan by Laurenţiu Profeta, Mary Poppins by Marius Ţeicu. Drawing on universal models and local folklore tales, Romanian writers and composers have also produced works with a new, original subject-matter, the best known scores for musical theater being the following operas: King Log by Lucian Teodosiu, and Baboi's Gang by Nelu Ionescu, the fairy play The Orphaned Girl by Nicolae Oancea. Romanian musical literature for children saw a great boost in the period between 1930-1970 (since music was a priority in schools), and when the radio became a social good, the Children's Choir of Romanian Radio was founded (1945), a first-class musical group of national and international success, which stimulated kindergartens and children's homes in the farthest and smallest corners of the country. On the 15th of October 1998, the Romanian composer and musicologist Smaranda Oţeanu-Bunsa laid the foundation of the first Comic Opera for Children private company, which became a state institution in 2003. With a widely-varied repertoire of vocal musical pieces and choreographic ones, from modern to classical ones (Bastien and Bastienne by W. A. Mozart, Pimpinone by G. Ph. Telemann, La serva padrona by G. B. Pergolesi, The Pharmacist by J. Haydn, Il Signor Bruschino by G. Rossini, A Pedagogue of the New World by A. Vieru, Old Lady Kiritza by Al. Flechtenmacher, A Stone in the House by Roman Vlad), and of short ballets (Pygmalion, Oblio, Don Quixote, La fille mal gardeé, Beauty and the Beast), the Comic Opera for Children has become a nationally and internationally reputed institution (there were tours in Croatia and Israel). Every day, the Children's Palace of Bucharest is invaded by a host of children who, without any special invitation, are always headed towards the theatre at 14 and 16 hours, because, if it's a Monday or a Tuesday, then there must be some ballet or opera the children simply refuse to miss out on. The children learn the main arias by heart and, after only a couple of shows, can identify both the title of the work and the actors. Ion Pisa, the great tenor of the Romanian Opera House in Cluj, once told me that for a whole decade, each time he would be spotted in the streets or in parks, children would shout out after him, calling him 'the Goat', because, in their minds, he was one and the same with the character he had played in "The Goat's Tale" by Max Eisikovits. "I've played the Duke of Mantua and Faust, Rodolpho and Alfredo Germont, I've played Onegin and the Count of Luxemburg on the world's great opera stages, but nothing came even close to the popularity I gained in Cluj, where everybody, young or old, had nicknamed me 'the Goat'," the singer told me, amused, half a century after the opening night of Eisikovits' opera. In Romania, children's music already has a history of 150 years, because all great composers (beginning with George Enescu, the author of Silence, a musical piece for the choir written in 1946) have successfully tackled this musical genre, a genre as tender as it is complex and difficult in what the vocal-instrumental technique is concerned.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)