George Enescu At The Beginning Of A New Millennium

The history of world music has witnessed many spectacular overturns in the hierarchy of values, when names of purely local interest whose death was not even announced in an obituary (Johann Sebastian Bach) became world famous personalities a century later. Quite often, internationally acclaimed virtuosi (Paganini, Chopin, Liszt) turned into legends after retiring from the podium, their place being taken by the composer whom the instrumentalist merely announced. Today, such moral reparations are made much faster, because the print, the recording and the film speed up the balancing process expected from history. Comparing George Enescu's image in 1955 (when he died in Paris) and the one in 2001, we could say today we have to do with a different artistic personality, whose world dimension was not known in the past. If you open any encyclopaedia or musical dictionary published in 1950-1955, you will see the picture of a violinist, instrument in hand, accompanied by 5 to 10 lines describing him as one of the most important violin virtuosi in the first half of the 20th century. It is only seldom that mention is made that he composed two Romanian Rhapsodies and an opera, and this is done in such a manner that one may think this hobby of his – composition – has no relevance. It is surprising that even in France, his adoptive motherland, where most of his compositions were performed, including the absolute première of the lyrical tragedy Oedipus (1936), George Enescu's image was no closer to reality. "He is the most unjustly treated composer of the 20th century" the well-known musical critic Antoine Goléa wrote, expressing his hope that reparations will be made soon. How did this false image appear? Enescu was a man of proverbial modesty, and when he died, there were many of his compositions he had not even heard performed in public. Although a violinist, a pianist and a conductor, Enescu the instrumentalist did not serve Enescu the composer. He preferred to perform the compositions of his fellow musicians (Jora, Andricu, Golestan, Negrea, Mihalovici, Drăgoi, Paul Constantinescu, Enacovici, Ion Dumitrescu, Lipatti, as well as the Romanian pieces granted the "George Enescu" national composition award, instead of his own works. At the time of his artistic acme (1920-1930), the radio, the records and the sound movie had not yet entered the commercial stage. Enescu did not live to see the stereo record, the CD and the video cassette, all key instruments in posthumously furthering the image of an instrumentalist, not to mention that of composers and lyrical artists. Even if Enescu never held a permanent teaching position, the brilliant students he tutored especially after having retired from the podium (1945-1952) proved he was one of the best teachers of the last century. Leaving aside the "wonder child" Yehudi Menuhin, who reached artistic maturity very fast, while the Romanian professor was still living, most his disciples (Arthur Grumiaux, Christian Ferras, Ida Haendel, Ivry Gitlis, Dinu Lipatti, Lola Bobescu, Robert Soetens, Henryk Szeryng, Ute Ughi) became world famous personalities after their master's death, thus bringing Enescu only posthumous fame. Lastly, it has been said (not without a documentary basis) that sometimes one single outstanding composition can make an anonymous composer famous for the rest of his life. Such a case is the lyrical tragedy Oedipus. After being quickly replaced from the repertoire of the Paris Grand Opera House, no lyrical theater in the world ventured to stage it again, which led to the "burial" of his masterpiece. Without this composition, Enescu the composer is deprived of about half of his artistic heritage. If we add to this the lieder and the choirs on queen Carmen Sylva's verses, banned by the communist regime after 1946 both from being performed and printed, and the difficulties of the French publishers which hindered the post-mortem spreading of the Romanian composer's works, we can get a fairly gloomy picture of the last decade of his tragic life, and especially of the time of his death. Very much aware of the true value of Enescu's musical heritage, the instrumentalists, musicologists and the fellow musicians in the Romanian Composers' Union started an intense campaign for the reconsideration of his work after 1955. Most of the remaining manuscripts left at home or brought from abroad were published. Public performances of his entire work previously published and even of various pieces discovered in public and private collections were organized. This resulted in the discovery of a major composer. The Bucharest première of the lyrical tragedy Oedipus (1958), a Romanian production of outstanding quality, and the tours of the Romanian Opera throughout Europe promoted his masterpiece. This inspired the theaters in Saarbrücken, Warsaw, Dresden, Kassel, Berlin, Vienna, and Lucerne to stage classical as well as modern versions of Enescu's work. Two recordings (on micro and CD), a color film version, the publication of the original manuscript by the Musical Publishing House in Bucharest have been important steps in making Oedipus famous. The festivals, competitions and musicology symposia organized in Bucharest represented the "reinforced concrete" of the new Enescian edifice. The publication of various reference materials (bibliographies, composition catalogues, chronologies, volumes of correspondence, illustrated albums) and monographs have created a new image first of the composer, and secondly of the instrumentalist and professor. Unknown facets of the musician have also appeared (such as his preoccupations with drawing, caricature, poetry, memoirs), not to mention the valuable testimonies of his disciples at the various specialization courses in France, the US, Italy and Britain, which revealed the true dimension of the exceptional teacher he was, an aspect not entirely known while still living. What is Enescu's present image like? First of all, the instrumentalist/composer ratio has changed fundamentally in favor of the composer. Apart from the fact that he was recognized as the founder of our national modern school of composition, Enescu entered for good the pantheon of great world composers. It is the essential merit of the Romanian researchers, composers and instrumentalists who have shed light on all Enescu's technical and aesthetic innovations (heterophony, the spoken song – sprechgesang – in the opera, the variational system, polyheterophony, the melodic and rhythmic archetypes, the parlando-rubato system of folk origin, the "Romanian folk style" musical language, etc.), some of which were later adopted throughout the world. Enescu gradually became a forerunner of the 20th century musical language, and the Romanian post-Enescu generation of musicians was the main beneficiary of these original means of artistic expression. The Romanian composers to use Enescu's innovations for the first time (Theodor Grigoriu, Cornel Ţăranu, Pascal Bentoiu, Wilhelm Berger, Myriam Marbe, Ştefan Niculescu, Aurel Stroe, Anatol Vieru) became the champions of the contemporary school in an international context. Enescu's immense heritage also left significant traces in our national musicology. Tens of monographs and books of technical analysis appeared, revealing a pleiad of researchers, thirsty for these miraculous sources, which are unique in our musical history. Just as in literature, where a new branch of specialists appeared (the Eminescologists), we now have several internationally renowned Enescologists capable of bringing scientific arguments to support a Romanian composer of world stature. Today, professional circles rank Enescu among the world's best symphony composers (5 symphonies, 3 symphonic suites, a chamber symphony, a long symphonic poem entitled Vox Maris, a concerted symphony for cello and orchestra), a master of lyric theater (Oedipus), and most of all, an exceptional representative of chamber music, who revolutionized the technique of violin playing (Sonata no. 3 for piano and violin "Romanian folk style"). The fact that George Enescu asserted himself in all the classic genres and forms, conferred him the posthumous image of a complex personality, characteristic only to brilliant musicians, and rid him of the too narrow label of "brilliant violinist" of some time ago. What else will the third millennium bring? A confirmation that Oedipus can stay side by side with all the great lyrical compositions of the world. Secondly, a confirmation that Enescu's music expresses the artistic ideal of a European school of violin and composition undeservedly ignored. Lastly, that his chamber music and symphonic compositions should enter the world circuit of ensembles and instrumentalists. This would enable contemporary audiences to have access to a deliberately ignored treasure belonging to a small people endowed nevertheless with an original tradition and a particular professional force.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)