Grigoraş Dinicu: Memoirs

excerpt  These lines will introduce us into the international career of the great violin virtuoso. At the height of his career, Grigoraş Dinicu carried across the world the fame of Romanian fiddlers and of the rich Romanian folk song. After the creation of the Bucharest Philharmonic led by conductor George Georgescu (1920) impresario Romulus Orchis made it a habit to take almost all foreign soloists to the restaurant where Grigoraş Dinicu and his band played. On the walls of its halls I saw in 1949 portraits of several virtuosos accompanied by dedications full of enthusiastic words about the Romanian violinist. The encounter with Mischa Elman meant the beginning of "the second youth" for Grigoraş Dinicu.  An engagement in London It was in 1927. Grigoraş Dinicu and his band played at the Enescu and Andreescu Restaurant. His fame was being recognized by all the great artists who visited Romania. On one such occasion, the reputed violinist Mischa Elman[1] met Grigoraş Dinicu and expressed appreciation of his qualities.One day, impresario Romulus Orchis came to Grigoraş Dinicu's house, at 41 Sfinţilor Street to inform him that the great violinist Mischa Elman was going to arrive that day in Bucharest and after his concert he would come to Enescu and Andreescu's to listen to Dinicu. So, indeed, in the evening, after the concert (as Grigoraş Dinicu recounted the story) together with maestro George Georgescu, Romulus Orchis, came Mischa Elman, whom Grigoraş Dinicu knew only from records, and his pianist. When the quartet was about to finish supper and only few people still remained in the restaurant, Grigoraş Dinicu and his orchestra (second violin Gh. Rădulescu-Boeru, cello Mihail Motoi and Cristache Ilie Vlădescu) advanced silently to the table where stood one of the most exquisite violinists of the world at the time. Dinicu began to play pieces by Fritz Kreisler the way only he could. Mischa Elman put the knife and the fork back on his plate, gaping in admiration. As Grigoraş Dinicu was a past master at folk music, he attacked a few Romanian songs. The guest could not believe his eyes and ears and he told maestro George Georgescu: "I don't believe this artist is a restaurant musician." Maestro George Georgescu contradicted him saying that Grigoraş Dinicu was not a pub violinist as Elman imagined but an artist of genius. In Romania many called him a fiddler without realizing that such a "fiddler" could not exist anywhere else. Mischa Elman was not convinced and asked Dinicu to play all sorts of classical pieces, which he figured the man did not know. Then Grigoraş Dinicu excused himself for he was no longer going to sing close to his ear. Elman inquired: "Do you mind if I call you my colleague and friend?" To kill him off, if I may put it like that, Grigoraş Dinicu replied:"Very well. And since you are my friend and colleague I would ask you to permit me to play two more songs that I think will delight you more than the one played until now." So Grigoraş Dinicu finished talking and took again his violin and started to play the Staccato Hora (Round Dance). Listening to this, the guest seemed lost in thought, amazed at Dinicu's staccato going up and down so easily and naturally. When he began The Skylark, Mischa Elman could no longer keep quiet and interjected: "Voilà un vrai maitre du violon!" (This is a true master of the violin!) The evening he left Romania, Mischa Elman said good-bye to Grigoraş Dinicu and then asked him all of a sudden: "Tell me, Dinicu, would you like to come to London to sing?" "I would come for three months only for I hear engagements there last only six weeks." Six months went by and we received no tidings from Mischa Elman. One evening a bloke in tails and nothing on his head showed up at Enescu and Andreescu's. It was a strange thing. Not that Romanians were not used to seeing people in tails but upon entering the establishment this man flipped away the snow that had fallen on his tails. The director of the place, Jean Machitescu, who had specialized in culinary art in London too, where he had stayed for two years, recognized at once an Englishman used to classy restaurants and offered him a table far from the orchestra. But the man refused: "No, sir. I have come from London on purpose to listen to this orchestra and therefore I would like to have a table right next to the band." The orchestra played for about an hour without an intermission. The man summoned Machitescu and told him to invite the conductor of the orchestra to come to his table as he wanted to ask him something. "I would like to listen to a 10-minute programme including art and attraction. In case I like it I will hire them for three months in London to play at the Park Hotel Restaurant." Upon hearing this, Grigoraş Dinicu told Machitescu: "Ask him, please what kind of people come to this restaurant so that I know how to address the public." When Machitescu conveyed the words of Grigoraş Dinicu, the man replied: "Finally someone who wants to know for whom he plays and not for how much money." Then Grigoraş Dinicu went on stage and began to play Romanian songs, a solo by Kreisler, concluding with The Skylark. The Englishman approached then the orchestra holding in his hand a contract already drawn up. Dinicu asked for a 20-minute delay to consult with his band, and the Englishman nodded his approval. In two months, Grigoraş Dinicu left for London. Arrived for the first time in the British Capital at the suggestion of the famous violinist Mischa Elman (who had listened to him in Bucharest), the Romanian virtuoso carried further the fame the our fiddlers who had played abroad as early as in the 19th century. The world exhibitions of Paris – inaugurated in 1869 – drew attention to the Romanian folklore and especially to its interpreters. Thus several Romanian musicians crossed the Channel and tried to delight the London public with their art. In the British Capital, Grigoraş Dinicu shared fame with another great folk virtuoso: Georges Boulanger, a fiddler from Tulcea. His stay in London was the first step on the ladder of international fame in Grigoraş's career.At Green Park Hotel in London
The newspaper Rampa carried a interview granted by Grigoraş Dinicu on his return to Romania, about his London contract. The interview bore the title "Return from London of The King of Gypsy Players" by A. Dumbrăveanu. …After the debut, the audience wanted to hear more and more. Instead of the 15 minutes for which I had been hired to play (previously the director of the restaurant, an Italian called Cassali had drawn my attention that, no matter the success I enjoyed, I was not supposed to give more than one or two encores. I played for an hour. After a few days when I went on stage to perform I could hear the public singing in low voice fragments from Doina or Steluţa. Many tried even The Skylark but they just got their tongues tied. The Brits like "Tsocarlia" the best – they could not say Ciocârlia (Skylark) – and each evening I had to play it over an over at the insistent demand of the public. The English dubbed me the King of Fiddlers. So I received numerous letters from our Georges Boulanger (while I was in London, playing at Green Park Hotel he was playing at the Savoy Hotel, the poshest restaurant in London; I could recount our meeting but then I'd rather keep it to myself) on the following addresses: "The King of Gypsies from Romania," "The Emperor of Gypsy Fiddlers from Romania" or "To my professor, the king of the violin, etc." On May 10, 1928 I was in London when Mr. Laptew, who was the locum tenens of Mr. Nicolae Titulescu invited me to the legation to play during the reception organized in celebration of Romania's independence. The most outstanding personalities of the United Kingdom attended the event. I went through my entire Romanian folk repertory and from that very day I gained several fans, numerous personalities who wanted to listen to me throughout my stay in London. At the end of the reception the people from the Legation said: "Bravo, Grigoraş but please wind it up for otherwise our guests will never leave! You go first, be more of a diplomat than them!" The first evening in London I was very excited. I did not know the public, I had no idea what they liked and what they didn't as in every country fruit have a different taste. So I wondered what I could play first. Like by magic, I found myself performing Doina, the most representative Romanian folk song. I am persuaded that Romanians have always expressed everything by this song, pain and joy alike. Musically, I think this song has been preserved unaltered notwithstanding the suffering our country had to put up with during its history. When I finished the British began to clap their hands and cry "bravo." They also liked when I placed a visiting card on the cembalo and started At the Mill. This tune is the best known after Enescu's Rhapsody and in a couple of days when walking in the street and being recognized I had the joy of hearing this tune whistled or sung by passers-by. I don't know what made me return to the country so quickly. But then I missed the grilled mititei and a spritzer. As one day they had started repairing the main façade, I turned down a contract at Piccadilly's, and I came back to enjoy our restaurant public, the consideration with which they surround me and put up with my whims. In London I came to understand that an artist must not be forced to give more than he can. Here I have the satisfaction of being home, no matter how hard it may be. I do not wish to abandon this country for all the gold of foreign countries. In Romania I feel content and happy because I know that what I play is known. I'm not a curiosity, a Balkan or Oriental freak, so to speak. I am a Romanian in my own country!" Upon his arrival in the country, Grigoraş Dinicu was proclaimed the principal ambassador of Romanian folk music. On that occasion, at the suggestion of N. Titulescu the then government awarded him a high a generous reward and decorated him. After a couple of years, in 1929-30 Grigoraş Dinicu accepted another engagement in Paris and played at Michodiere and at the Ambassadeur on Champs Elysées. There the success of Grigoraş Dinicu knew no bounds. The Parisian press sang his praises and the French government accorded him the tokens of the FrenchAcademy in rank of knight. He was proposed to go to Ostende in Belgium. Shortly, he brought over his family as well. Being together with his loved ones he coped better with his home-sickness and stayed six more months in Paris and then in Monte Carlo. (Transcribed by his son, Grigore Dinicu) Excerpted from Flacăra, Bucharest, December 15, 1977 

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)