Nicolae Iorga And Music

It comes as no surprise that a genuinely encyclopedic spirit of Nicolae Iorga's caliber, conversant with history, literature, religion, church, army, commerce, education, trades, guilds, arts, etc., etc., should be passionate about music. His existence was markedly influenced by the art of sound through his personal connections to the great musicians of his time, ranging from Enescu, Gheorghe Dima, Ion Vidu, Theodor Burada, D.G. Kiriac, Gavriil Musicescu, Dimitrie Vulpian, Ion Costescu to Dimitrie Cuclin, Constantin Brăiloiu, Ioan D. Chirescu, Tiberiu Brediceanu, Gh. N. Dumitrescu-Bistriţa, George Breazul, Stela Roman, Mircea Buciu, Arta Florescu, I.D. Petrescu – a world of folklorists, composers, Byzantinists, musicologists, opera singers, instrumental performers, music critics, etc. In his books on history, literature, folklore, as well as in his memoirs, Nicolae Iorga comes across as an erudite of contemporary musical culture, and a remarkable exegete of the Romanian music pertaining to the first half of the 20th century. Though he was an assiduous concert- and in particular opera-goer as early as his student years in Paris (when he heard the famous Australian soprano Nelly Melba), neither Wagner nor Massenet, nor Mozart, Verdi or Puccini, for that matter, exercised any significant degree of influence upon him, equal to the one exercised by George Enescu, Ciprian Porumbescu, D.G. Kiriac, Ion Vidu or Gheorghe Dima. As far as Nicolae Iorga was concerned, the art of sound had to stir the emotions via its patriotic message and its nationally inspired contents. Choral music in particular played a decisive part when it came to reaching the audience, especially during the tumultuous times of fulfilling the national ideal – the union of all Romanian provinces within the motherland (Greater Romania). He saw Enescu as a symbol, and the premiere of his opera Oedipus in Paris, which he listened to live on the radio, as a national victory. He prefaced in the capital of France the concert of the Hora ensemble (1925), expressing his admiration for their folklorically scented pieces. Likewise, he was highly appreciative of the performances of D. G. Kiriac's Carmen society, and of the Sibiu Music and Song Reunion conducted by Gheorghe Dima. Nicolae Iorga the historian was passionately attracted to church music. He took part in Byzantine music congresses in Rome, Venice, Paris, Constantinople, discerning traditional Romanian elements in the psalmodic heritage of 16th-19th centuries. The great scholar construed in chanted responses an argument in favor of our national culture. By the same token he approached folklore as a secular historic treasure. A friend of the most significant folklore researchers of his time (Theodor Burada, George Breazul, Constantin Brăiloiu), a subscriber to Rev. Gh. N. Dumitrescu-Bistriţa's folklore magazine "Izvoraşul", Nicolae Iorga believed in the originality of popular melos. He prefaced folklore anthologies and compilations, wrote a large number of articles, made the first documentary film on folklore (to this end bringing into the country professor Hubert Pernot of the Sorbonne, together with a sound engineer from the Pathé Marconi record company), he lectured in Vălenii de Munte and on the Romanian Radio on The Romanian Song and Popular Music. He saw in the ballad an ancestral connection to the music of ancient Thracians, and regarded folklore collections as an act of saving grace towards "a treasure hidden within the bosom of a nation which the passage of time obscures and ruins." He did make a clear-cut distinction between popular and populist culture, the former being disseminated via written texts and melodies (endowed with aesthetic value), while the latter was orally disseminated and thus subject to spontaneous enrichment with each of the peasant interpreter's versions. The mere sentimental gesture of a "journalist" (he wrote touching obituaries on the death of Theodor Burada and Ion Vidu) confirms his respect for these researchers shown but scant recognition in their time. For Nicolae Iorga folklorically inspired choral music was an enduring national ferment, a factor of spiritual unity. When the Carmen Choral Society turned a quarter of a century old , the Văleni historian summed up the part played by the ensemble conducted by composer D. G. Kiriac in the following words: "At this particular moment, their auditions have fully contributed to the achievement of the current modern national civilization, and although the national unity of the State was perfected in 1918 through the struggle of popular masses, we have to acknowledge the significantly major part played by the development of poetry, literature, popular song." It was that same impulse that gave birth to the war allegory Forget us not by Nicolae Iorga, set to music by C. Jianu-Dini, dedicated by the authors "to the memory of our heroes." The poem written in 1917 featured in all his verse anthologies as a token of appreciation for the patriotic messages inspiring it. Music historians have no doubt discovered in the works of Nicolae Iorga a host of other references to old Romanian music, the scholar's name being currently circulated in all modern exegeses on national musicology. It is a most remarkable tribute paid to a non professional of the art of sound who nevertheless vibrated to the musical life of his nation.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)