The Last Saint Of Music

Among all 20th-century great Romanian conductors, indubitably the most extravagant, original, paradoxical maestro of the baton remained Sergiu Celibidache. Perhaps only Herbert von Karajan enjoyed the status of absolute star during his life time as the Romanian conductor did. The fulminating debut in the German artistic landscape at the music desk of Berliner Philharmoniker Orchester (29 august 1945) resembled the eruption of a volcano, and his death at the age of 84, in the summer of 1996 – although somehow predictable after a stupid accident and a difficult operation – stirred a general perplexity worldwide and a huge confusion in his München Philharmonic that later realized that the "tail coat wizard" was irreplaceable. For the contemporary musical exegetes, Sergiu Celibidache's disappearance caused an "earthquake" unequalled throughout the whole world, all the press devoting to him a graphical space unknown to any other conductor. A complex musical personality – conductor, composer, musical theoretician, philosopher, professor – Sergiu Celibidache roused with every public appearance at the radio and television, at development courses and press interviews, but especially at the music desk of the few orchestras that accepted his whimsical rehearsal terms (10-12 sessions!), real shows of contradictory attitudes. Ironic, sarcastic comments, accusations, slandering and backbiting his colleagues or the composers, ran counter to unparalleled, sublime interpretations of the masterpieces. The financial conflicts with the directors of the Münchener Philharmoniker did not lack, nor did the resignations, returns, temporary partings (like the one in 1985) in order to come back as Generalmusikdirektor with a 22,000 DM payment for every concert and a bonus of 1,300,000 DM annually (shares from radio and television broadcasts). Nobody in Germany lived in this "financial luxury" (Das Spiegel), but nobody regretted this gesture of appreciation of an exceptional maestro. The score became a miracle in Sergiu Celibidache's hands and artistic conception. The audience participated intensely in the conductor's "magic", giving in to the charm of the logic of the musical discourse, by the novelty of the timbre hues, by the construction of the sonorous edifice. The rhythm –the maestro argued – represents the spinal column of the work. The limpidity of the metro-rhythmic pulsation carries, in a latent form, velvet or steel magma. Therefore, the unique solutions applied by Sergiu Celibidache to the scores of 20th-century impressionists constituted professional "secrets" resembling the violin constructors' varnish from the Cremona of the baroque age. The crystal of orchestral sonorities seemed so natural that it resembled the underground mine stones that could not be imitated by man. Especially the brass hues had with Celibidache soft tinges of orange light, with no dazzling harshness. "Many times – the maestro remarked – I have been told that my interpretations brought something new, but few were those who noticed that I merely wanted to render the natural tendency of the music structure." Born on the 28th of June, 1912 in Roman, Moldavia, Sergiu Celibidache left for Berlin – after a brief theoretical training in Bucharest with Theodor Rogalski – for thorough musical studies at the Musikhochschule and philosophical ones at the University in the capital of Germany. There he obtained the PhD in musicology with a thesis on Josquin des Pres's Polyphonic Art. He coquetted in his youth with jazz and choreography in Iaşi and Bucharest, (he was dancer Iris Barbura's assistant piano master), then he coquetted with composition in Berlin (he wrote several symphonies). He made his debut as a chorus conductor in Berlin (1941) and was extremely successful at the music desk of the philharmonic of Berlin (1945) where he would become an international level conductor in only 7 years (1945-1952). He traveled as conductor – invited at the Scala Orchestra in Milan, at Fenice in Venice, at the Stockholm Radio Orchestra, the Royal Chapel in Copenhagen, the State Orchestra in Bremen, the National Orchestra of France, in Paris, the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra – and reached the climax of his career at the München Philharmonic (1979-1996). A reputed professor of the phenomenology of music and of conducting, Sergiu Celibidache held courses in many centers in Europe, USA and Asia, settling as professor at the University in Mainz. Among his disciples were also many Romanians (Ion Baciu, Cristian Mandeal, Horia Andreescu, Emil Simon, Petre Sbârcea, Florin Totan, Octav Caleia, Răsvan Cernat, Aurelian Octav Popa, Petre Brâncuşi, Eliodor Rău, Mădălin Voicu, Iancu Dumitrescu, Miron Raţiu, and so on). He came to Romania with the Stockholm Radio Orchestra and the München Philharmonic, but it was in Bucharest, at the Romanian Athenaeum, conducting the George Enescu Philharmonic that he achieved the magnificent successes. The times that Sergiu Celibidache was in Bucharest represented a reenactment of young George Enescu's event-concerts at the end of the 19th century, in the same concert hall and in front of the same enthusiastic Romanian audience, who experienced moments of national pride for the existence of such musicians of unequalled artistic value. Compared with the most extraordinary conductors in the world and of all times (Nikisch, Toscanini, Furtwängler, Karajan, Mehta, Bernstein) Sergiu Celibidache remains in the gallery of Romanian conductors as the unsurpassed interpreter of the works of Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. The phenomenal hearing, the fabulous memory (he knew more than 300 scores by heart), the Latin temperament, fiery and full of energy, made Sergiu Celibidache a legendary hero even during his life time. At his death, the foreign press considered him a "magician of the baton", an "orchestra diva (sic!)". For our musicians he became an idol of perfection and will remain an absolute model of the national art of conducting.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)