The Romanian School Of Conductors

It is no secret to anyone that in Romania every person who has a good voice and musical talent has sung at least once, in his or her youth, in a choir. People say about Banat, the western region on the boundary with Hungary and Yugoslavia that it is the "land of choirs", because there has not been even one village without musical gatherings and concerts ever since 1830-1840. Even if the conductors of these amateur bands were peasants, priests or school teachers, they all knew the musical notes, they solmizated and sang the most complex musical scores (from choral poems to musical comedies). Orchestras have been only few, but peasant brass bands were a very common thing in Banat and Transylvania, at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus the Romanian conducting art claims an artistic tradition of more than 200 years.The first professional instrumental band in Bucharest was attested in 1868, and the conductor of the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra was Professor Eduard Wachmann, the head master of the Conservatory in Bucharest. Even if lyrical theatres existed in Timisoara, Iasi, Craiova, Brasov, Cluj, Sibiu etc., still the conductors of these orchestras were self-taught men rather than professionals (because there was no special conducting class at most Conservatories in the 19th century), most of the conductors being band performers themselves. Sometimes a "shining star" would eventually appear leading these bands, authentic professional conductors, as it happened for example with the debut of the great orchestra conductor Bruno Walter in 1898 at the Opera House in Timisoara, Eduard Caudella at the National Theatre in Iasi, George Stephanescu at the Bucharest Opera in 1885, Constantin Dimitrescu at the National Theatre in Bucharest. The first generation of Romanian conductors leading the Philharmonic orchestras in Bucharest, Iasi and Craiova were composers or string instrument players: Alexandru Flechtenmacher, Eduard Caudella, George Stephanescu, Eduard Wachmann, Dimitrie Dinicu and George Enescu. Following the European fashion until the end of the First World War, a series of composers made their debut as conductors of their own musical creations: George Enescu, Dimitrie Cuclin, Alfonso Castaldi, Ion Nonna Otescu, Eduard Caudella, Ionel Perlea, Mihail Jora, Mihail Andreescu-Skeletty. The fact that after their promising debut in presenting their own creations, some composers developed prestigious careers as conductors should not surprise anybody (Ionel Perlea, Constantin Silvestri, and George Enescu). During the 19th century most of the symphonic orchestras had a relative short existence (two-five years), giving concerts only occasionally, thus being insufficient for a baton master to be able to distinguish himself from the rest. It was only in the first half of the 20th century that valuable symphonic orchestras appeared, having permanent musical seasons, being able to offer their conductors the chance to assert themselves. Even if a few conductors were able to prove themselves at the Philharmonics in Bucharest 1868, Timisoara 1871 and Brasov 1878, none of them could overcome a certain conducting routine, which they had got as a result of the contact with the instrumentalists. Even if Eduard Wachmann and Dimitrie Dinicu (Bucharest), Martin Novacek (Timisoara), Anton Brandner, Max Krause and Paul Richter (Brasov), Jan Levoslav Bella (Sibiu) were able to distinguish themselves with the symphonic orchestras in their cities, by approaching rather difficult pieces, without having graduated a specialized course in conducting, there was a single conductor with proper college training at the Conservatory in Paris and this was Elie Mihailescu with the Philharmonic orchestra in Craiova (1904). Paradoxically this gifted musician preferred taking the lead of the choir in Craiova and left the orchestra to an instrumental player, a colleague of his, Constantin Gaudy. The First World War (1914-1918) brought back in the country all the musicians that lived abroad. Three of them were going to make a name for themselves in orchestra conducting: George Enescu, Antonin Ciolan and George Georgescu. The first two settled in Iasi and the third settled in Bucharest. Due to the temporary German occupation of Bucharest, the Philharmonic orchestra led by Eduard Wachmann was moved to Iasi. George Enescu was the permanent conductor of the seasons during 1916-1918. This is the period when the great Romanian composer and violin player perfected his "art of the baton" and established the "George Enescu" symphonic orchestra in Iasi (1918), the same orchestra where Antonin Ciolan served his novitiate period in 1920. If the composer of the Romanian Rhapsodies didn't have a professional teacher, George Georgescu and Antonin Ciolan took advantage of the experience of a great German orchestra conductor: Arthur Nikisch. It wasn't long until the results of these teachings were obvious: George Georgescu directed his artistic activity to the Philharmonic in Bucharest (1920-1964), and Antonin Ciolan to those in Iasi and Cluj. They really transformed these three orchestras into institutions recognized on a national and European scale. George Georgescu was the leader of the George Enescu philharmonic for 40 years, except for a few years when he was suspended for political reasons. He offered the orchestra the possibility to assert itself, a possibility that few south-eastern European orchestras were able to benefit from in the mid-20th century. He invited to Bucharest great, world famous personalities such as: Vincent d'Indy, Gabriel Pierne, Felix Weingartner, Igor Stravinsky, Hermann Abendroth, Pierre Monteux, Hermann Scherchen, Vaclav Talich, Ernest Ansermet, Gregor Fittelberg, Eugen Jochum, Bernardo Molinari, Karl Boehm, Herbert von Karajan, Paul Paray, Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter etc. So the orchestra in Bucharest became an important artistic stage between eastern and western Europe. First world performances, great virtuosos that worked with the orchestra in Bucharest, the building with the best acoustics on the continent – the Romanian Athenaeum attracting the attention of the musical world, the launching of Romanian singers: Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Cella Delavrancea, Theophil Demetriescu, George Boskoff, Vasile Jianu along with the conductors Ionel Perlea, Theodor Rogalski, Alfred Alessandrescu, Egizio Massini, Jean Bobescu, Constantin Silvestri, as well as the presence of the master George Enescu, had been the premises of that favourable climate where George Georgescu imposed himself as a great musician, the first Romanian professional conductor. The founder of the conducting school in Bucharest is Constantin Silvestri, even if George Georgescu was for a couple of years a teacher of an orchestra conducting class at the Conservatory in Bucharest (nowadays the National University of Music). In only few years among the graduates of professor Silvestri we can count: Anatol Vieru, Theodor Popescu, Ion Baciu, Remus Georgescu, Iosif Conta, Cornelia Voinea and others. All of them became conductors of national prestigious orchestras with Philharmonics, lyrical theatres and the National Radio Orchestra, reasserting the importance of the national musical institutions founded after the Second World War (Botosani, Timisoara, Ploiesti, Craiova) with the help of their professionalism. Constantin Silvestri having experience also as an opera assistant was able to provide the Opera houses in Iasi, Timisoara, and Bucharest with marvelous young conductors (Constantin Petrovici, Cornel Trailescu and Cornelia Voinea). The second conducting school in Romania was that in Cluj under Antonin Ciolan, after he was invited as a permanent conductor with the Hungarian National Opera (1949), taking over at the same time the class of conductors at the Conservatory in the heart of Transylvania. Some interesting personalities of the baton appeared with the symphonic orchestras in Targu Mures, Cluj, Satu Mare, Sibiu, between 1954-1961, like Erich Bergel, Emil Simon, Miron Ratiu, Petre Sbarcea, Zoltan Aladar, Ervin Acel, Szalman Lorant, Harry Bela and others. All these young men grew under the careful hand of master Antonin Ciolan, who at the imposing age of 80 still led the Philharmonic in Cluj, when he celebrated 60 years of artistic activity on 12th January 1963. These two schools of conductors brought a number of authentic professionals on the stage of Romanian music in the middle of the 20th century. But the greatest surprise came from Constantin Bugeanu (1916-1998), the best conducting teacher at a private school. A student of Ionel Perlea and Clemens Krauss (Salzburg), and a modest conductor himself with the Opera houses in Bucharest and Cluj as well as with the Cinematographic Symphonic Orchestra, he taught the best generation of conductors today: Cristian Mandeal, Horia Andreescu, Ion Marin, Razvan Cernat, Peter Oschanitzky, Gheorghe Costin, Cristian Brancusi, Dan Ratiu, Ovidiu Dan Chirila, Florin Totan, Michaela Rosca etc. This is the second generation of Romanian contemporary professional conductors and they are at the top of their international success. So from George Georgescu and Ionel Perlea to Cristian Mandeal and Horia Andreescu, the Romanian national school of conductors celebrates now a century of existence. If we add to this the secular tradition of the great masters of lay and clerical choirs from Gheorghe Dima and Gavriil Musicescu to Ion Vidu and D.G. Kiriac, tradition taken over to a climax by Marin Constantin and Voicu Enachescu, we can reasonably say that Romanian professional musicians of the baton have written a brilliant page in the history of universal art.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)