The Violin Player Ion Voicu

It is hard to say when the Gypsies came to Romania for the first time, and then settled for good, but the oldest documents date from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the royal charters mentioned the fiddler slaves, sold alongside the dependencies and objects from the courts of the great landowners from Walachia and Moldavia. From the 18th century onwards, Gypsy musicians were quite expensive because their artistic talent quickly delivered them from the anonymity that hovered over other minorities (Tatars, Turks, Hungarians, Livonians/Russians, Greeks) settled North of Danube and at its mouths. From a charter of 1875, we learn that Gypsies had one price for their "soul" and another for their "craft", and it was forbidden "to pay a special price" for the craft of fiddling at sales, donations, legacies, purchases. Regardless of whether Gypsy musicians were freemen or slaves (fiddlers at the royal courts, at the monasteries or at the boyar courts), all of them were worth more than the rest of the minorities. In the mid-19th century, when Gypsies were freed from the century-old slavery (1847-48), the names of some families of musicians (Dinicu, Pădureanu, Ochialbi, Filip, Jianu, Voicu, Ciolac) penetrated the Romanian cultural environment, some of them following higher education in Conservatoires and Academies of Music from the country and from abroad. From these dynasties of famous musicians, the most representative figure was the violin player Ion Voicu. The roots of the Voicu family date from the middle of the 19th century, when a violin player, Nicolae Voicu, used to play in a Bucharest band. His son, the violinist Ştefan Voicu (1893-1976) had a solid occupation as an instrumentalist in the orchestras of the capital (it seems that he had become a virtuoso double bass player as well), taking pride in his four children who took up three different instruments: Ion Voicu – the violin, Marin and Mircea Voicu – the piano, and Gheorghe Voicu – the double bass. This is actually the generation that received higher education in Bucharest and Moscow, which irrevocably imposed the name of the Voicu family on the national and global level in the 20th century, the son of the great late violinist (Mădălin) being today an internationally recognized conductor. Born in Bucharest (October 8th, 1923), Ion Voicu succeeded in bringing the renown of the Romanian school of violin players, formerly represented by Toma Micheru, George Enescu and Lola Bobescu, to the highest artistic peaks. Raised in Bucharest, under remarkable professors (George Enacovici, Cecilia Nitzulescu-Lupu, Vasile Filip) and polished in Moscow by the scrupulousness of the great Soviet masters (Abram Iampolsky and David Oistrakh), the young Romanian virtuoso was to begin a brilliant career. He was examined in a rehearsal break of the Radio Orchestra (where he used to play since he was 17) by the conductor Willem Mengelberg, who was on a visit to Bucharest; the Dutch guest exclaimed full of enthusiasm: "This young man is made to stand on the stage, and not to sit there on a chair." The conductor's premonition came true: his name appeared on the posters of the most famous concert halls in the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York, Musikverein in Vienna, Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall and Wigmore Hall in London, Teatro Cólon in Buenos Aires, Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo, Palais de Chaillot, Pleyel and Gaveau in Paris, Tchaikovsky in Moscow, Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg, side by side with the great Berliner Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, Gewandhaus Orchester, the Bayerische Rundfunk-Orchester, Royal Liverpool Orchestra, Orchestre Pasdeloup in Paris, the Philharmonics in Moscow, Leningrad, Cincinnati, Montreal, Tokyo, Mozarteum in Salzburg, Dresdner Philharmonie, Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and so on. We heard him in the concert halls for half a century. Ion Voicu was a violin player with a warm, round, impeccably clear sound; he had adopted a wide, ample vibrato (originating from Enescu), which rendered a peculiar, unique expression to the musical phrase. It conveyed the artistic emotion with a unique sparkle. He handled a Stradivarius with generous sonority. He didn't even encounter the slightest technical difficulties, as he had a left hand with steel-like fingers and a right hand with a devil-like bow (as a music critic from Berlin said). At the height of his virtuosity, Ion Voicu created an amazing concert piece (The Morning after the Wedding) in which he gathered not only the entire fiddle literature, but also the classical violin one, including the fabulous achievements of the magical Paganini. I met him in the privacy of his home: a warm, joyful, communicative nature, with an overflowing laughter, a gentle man, exhibiting no vanity or haughtiness. He conducted the George Enescu Philharmonic for ten years, but he could not compel recognition in front of his fellow-musicians, as he was too informal. He set up a chamber orchestra (Bucharest), but he was not helped by the baton this time either, as he did not display the authority of innate conductors. He managed, however, to create an elite chamber instrument, as his magical violin bestowed upon his colleagues something from the talent of exceptional artists. He felt more comfortable in the presence of orchestra conductors with whom he collaborated and prided himself that among those were such giants as Antal Doratti, Sir John Barbirolli, Anatole Fistoulari, John Prichard, László Somogyi, André Cluytens, Raphael Fruebeck de Burgos, Hans Swarowsky, George Georgescu, Ionel Perlea, Constantin Silvestri, Iosif Conta. Some musical pieces were immortalized on records by Decca, Heliodor, Electrecord, Deutsche Grammophon, etc. He was the brilliant partner of Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Christoph Eschenbach, Hepzibach Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng. At the end of his career, weakened by illness and age, the artist found the energy to deliver expert lectures in France, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, USA, Turkey, and also to be on the panels of numerous international juries. Although Ion Voicu never claimed his affiliation to Romany ethnicity in Romania (as does nowadays his son, Mădălin, who is an MP representing this national minority), still, by coincidence, the violin player happened to die on the same day as king Cioabă, an emblematic character for Gypsies: both obituaries are to be found in the same column of Romania Libera (Free Romania) newspaper of February 26th, 1997! Before God, men are one hundred percent equal, regardless of the ethnicity to which they belong, or the crown that each of them wears in everyday life.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)