George Enescu

George Enescu - a famous musician since his early childhood, highly appraised in Europe and in North America for both his performances as a violin virtuoso as well as his well-known Romanian Rhapsodies. And yet, this musician represents the typical case of a composer whose importance has never been fully understood even during his lifetime.

Enescu's revaluation has only just begun and is therefore confronting one difficulty or another. And it appears to be quite obvious that the musical qualities that turned Enescu into one of the most celebrated violinists of his era - an era adorned with names like Kreisler, Thibaud and Heifetz - and enabled him at the same time, quite on the contrary to the celebrities cited above, to become a great conductor and a fascinating teacher as well, are to be held responsible to have restrained his contemporaneity to rightly judge upon the true worth of his works.

There must have been quite a few who might have thought Enescu's oeuvre to be no more than the understandable, if also somewhat unimportant wish of a tremendous virtuoso to try himself out for once on a more creative ground (like it was the case with Fritz Kreisler, for example, who wrote not only with some enchanting little pieces, but also with a very interesting quartet for strings). However, the Romanian artist left us with symphonies, suites, an opera, sonatas, quartets and several major works for both orchestra and chamber music. Collective memory has mainly focused firstly on the two Romanian Rhapsodies, that he composed at the aged of 20, then - to a much smaller degree - on a Sonata for Piano and Violin "in Romanian folcloristic character" (op.25). The composer Enescu was thereby attributed an exotic, folk quality, assuming further that he was to be regarded as another picturesque representant of a certain "national school". This description alone falls nonetheless too short and is wrong from the scratch.

There are however many reasons for such a misinterpretation (or, better yet, a very limited interpretation). For once there was the composer's legendary modesty itself, that might have had a part in that, as well as - possibly - a rather lax support from his editors, that did neither ensure the presence of Enescu's works in the concert halls and recording studios nor cared for a translation of the various essays and monographs on him into one of the major world languages. The fact that the composer belonged to a relatively small people speaking a beautiful but only scarcely spread language might also have. The quite important musicological input that the composer has generated in his homeland over the past 50 years has - in consequence - remained pretty much unknown to wider international circles.

All of the above have undoubtedly played a part. I would, however, like to focus now on the main reason for this sad state of affairs, that furthermore belongs to the main characteristics of Enescu's oeuvre. The subject is somewhat difficult and I am not giving in to the illusion that I will be able to fully outline it in such limited space. But let's proceed, at least, with sketching the problem in clear words, attempting to achieve a conclusion.

One can divide Enescu's oeuvre grosso modo in two large periods. There is for once a time for introspecting and collecting, and then there is another time for harvesting the results of this previous period. The composer starts the series of his works with two remarkably mature pieces of chamber music, the 2nd Sonata for piano and Violin and the Octet for Strings. Enescu is not yet 18 years old when finishing the sonata and has not reached his 19th birthday when delivering the octet. Especially the latter is a contrapuntal chef d'oeuvre displaying an extraordinary architecture.

After having thereby reached the peak of his creativity on a highly concentrated level of utmost excellence, he starts a series of very interesting explorations, that will show one, two works at the utmost representing each direction. Each of these stylistic "regards" would have been suited for an entire period à la Strawinsky. We encounter an ultra romantic piece (the Symphonie concertante for Cello and Orchestra op.8), a part with neo-classical traits (the 1st Suite for Orchestra op.9), a piano cycle, that one could describe as belonging to a neo-classical style with strongly influenced by French impressionism (the 2nd Piano Suite op.10), then there are the two famous Rhapsodies op.11, displaying the picturesque charm of Eastern European national schools, the clearly neo romantic 1st Symphony op.13, the Dixtuor for Winds op.13, where a very thorough classical style meets with the reminiscence of imaginary folk music, and - last, not least - the 2nd Suite for Orchestra, a striking example of how to adapt neo baroque to modern musical ideas. And one must insist upon the fact that each of the works mentioned above is always forcefully stressing both Enescu's unmistakable personality and sensibility.

Those explorations described here, the suggested perspectives are preparing the ground for a thorough synthesis. All these "roots" the over generously gifted artist, who delivers his self-confidence from so many different sources, claims as his own, find themselves solidly united into one body, reminding one of a vigorous oak trunk. The marking point of this "unification" lies with the 2nd, more so with the 3rd Symphony (1918) and is also to be found in the Quartet in e flat major op.22,1. Starting with these works we can consider the synthesis complete, and Enescu's creative abilities emerge to a fully grown "foliage", that is no longer tributary to any exterior stylistic influence whatsoever. To the remarkable encounters of this time are to counted the opera Oedipe, the 3rd Suite for Orchestra (the "Villageoise"), the symphonic poem Vox Maris and a vast oeuvre for chamber music - several Sonatas, Quartets with and without piano, a monumental Piano quintet, finally the Chamber Symphony op.33. Worthy to be remembered are also some unfinished works, that round up his image as a composer: the 4th and 5th Symphony, the poem Isis, the Caprice Roumain for Violin and Orchestra, the poem Nuages d'automne sur les fôrets.

Up to here nothing seems out of the extraordinary. "We meet here" thus the remark of a an attentive observer, "with the familiar case of a composer who left us with a neither very large, nor very small heritage (summing it up, it can approximately be compared to that of his colleague and friend Ravel) with a diverse and interesting range, that will sooner or later find its own way to the hearts and minds of its listeners."

Unfortunately things do not appear to turn out this way. Most of the works presented above are only sporadically present in concert halls, on new recordings and broadcasting shows. I am naturally not referring myself to Enescu's own country (where his presence in culture and media is represented at an average level), but to the international concert life, where Enescu is not appearing with a regularity matching the true value of his works.

The explanation? The real explanation, not the usual ones due to more or less circumstantial elements? There is but one. Enescu's most important works are all displaying an unusual amount of musical information and density.

They are difficult, they are - so to speak - too difficult for the conditions reigning our days' concert halls. In order to be fully understood, they demand to be listened to over and over again, something that is only rarely possible, they demand an extremely high amount of time, energy and commitment from the interpreters (and interpreters nowadays are quite in a bit of a hurry). In short, Enescu's music is therefore asking for a loving approach, for true commitment and almost for a credo from both its musicians and its public. But after piercing through the hard skin, one is rewarded by the incomparable sweetness of the fruit. An aroma that one isn't likely to ever forget.

Slowly but unavoidably the composer George Enescu is starting to make his way up to his rightful place as one of the greatest authors of his time. 50 years after the death of this great musician he is finally not longer measured by his potential to be used as a propaganda tool, but by the number of enthusiastic listeners touched by his music. Their community is constantly becoming more and more numerous.

www.enescusociety.org

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1897 Poème Roumaine 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1901 Romanian Rhapsody No 1 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1901 Symphonie Concertante 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
For Cello and Orchestra

Franco Maggio Ormezowsky - Cello
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster

1902 Romanian Rhapsody No 2 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1903 Orchestral Suite No 3 Opus 9 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1905 Symphony No 1 Opus 13 4.00 stars 2 CD
New Music I Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1914 Symphony No 2 Opus 17 4.00 stars 2 CD
New Music I Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1915 Orchestral Suite No 2 Opus 20 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1918-1921 Symphony No 3 Opus 21 4.00 stars 2 CD
New Music I Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster
1926 Sonata No 3 for Violin and Piano Opus 25 4.00 stars 2 CD
New Music I Comments:
Valery Sokolov - Violin
Svetlana Kosenko - Piano
1921-1931 Oedipe 4.50 stars 2 CD + PDF
Comments:
Synopsis:

Act I
In the royal palace of Thebes, the people celebrate the birth of the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Just as Laius and Jocasta, at the High Priest's request, are to name the child, the old and blind prophet Tiresias interrupts the festivities. He reproaches Laius for having disobeyed Apollo's injunction to bear no descendants, and tells of the gods' punishment for this transgression: one day, the child will murder his father and marry his mother. The appalled Laius summons a shepherd and commands him to abandon the infant in the mountains so that it will die.

Act II
Scene One: It is twenty years later, and the child has survived and been named Oedipus, and lives in Corinth as the child of King Polybus and Queen Merope. At the palace, Oedipus has dark visions, and declines to participate in the city games and revelry. He has visited the Oracle at Delphi, which told him his fate, that he will kill his father and marry his mother. He thinks that Polybus and Merope are his biological parents, and thus wants to flee the palace to confound the prophecy. Merope sends her counselor, Phorbes, to Oedipus, who will not reveal the cause of his concern. He does say that he was once called a foundling. It turns out that Merope's own child had died at birth, and someone replaced that child with Oedipus, whom the Shepherd had not the heart to abandon to the elements. Oedipus becomes more intent on leaving Corinth, and then reveals the Delphic prophecy to Merope, who is aghast. Alone, Oedipus determines to leave Corinth.

Scene Two:
At a crossroads, the shepherd who spared Oedipus from death tends his herd under a storm. Oedipus appears, and cannot decide which road to travel. He even thinks of returning to Corinth, since for three nights now his frightening dreams have not haunted him. A lightning flash stops him in his path, and he thinks that the gods have set up a trap, and curses the gods. Just then, Laius and two traveling companions arrive on a chariot and demands the right of way from Oedipus, whom he insults and strikes. In self-defence, Oedipus kills Laius and the companions. When the storm breaks, Oedipus flees. The shepherd has witnessed these events.

Scene Three:
Outside Thebes, the Sphinx, a monster in the form of a winged lioness with a woman's head, harasses the Theban citizens, killing everyone who cannot answer her riddle. Oedipus offers to challenge her to save the city. The watchman tells him he who defeats the Sphinx will become the King of Thebes and can marry the recently widowed queen, Jocasta. Oedipus wakes the Sphinx and answers its riddle successfully, which causes the Sphinx to collapse into death, but not before saying: "The future will tell thee whether the dying Sphinx weeps in her defeat or laughs in her victory!" Thebes and its citizens hail Oedipus as their liberator and new king, and offer him Jocasta in marriage.

Act III
Twenty years have passed and during that time, Thebes has enjoyed peace and prosperity with Oedipus as king. However, Thebes now suffers from a plague epidemic. Creon, brother of Jocasta, has gone to Delphi to consult the Oracle. He returns with the message that the plague will end only after the murderer of Laius has been exposed and punished. The murderer now resides in the city, and will be exiled if he reveals himself willingly, but if not, will be cursed and left to the wrath of the gods. Creon has summoned both Tiresias and the old shepherd to the city. Tiresias says nothing initially, but when Oedipus begins to sound accusatory toward Tiresias, Tiresias points to Oedipus himself. Oedipus is suspicious that Creon wants to usurp him, and dismisses Tiresias and Creon from his sight. Meanwhile, Jocasta tries to comfort Oedipus, and tells of the circumstances of the killing of Laius, which disturbs Oedipus. The shepherd confirms Jocasta's story. From Corinth, Phorbes then arrives to ask Oedipus to succeed Polybus, and then reveals that Polybus and Merope were his adoptive parents, not his biological parents. Oedipus now understands the whole truth, and flees into the palace, realizing that the gods' punishment and prophecy came true after all. Jocasta is horrified at the truth, and commits suicide. Oedipus then emerges, covered in blood, as he has gouged out his eyes in shame and in expiation. Creon then sentences Oedipus to exile, and Oedipus accepts the punishment as the only way to save the city. However, Antigone, Oedipus' favorite daughter, chooses to accompany her father and be his guide.

Act IV
After years of wandering, Oedipus and Antigone have arrived at a flowery grove at Colonus, near Athens, where Theseus rules with the protection of the Eumenides. Antigone describes the grove to Oedipus, who foresees that he will peacefully die there. Creon then suddenly arrives to tell the news that Thebes is again under threat, and offers Oedipus the throne back. Oedipus refuses, to which Creon takes Antigone hostage. Theseus and the Athenians arrive and free Antigone from Creon. The Athenians drive Creon away and welcome Oedipus into their city. Finally, however, Oedipus takes his leave of everyone, even Antigone, and settles in the spot where he will die.

Solists
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster

1937-1938 Orchestral Suite No 3 Opus 27 Suite villageoise 4.00 stars 2 CD
Comments:
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo cond. Lawrence Foster