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Carmen Petra-Basacopol

 

(Click here to see List of Songs)

 

Carmen Petra-Basacopol, born in Sibiu November 5, 1926, is a prolific composer of Romanian art song and internationally recognized composer for harp. Petra-Basacopol is equally comfortable composing for large ensemble. She has written two operas, one of which was in the Bucharest Opera repertoire for a number of years; and four ballets, one of which is a children’s ballet. Her symphonic works include five vocal-symphonic pieces, a published Concertino for Harp, string orchestra and timpani that was also recorded. Her contributions to chamber music are numerous. Several require Romanian folk instruments or are based on Moroccan themes. A number of her chamber works have been published in Romania (Editura Muzicală, Ars Sonora in recent years), and in Leipzig (Peters Edition). A number of her pieces for harp have been published in Romania .

Petra-Basacopol is a graduate of the National University of Music in composition (1949-1956), where her teachers included Mihail Jora, Paul Constantinescu, and Tudor Ciortea; and the University of Bucharest in philosophy (1945-1949). She attended improvisation courses in 1968 at the Darmstadt Center for New Music. Petra-Basacopol earned her doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris , where her dissertation on the Romanian spirit and psyche as expressed in the music of Enescu, Jora, and Constantinescu, was later published in Romania in 1976. The theme of the book, L’originalité de la musique roumaine à travers les oeuvres d’Enesco, Jora et Paul Constantinescu, is a philosophy to which Petra-Basacopol has remained true throughout her life as evidenced by her music.

 

Carmen Petra-Basacopol-Art Song

Petra-Basacopol’s music is rooted in the traditions of the Romanian culture. The melodies of her art song are derived from Romanian folk music, with a preference for parlando-giusto style, which is characterized by rapid passages of eighth notes, or in Petra-Basacopol’s music, sixteenth notes. Accompaniments are often skeletal or infused with rhythmic energy in patterns inspired by Romanian music. During the 1970s she lived in Morocco with her physician husband. Arabic influences are evident in works composed during that era.

Many of her songs have been composed for and premiered by her son, bass-baritone Paul Basacopol, a member of the Bucharest Opera. The tessitura of her soprano songs lies well for higher soprano. Although relatively few of her one-hundred-plus art songs have been published, they are frequently performed in Romania , and some have been published by Leyerle Publications in New York (www.leyerlepublications.com).

With one exception, Petra-Basacopol’s art songs seldom veer from their anchor in Romanian folk music. Characterized by rhythmic energy, the parlando-giusto vocal lines rage with a seering passion, or heartfelt melancholy. Petra-Basacopol has created a number of art song masterpieces: “Peste vârfuri,” “Zorile-şi mâna cerbii de foc,” both for voice and piano; and several pieces scored for voice with instruments that are riveting in performance: “Primăvară” for soprano, clarinet, and piano; and “Pro Pace” for soprano, flute, and piano. All were published by Editura Muzicală, and the art songs also by Leyerle Publications in New York . 

“Peste vârfuri” (Over the Peaks), a poem by Mihai Eminescu, resonates with the echoes of a horn in the forest and the majesty of the mountain peaks, all within sixteen exquisite bars of music. Tremulos, Phrygian and Dorian modes, ascending vocal lines ending suspended in the air; all capture the mystery of the scene. The song has often been a required piece in juries Romanian vocal competitions.

One of many settings to verses by Mariana Dumitrescu, who was a close friend of Petra-Basacopol, “Zorile-şi mâna cerbii de foc” (Daybreak Drives on the Fiery Stags) is another of Petra-Basacopol’s particularly evocative songs. The gentle clip-clop of the stag’s hooves carry the modal accompaniment, framing the arpeggiated figures that suggest the forest fire at night. This song has also been performed often, both in Romania and abroad.

Recently published in the Romanian Art Song series by Leyerle Publications in New York (www.leyerlepublications.com), Anotimpurile (The Seasons) is a set of poems by Nina Cassian. Petra-Basacopol captures the summer of the Romanian plains, complete with winds, broad plains, and a love story in rapid, rocking motives and vocal lines that propel the emotions roiling beneath the surface of the first song, “Vara” (Summer). The stillness of the translucent chordal sighs and the poignant melody of the vocal line evoke the autumn mists “Toamna Ceţurile.” The rocking motives of the first song recur in “Iarna: Desen,” here as though an attempt to comfort the poet’s lament that she will die before she has been able to give everything to everyone. The giusto setting of “Primăvara: O ţi-aş fit dat” (Spring: Oh That I Would Have Given You) surges with rhythmic and emotional energy that soars to a Bb climax, one of Petra-Basacopol’s stylistic hallmarks.

“Primăvara” (Spring), Op. 31, No. 1, for soprano, clarinet, and piano, begins and concludes with a dramatic recitation the opening lines of Mariana Dumitrescu’s poem as highly chromatic and occasionally bimodal motives in the clarinet and piano suggest the “bells of the earth tolling from the mouth of the earth.” The vocal line alternates between declamatory passages and folk-inspired recitative phrases. Here Petra-Basaopol’s dramatic instincts blossom to a new level. The piece has been performed both in Romania and a number of times in the United States .

Another highly effective expressionist composition, Pro Pace, a three-movement work for soprano, flute, and piano, to verses by Eugen Jebeleanu, depicts the horrors of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima . The Romanian Union of Composers awarded the work first prize in 1975. Petra-Basacopol infuses the twelve-tone harmonies with cantabile vocal lines, spoken text, and stark textures to suggest the devastation. The composer assigns the evocation of the birds to the flute, to the piano—the void of life. This work has been performed in Romania and a number of times in the United States .

In recent years, Petra-Basacopol has turned to the Psalms of David for a number of highly effective songs. Now retired from teaching at the National University of Music, she continues to compose, author articles, and sit on juries of various competitions. In recognition of her stature as a composer for harp, Petra-Basacopol has served as a juror at international harp competitions (Jerusalem in 1979 and Rome in 1986). Her compositions have won prizes in Romania and abroad (Berlin 1951, Bucharest 1953, Warsaw 1955, Mannheim 1961). Major awards in Romania include the Romanian Union of Composers’ (1974, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1999, and 2003) and in 1980, the George Enescu prize of the Romanian Academy . Her most recent award is the Order of Cultural Merit in 2004.

Dr. Paula Boire