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George Enescu

 

(Click here to see Song List)

 

George Enescu, (born 1881 in the village of Liveni-Vârnav, Romania, died in Paris in 1955), is deservedly a Romanian icon and one of the finest composers, whose works are of the stature of the greatest European composers. A recognized child prodigy violinist, pianist, and composer, he also pursued careers as a conductor and professor. For generations, all Romanian composers have lived in his shadow, judging their own merits by his accomplishments. Determined to pursue an international style in his music, perhaps a result of his musical education in Vienna and Paris, Enescu nonetheless created some works that capture the Romanian spirit, the two Romanian orchestral rhapsodies perhaps the most well-known examples of this. While the vast oeuvre of Enescu’s compositions is beyond the limited scope of this website, some of the masterpieces among his compositions include his opera Oedip, his symphonies, sonatas for violin and piano, piano sonatas, string quartets and other chamber music, and his oft-performed song cycle, Seven Songs to Verses by Clément Marot, Op. 17. Much of his music has been published, both in Romania and France , and many of his works have been recorded.

 

George Enescu-Art Song

Enescu maintained a close friendship with Mihail Jora, the generally acknowledged creator of the Romanian art song, despite the divergence in their goals: Enescu, who sought a non-nationalistic musical style in his works; and Jora, a leader in the pro-nationalist Romanian school of composition. Few of Enescu’s songs evince traits of Romanian folk music. The songs to the poetry of Carmen Sylva, the pseudonym of the German-born Queen Elisabeth of Romania (1843-1916), are Germanic in character, while Enescu’s settings of French-language verses capture the atmosphere, colors, and harmonic languages of the nineteenth century French mélodie with Enescu’s unique flair. The vocal ranges of Enescu’s songs are limited, easing comprehension of the words; a trait typical of most Romanian composers. Enescu composed most of his songs during his first compositional period (1898-1916). They encompass pieces appropriate for young voice students to complex works seldom tackled by professionals. The musical styles seem governed by the school and language of the verses of the song texts. Most of them have been published by Salabert or Editura Muzicală, or appeared in early Romanian journals.

Enescu’s interest in French verse is hardly surprising as French was a second language in Romania for generations. His three songs of Opus 4, composed in 1898 to Parnassian poems by Sully Prudhomme, Jules Lemaître, and Leconte de Lisle, evoke the style of Fauré and Massenet, two of Enescu’s professors in Paris . For his songs of 1899, Enescu wrote his own verses in French and Romanian. They express a certain tristesse, or the complex Romanian trait of dor, often oversimplified as a longing for one’s homeland.

In her role as patroness of the arts, Queen Elisabeth invited Enescu to the royal family’s Transylvanian mountain retreat at Sinaia, although she was not particularly fond of his compositions. While there for various visits between 1898 and 1908, Enescu set fourteen of Queen Elisabeth’s verses, penned under the nom de plume of Carmen Sylva. At home with the language, Enescu evokes the musical styles of Schumann, early Pfitzner Lieder, with occasional Brahmsian rhythmic complexities or vocal inflections reminiscent of Hugo Wolf. Enescu set most of the songs for baritone. The medium range of the soprano settings is equally appropriate for most mezzo-sopranos. Included in the collection are several duets, and two settings for voice and cello.

Enescu composed his most popular and internationally performed songs, Seven Songs to Verses by Clément Marot, Op 15, in 1908. Frequently performed in both their piano-voice arrangement and the orchestrated version, Enescu captures the atmosphere of Marot’s renaissance verses with restrained harmonic and vocal writing, modal inflections, and open fourths and fifths. The songs were first published by Enoch and Sons in Paris in 1909, and later by ESPLA in Romania in 1957. Classical Vocal Reprints in the USA has reissued the voice-piano version in recent years.

In 1902, while in Bucharest , Enescu composed “Silence,” to verses by Albert Samain. The vocal lines bear influences of early and middle Fauré songs, while quasi-recitative vocal lines are reminiscent of late Debussy songs. “Silence” served as a precursor of Enescu’s final songs, Three Songs to Verses by Fernand Gregh, Op. 19, which display the complex writing for the piano typical of his solo piano works and a harmonic language influenced by Debussy and Ravel. Less frequently performed, the songs are interpretively challenging for both singer and pianist. Composed in 1916 and reworked in 1936, the songs were published simultaneously in Paris by Salabert and Bucharest in 1967.

 

Dr. Paula Boire