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Mansi Barberis

 

(Click here to see Song List)

 

Mansi Barberis (1899-1986), born Clemensa Barberis in Iaşi , was the first of many significant female Romanian composers. Although preceded by other women composers, Barberis was a professional violinist, violist, composer, conductor, and a professor of voice. Her contributions of over one hundred art songs, four operas, symphonic music, clarinet, piano, violin concerti, and choral works enriched the burgeoning archives of Romanian music. Her works are an amalgam of her Italian- Romanian heritage and international study.

As a child, Barberis received early encouragement as a composer when her visiting aunt, a music professor, heard one of Barberis’s improvisations at the piano, and transcribed it. Shortly thereafter, Barberis’s father marched the girl, composition in hand, to the Gare du Nord Hotel where George Enescu was living. Enescu suggested she begin theory studies, while continuing to study the violin. Barberis began private theory and composition lessons with Italian professors living in Iaşi, and later enrolled at the George Enescu Conservatory in Iaşi where she studied voice, violin, viola and composition; the latter with Enrico Mezzetti. Upon graduation in 1922, Barberis and her physician husband left their young daughter with her parents while they pursued further study in Berlin for a year. Upon their return, between professional employment in Romania , Barberis spent three periods of study in Paris (1926-1927; 1930; and 1939), studying voice, opera, conducting, composition, and orchestration. While in Paris she met with Enescu on several occasions, during which he continued to encourage the promising young composer. A brief period of voice study in Vienna and composition lessons with Max Reger in 1936 completed Barberis’s foreign study.

 

Mansi Barberis-Art Songs

            Of her 101 art songs, a significant number are scored and indicated for high soprano or tenor, which is unusual in Romanian art song. Most Romanian songs are scored for medium voice to aid intelligibility of the text. Her songs, steeped in Romanian folk music traditions and locations, are generally lyrical and idiomatically written for the voice. Her songs flow with Romanian chromatic folk modes, church modes, and diatonicism, interwoven with folk-inspired fourths, fifths, and dissonant chromatic harmonies. As Barberis stated in her autobiography, Din zori până în amurg (From Dawn until Dusk), regarding her compositions, “I am first and foremost a singer and voice teacher.” [1] Many of her songs were commissioned works.

She composed the majority of her songs between 1950 and 1982, often sets of poems by one poet. During the late 1940s until the mid-1950s, Barberis orchestrated some of her songs and made chamber arrangements of others. In later years Barberis turned to the extended song cycle: Itinerar dacic (1976), to verses by her playwright son-in-law Dominic Stancu; and Destin de poet (1981) to verses by Mihai Eminescu. Her final songs were the cycle Rondelurile rozelor to verses by Alexandru Macedonski. Fifty-five of her songs were published during her lifetime. Several are included in the Romanian Art Song series published by Leyerle Publications in New York (www.leyerlepublications.com).

            Barberis chose folk verses and poems by both prominent and minor Romanian poets as song texts. The songs set to versuri populare display the most obvious folk music influences, with their references to peasant life. In addition to Dominic Stancu, Barberis set verses by Mihai Eminescu, Otilia Cazimir, Mariana Dumitrescu, George Lesnea, George Coşbuc, Tudor Arghezi, and Vasile Alecsandru, among others. A warmhearted, generous woman, Barberis composed more romantic love songs than other Romanian composers.

Mansi Barberis-Early Songs

            Barberis composed her first song in 1916, to verses by Paul Verlaine. Another followed in 1918, and the final one of the set in 1926. Here the hallmarks of her style emerge: variations of one or two themes, ostinato figures, seconds, and elegiac lyric vocal lines, harmonies, and figures evocative of the scenes.

In 1935, Barberis set the first of her songs to Romanian poems; four verses by George Lesnea. The feminine sensitivity of Otilia Cazimir’s folk-oriented children’s verses sparked a responsive musical bond in Barberis. These five songs of 1948 are particularly charming and atmospheric. “Pentru tine, primăvară” is included in the Romanian Art Song series published by Leyerle Publications (www.leyerlepublications.com).

In 1950-1951, Barberis turned to versuri populare for five songs. RTV commissioned six songs from the composer in 1950. Numerous others followed. In 1957, ESPLA published a collection of nine songs by Barberis. Editura Muzicală, the successor of ESPLA, published a second collection of Barberis songs in 1967. In late 1959, Barberis turned to other genres for three years. She completed her opera Kera Duducea in 1963. The four songs of 1962-1967 are strongly influenced by Romanian folk music.

Stylistically, Barberis’s settings of poems by Mariana Dumitrescu in 1968, following the poet’s death (1924-1967), are a radical departure from her earlier songs. Here the stark chromaticism is reminiscent of Jora’s treatment of Dumitrescu’s verses. Editura Muzicală published five of the songs in 1973. The somber nature of many of the poems Barberis selected coincide with her own personal grief; the death of her only son, Ginel, on the eve of the premiere of her opera, Apus de soare (Sunset), in 1961.

In November 1976, Barberis began work on a song cycle to verses by her recently deceased son-in-law, Dominic Stancu, which she set for tenor and piano. Although the tessitura is rather low for tenor, perhaps she scored it for the original interpreters, George Lambrache. In the published edition (Ediitura Muzicală 1978), Barberis states in the lengthy preface that performers should first study the verses, maintain their simplicity and serenity in performance, plumbing their depths for the thoughts, aspirations, disquiet, joys, and beliefs of the poet.” To maintain compositional unity, Barberis deliberately sought extremely economical music means, imbued with a certain melancholy. [2]

Gone are the sweeping melismas, passion, and warmth of her earlier songs. Itinerar dacic marks the beginning of a restrained compositional style, coupled with greater contemplativeness, that characterizes the remainder of her songs. Destin de poet, composed in 1981, to verses by Mihai Eminescu, and premiered by George Lambrache, is unpublished. The verses evoke a fairy-tale setting, coupled with the popular Romanţe,  a form of popular romantic Romanian music. Barberis responds with a translucent texture, subtle and complex harmonies.

Her final cycle, Rondelurile rozelor, written in 1982 to verses by Macedonski, was composed during great personal duress. Her husband lay nearby, dying. Barberis, too, suffered various ailments. In the weeks following his death, she composed a lullaby to conclude the cycle. She lived to write her memoirs and a final piece for soprano, tenor, piano, and SATB: “Patria, cireş înfloare.” Her list of works indicates in her spidery handwriting that all of her songs were performed in Romania and abroad, and the majority were recorded and broadcast on RTV.

           

Dr. Paula Boire

 



[1] Barberis, Mansi. Din zori până în amurg, 120.

[2] Barberis, Itinerar dacic, 2.