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Marţian Negrea

 

(Click here to see List of Songs)

 

Marţian Negrea (1893-1973) was born in the village of Vorumloc in the Sibiu district of Transylvania. Noted primarily as a composer of orchestra works, his ten songs to verses by Lucian Blaga are outstanding. Among his noted works are an opera, Marin Pescarul, for which he wrote the libretto; several Romanian rhapsodies, symphonies, a concerto, several works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra; and music for Romanian documentary films. In addition to his twenty-three songs, Negrea composed chamber works for piano, harp, string quartets, and SATB and children’s choral pieces.

            Negrea began his music studies at the Magyar Roman Catholic High School in 1909, where he took classes in solfège, violin, organ, and theory. From 1910-1914, Negrea studied theory, sight-singing, violin, vocal music, and church singing at the Adreian Seminary School in Sibiu while working as a choral singer and conductor at a local school. While still enrolled there, Negrea studied cello for a year in Vienna in 1913. Negrea spent a year in the Austro-Hungarian military in Galiţia during World War I (1916-1917).  During 1917-1918, Negrea studied with harmony with Kodály at the Academy of Music in Budapest , and also took courses in counterpoint. Afterwards, Negrea pursued a music degree at the Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna (1918-1921). From 1927-1936, Negrea conducted concerts at the Magyar Roman-Catholic Cathedral in Cluj.

Upon graduation, Negrea accepted a professorship at the Cluj Conservatory, where he taught through 1941. During World War II, Negrea moved to Bucharest to teach harmony at the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory (now called the National University of Music). After his retirement in 1963, Negrea served as a consultant at the Conservatory until 1970. Active as a musicologist, Negrea authored four theoretical treatises, presented lectures on radio and television, and spoke at conferences. His compositions garnered national awards throughout his career.

 

Marţian Negrea-Art Songs

                        Although Negrea’s contributions to Romanian art song are modest in number, only twenty-three songs, each is beautifully crafted for the voice and piano. Negrea infuses his neo-Romanticism with Romanian folk music traits for songs particularly gratifying for both singer and pianist in the settings of the Lucian Blaga poems.

            Negrea’s first songs, set in 1916, include a poem by Mihai Eminescu. The manuscripts of his first five songs and three later ones from the 1960s are housed in the family archives in Ploieşti . One of these is a Blaga setting, “Isus şi Magdalena,” which may well have been denied publication because of the religious subject of the verses.

            Negrea’s first-published songs, Op. 9 (ESPLA 1955), are a group of settings of versuri populare he composed in the 1920s, during the time in which the series of articles calling for the development of a nationalistic style of composition appeared in Muzică. With charming accompaniments possibly influenced by those of Brediceanu’s reworkings of Romanian folk songs, Negrea’s songs have the feel of a hybrid art song. The melodies invoke traits typical of Romanian folk music. “Foaie verde de pe brunş” (Green Leaf on the Clod of Earth) is a strophic doina, with its parlando rubato phrases alternating with haunting melismas. “Fereice de el” (The Happy Man) is a colinda (carol) in the form of a passacaglia.

            In the ten published settings of Lucian Blaga poems, composed mostly in 1965-1966, Negrea hones the romantic bent seen in his earlier songs and obscures traits of Romanian folk music. Editura Muzicală published the songs in 1969 with the original Romanian texts and versions in French.

In “Fiorul” (The Shiver) motivic transformation in the piano, passages of recitative, and sweeping declamatory lines suggest the poet’s fear of death. The dramatic breadth of the keyboard range and dynamics create an operatic scena. Folk-inspired chromaticisms blur tonal centers in “Visătorul” (The Dreamer). To depict Blaga’s comparison of a dreamer to a spider spinning a web, Negrea uses gossamer triplet figures and closely moving harmonies. “Primăvară” (Spring) is a radiant tribute to the season in an atypical key: Db major. Lush arpeggios, with an occasional augmented second characteristic of Romanian folk modes, and sweeping vocal lines carry the song to a thrilling climax.

The stark setting of “Sus” (Above) contrasts sharply with the preceding song. The transparent music, suggestive of a dialogue between the single voice in the keyboard and the singer, often unaccompanied, captures the couple’s conversation on the mountain peak. The expansive transparent chords and tones of “Linişte” (Silence) evoke the breadth of silence. Contrapuntal lines and triplets represent the thoughts of passions awakened in the poet while a staccato walking bass line suggests the moonbeams striking the windowpane. The twinkling star is envisioned in the reiterated stratospheric, soprano pedal tone in “Stelelor” (To the Stars). What begins as a contemplative piece soon throbs with passion in the sweeping declamatory vocal lines, expansive dynamics, and the tension-building ostinato figures in the accompaniment.

In “Melancholie” a flowing vocal line, supported by a bass line melody and tonally ambiguous ostinato sixteenth figures in the accompaniment, evoke the general mood of the poem, rather than the poetic details. “Mugurii” (The Buds) is a much-loved song, popular with Romanian singers and abroad. Negrea uses a dotted figure in both the vocal line and accompaniment to suggest the emerging buds, or womanhood. From the initially simple setting the song grows to the fortissimo Bb climax.

Martie” (March), the final song in the published collection, is a duet for narrator and solo flute, a radical departure for Negrea. The instrumental motives effectively highlight the text, whose rhythms the composer notated precisely.

Negrea’s songs challenge both singer and pianist. The settings reflect a composer immersed in the verses, who responds to them with an essentially romantic heart and tonal palette, interweaving the fabric of the Romanian musical heritage.

 

Dr. Paula Boire