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Mihail Jora

 

(Click here to see List of Songs)

 

Romanians consider Mihail Jora the creator of Romanian ballet and art song, although the title could easily go to Mansi Barberis, who also wrote songs inspired specifically by the Romanian culture. Jora, born in Iaşi in 1891, began his early music studies in piano and to curb parental disapproval of a music career, Jora enrolled concurrently at the Faculty of Law in Iaşi , graduating in 1912, and from the Conservatory of Iaşi (1909-1911). Upon receiving his diploma from law school, Jora studied in Leipzig for two years with Max Reger at the Königliches Conservatorium, pursuing additional theory courses as well.

            Unwilling to accept his disqualification for military service in World War I, due to severe myopia, Jora entered officer’s training school. Seriously wounded in battle, Jora was forced to undergo amputation of his leg without anesthetic. During the war composer-performer George Enescu visited wards and played concerts for the wounded soldiers. Having heard of Jora’s impending surgery, the day of Jora’s gruesome ordeal, Enescu delayed the concert until Jora had returned from surgery. It was during Jora’s convalescence that he and Enescu formed a lifelong friendship, during which Enescu mentored the younger composer.

 

Mihail Jora-Art Song

            Possibly in response to a surge in Pan-Slavism from the east, Romanian musicians began to call for the development of a nationalistic school of composition. Although the first articles urging this move appeared in four issues of Muzica in 1920, it wasn’t until the 1930s that Jora began composing art song heavily influenced by traits of Romanian folk music. His first songs (Op. 1) are Lieder, heavily influenced by his German training.

            Unlike many Romanian composers, Jora preferred the Romanian word for song, cântece, rather than Lieder, for his songs. Although his sketchbooks imply more than 119 songs, 112 of his songs were published by ESPLA, the forerunner of Editura Muzicală. Some are currently available from Leyerle Publications in New York .  Few Romanian composers have enjoyed such largesse.

All, with the exception of Opp. 1 and 36, are set to Romanian poems. For the songs of Op. 1, Jora chose German poets: Hugo von Hofmanstahl, Richard Dehmel, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Romanian poets he selected include Tudor Arghezi, Ion Pillat, Mariana Dumitrescu, Octavian Goga, Adrian Maniu, George Lesnea, Marcel Breslaşu, Lucian Blaga, George Bacovia, and Zaharia Stancu, among others.

            Jora’s earlier songs display evident influences of Romanian folk music: fermatas at ends of sections, narrow melodic ranges, fluctuating and irregular meters, use of the parlando-giusto or parlando rubato vocal styles, suggestions of Romanian folk dance rhythms and instruments, and inflections of church modes or Romanian folk modes. Parlando-giusto passages are written in lively and constantly moving eighth or sixteenth notes, while parlando-rubato implies a degree of tempo fluctuation typical of rubato and is often found in the Romanian doina, expressive songs of longing or melancholy.

In his third and final period of song composition, Jora devoted most of his efforts to the verses by Mariana Dumitrescu, a poet popular with many Romanian composers. The compositional style of these later songs differs considerably from his earlier works. In these, the traits of Romanian folk music are greatly subdued and the harmonic language is often considerably more dissonant. Dumitrescu’s verses seemed to infuse Jora with a renewed vision and vibrancy for the Romanian art song.

            It has been said that Jora composed the accompaniments for his art songs first, and fit the vocal line to the resulting harmonies, and indeed, this often seems the case. Among his pre-Dumitrescu settings, Jora’s affinity for the verses of Tudor Arghezi, a poet much tied to the land and its culture, are particularly fine. A masterpiece of this group is “Cântec din fluier,” a bocet (funereal lament), that captures the traits of the bocet in the gently undulating vocal line; simple, supportive accompaniment; fermatas; and the subtle bending motion of the mourner implied in the accents and melodic contour of the vocal line. “Păstrează,” another Arghezi setting, is equally fine. The songs are currently available from the Romanian Art Song series published by Leyerle Publications.

            As a professor at the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory in Bucharest , Jora exerted an inestimable influence on many of the future generations of Romanian composers. His impact on the direction of the emerging Romanian art song is still felt today, especially in the songs of Carmen Petra-Basacopol, a composer who continues to draw heavily upon the traditional Romanian culture in her compositions.