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Nicolae Coman

 

(Click here to see List of Songs)

 

Nicolae Coman, born February 23, 1936 in Bucharest, made significant contributions to the development of Romanian art song, but eschewed the genre after the revolution in 1989, focusing instead on musică uşoara, “pop music,” long an area of interest among Romanian musicians and with Coman.

            Coman studied with prominent Romanian musicians at the National University of Music from 1953-1959: Mihail Jora, the founder of the nationalistic Romanian art song; Paul Constantinescu; Zeno Vancea; Tudor Ciortea; and Alfred Mendelsohn. From 1963-1969, Coman was a researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Folklore in Bucharest, from which he resigned to accept a teaching position in harmony and counterpoint at the National University of Music.

As is the case with most Romanian composers, Coman has written articles for Romanian journals, and presented radio and television lectures and interviews. Not only a composer, Coman’s interest in literature has provided opportunities to write verses for songs, choral and vocal-symphonic works, and translations for opera libretti.

 

Nicolae Coman-Art Songs

            Coman’s sixty-plus art songs are a unique blend of twentieth-century techniques and harmonies, juxtaposed upon a jazz palette interwoven with subtle influences characteristic of Romanian folk music traditions. Meters shift often and triple-stave piano writing typify them. Metamorfozele Cerului, a song cycle for high soprano, clarinet, and piano, composed in 1970-1975 to verses by Giuseppe Ungaretti, is a masterpiece. Here the seamless movements capture the atmosphere of the text and the metamorphosis of the heavens through recurring and transformed motives and stratospherically spaced music.

These spatial concepts appear even in his early songs (1955), “Zăpadă” (Snow), “Adormita” (The Sleeping Girl), and “Lumină lină” (Gentle Light) (1958) to verses by Tudor Arghezi. These songs may have been influenced by the Blaga settings of Marţian Negrea.

In 1987, Editura Muzicală published a collection of songs by Coman, which includes songs to verses by Mariana Dumitrescu, he composed in 1957 and 1958: “Niciodată” (Never) and “Suflete fântânilor” (Fountain of the Soul), in which triple-stave accompaniment and broad spatial sounds abound. Subtle use of jazz and chromatic folk mode inflections color the neo-impressionist tonal palette of both songs.  

The intimate texture and imitation of speech pitches in “Trecut-au anii” (The Years have Passed), together with hints of Romanian chromatic folk modes and haunting dissonances within the two recurring motives, suggest the recurring thoughts cited in the verses. The poem is one of three Eminescu settings Coman made in 1958. “La Steaua” (The Star), one of this group, bears a striking resemblance to both Negrea’s treatment of “Stelelor” and perhaps Tudor Ciortea’s setting of the same poem.

Coman composed his own verses for his cycle Vârsta de Bronze (The Bronze Age), seven songs for baritone and string quartet (1958). “Vobiscum,” to verses by George Bacovia, is Coman’s second work for voice and instrumental ensemble, which he scored for flute, high voice, and piano.

Like his teacher Tudor Ciortea, Coman’s literary inspiration is eclectic. Among his songs are settings of verses by Carl Sandburg in translation, Ralph Cheney, Emily Dickinson, Ogden Nash, Sappho, Goethe, Buonarroti Michelangelo, Robert Desnos, and two modern Greek poets: Ioanna Tsatsos and Ghioghios Seferis, in addition to prominent Romanian poets.

In 1971, Editura Muzicală published eight songs by Coman which, with one exception, he composed in 1969. Here the harmonic language grows more dissonant. Tone clusters, bitonality, polytonality, implied chromatic folk modes, and his trademark spatial writing, are coupled with aspects of Romanian folk music and Byzantine Orthodox Catholic liturgical music. The three Carl Sandburg settings and Emily Dickinson poem are included in this collection. For the Dickinson and contemporary Greek poets, Coman uses small cells of notes, some reminiscent of the bucium, a Romanian alphorn.

Highly evocative and expressive, Coman’s songs merit continued performance. Challenging for both singer and pianist, they capture the listener’s imagination. Sadly, Coman turned from this genre after creating these fascinating songs.

 

Dr. Paula Boire