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Pascal Bentoiu

 

(Click here to see Song List)

 

Pascal Bentoiu, born April 22, 1927, is a senior statesman among Romanian musicians. This brilliant composer, scholar, and musicologist seriously contemplated a career as a painter before turning to music. Born into a prominent Bucharest family, his father, a man of great courage, refused to acquiesce to the demands of the ruling political parties, which denied Bentoiu the opportunity to attend the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory. Consequently, Bentoiu’s music studies were conducted as private lessons with Mihail Jora (1943-1948). Bentoiu also studied law from 1945-1947 and held an appointment at the Folklore Institute in Bucharest from 1953-1956. Like his father, Bentoiu is a gentleman of uncompromising integrity and possesses a rapier wit.

Bentoiu’s collections and transcriptions of Romanian folk music resulted in a series of published articles and books. Two of his Romanian musicological studies are considered masterpieces of the field: his study on Beethoven, and Capodopere enesciene (Enescu Masterpieces), in English translation by Lory Wallfisch, is to be published by The University of Illinois Press.

As a composer, Bentoiu has made particularly significant contributions to the Romanian symphonic literature, opera, and art song. In addition, he has composed chamber works, and music for films. His opera, Amorul doctor (Dr. Cupid), is a captivating work, and has been performed in Bucharest, in Cluj in Hungarian, in London, and at La Scala. For this work Bentoiu prepared his own libretto based on a play by Molière. For his second opera, Hamlet, Bentoiu employed stark dissonances and other twentieth-century techniques, resulting in a riveting work. In 1974, Bentoiu completed an opera for radio, Iphigenia.

 

Pascal Bentoiu-Art Songs

            Most of Bentoiu’s twenty-eight songs have been published in Romania . Two of his song cycles are included in the Romanian Art Song series published by Leyerle Publications of New York (www.leyerlepublications.com). He groups his songs into sets or cycles. Poets he has chosen for song texts are: Ştefan O. Iosif, George Topârceanu, Mihai Eminescu, Nina Cassian, Mihai Beniuc, and Alexandru Miran.

            His four songs to verses by Iosif for bass and piano are suffused with traits of Romanian folk music. The piquant seconds of “Veselie” (Joy), while characteristic of the Romanian culture, are also reminiscent of Stravinksy. The text of “Mi-e dor” (I am Longing), which Bentoiu set as a bocet (lament), refers to a difficult period in the Ardeal region of Romania . “Doina” is actually a haiduci (robber) song. Highly effective in performance, the songs remain in the current Romanian performance repertoire.

            Bentoiu’s settings of three Eminescu poems in 1958 as a single work in three movements connected by interludes was groundbreaking at the time. For texts he chose “Afară-i toamnă” (Outside it is Autumn),”Sunt ani la mijloc” (It’s Been Many Years), and “Când însuşi glasul”(When the Voice Itself). The Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory included the songs in its 1987 publication of Eminescu poems. The breadth of the vocal and piano lines evokes an instrumental setting. Here, traits of Romanian folk music are sublimated in the arching vocal lines. These complex songs demand mature interpreters.

            The increasingly challenging accompaniments continue in Bentoiu’s settings of Five poems by Nina Cassian. The first, third, and fifth songs were published twice by Editura Muzicală: 1960 and 1961. In “Poetul şi mare” (The Poet and the Sea), Bentoiu vacillates between diatonicism and church modes. Expressive figures evoke the scene and the symbolism of the text. Minor seconds and a folk-inspired vocal line highlight “Obârşii” (The Starting Point), while a chromatic folk mode coupled with a Phrygian mode appear in “Despre Război” (About War). Bentoiu also uses brief passages of recitative and Sprechgesang in this song. The transparent and economical accompaniment of “Frumoasă eşti” (You are Beautiful) set off the opening elegiac melisma. Tremulos and the voice line doubled in the bass of “Victorie” suggest the view over the sea’s horizon. The line evolves into a dramatic declamatory line, reminiscent of passages in Jora’s Dumitrescu settings. Both the Eminescu and Cassian songs are the works of a mature song composer, rich in detail, complex in psychological-musical subtlety.

            Flăcări negre (Black Flames), is the first of two song cycles Bentoiu composed to poems by Alexandru Miran. Composed for tenor and piano, the seven songs are unified by recurring motives; obscured diatonic and modal centers; elegiac vocal lines that at times seem instrumentally conceived, declamatory passages, or single-tone recitation; and frequently shifting meters. Completed in 1974, Editura Muzicală published it with Bentoiu’s second and final cycle, Incandescenţe, in 1978.        

            Incandescenţe (Incandescence), composed in 1977 for soprano and piano, contains four songs. Unified by sinuous orchestral vocal lines, the wide-ranging tessitura, frequently shifting meters, triplets, and contrapuntal textures, this challenging work requires mature performers.

            The hallmarks of Bentoiu’s mature art songs have influenced the style of younger Romanian composers’ art songs, possibly Livia Teodorescu-Ciocanea and Dan Dediu.

 

Dr. Paula Boire