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Paul Constantinescu

 

(Click here to see List of Songs)

 

Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) was one of Romania’s most influential composers and teachers. While not a major contributor to Romanian art song, among his twenty-three art songs is a song cycle meritorious of international interest; Şapte Cântece din “Uliţa noastră (Seven Songs from Our Lane). The poems by Cicerone Theodorescu draw upon actual events in twentieth-century Romania. If Constantinescu were remembered for only four works, this song cycle among them, he would still rank as a major Romanian composer. His brilliant comic opera, O noapte furtunoasă (A Stormy Night) and his two Byzantine oratorios are seminal works.

Born in Ploieşti , Constantinescu first studied theory and violin in his hometown. His studies at the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory, now known as the National University of Music, from 1928-1933, included courses with Mihail Jora and Constantin Brăiloiu, whose exquisite versions of Romanian folk songs elevated the pieces to art song caliber. Constantinescu was able to maintain a dual position as violinist and conductor in Ploieşti during his student years in Bucharest . In 1934, Constantinescu spent a year in Vienna studying composition with Joseph Marx and conducting. The following year Constantinescu accepted a teaching position in Lugoj and commuted to Bucharest for further compositional study with Mihail Jora, his former teacher. Both his work with Jora and Constantinescu’s professorship at the Academy of Religious Music in Bucharest from 1937-1941 impacted his compositions.

Constantinescu was an acclaimed symphony and opera conductor. As a composer, he won every major Romanian award. His film music led to an appointment with Radio Română and with the Ministry for National Propoganda Film Division. Constantinescu collected and transcribed Romanian folk music and Romanian Orthodox Catholic liturgical music, both of which were profound influences upon his music.

 

Paul Constantinescu-Art Songs

Constantinescu’s art songs bear strong influences of Mihail Jora’s early style:  Romanian folk traits and generally simple, unobtrusive accompaniments, usually scored for medium voice. For these early songs, Constantinescu chose poets whose verses resonated with the Romanian countryside and culture. “Cântec de adormit Mitzura” (Lullaby for Mitzura) was one of several poems Tudor Arghezi wrote for his daughter Mitzura. The fermatas, shifting meters, vocal line of seconds and thirds typify Romanian lullabies, but the high tessitura does not. Two chordal figures support the flowing vocal line and unify the piece. A recto-tono parlando giusto vocal line reminiscent of Romanian liturgical music concludes the song. Arghezi’s love of nature is evident in Constantinescu’s second song, “Seara” (The Night). Here again, Romanian folk influences predominate in this charming song with its childlike appeal.

With the settings of the Radu Demetrescu poems in 1940, Constantinescu incorporates Romanian folk music influences with accompaniments more evocative of the scene. Accompaniments are still transparent with ostinato figures and arpeggios in several of the songs. Restrained writing highlights the settings of Ştefan O. Iosif poems in 1954, similar to that of his first songs.

For his song cycle, Şapte Cântece din “Uliţa noastră( Seven Songs from Our Lane), Constantinescu culled from his prodigious skills as an opera composer, creating vivid musical-dramatic characters through declamatory vocal lines and atmospheric chords, creating a cycle that demands a first-rate singing actor. Scored originally for baritone and piano in 1959, the orchestral version was premiered in 1961-1962. Editura Muzicală first published the piano-vocal cycle in 1961, and selections from it in 1964. The cycle is included in the Romanian Art Song Series (Volume Four) to be published by Leyerle Publications in New York (www.leyerlepublications.com)

A bloody railroad strike that occurred in Griviţa, a suburb of Bucharest, in 1933, provides the central setting of the cycle. The locale is still picturesque today. Constantinescu unifies the cycle with a tonal center of C in the first and final songs, This is also the final note in “Dupa mort” (After Death). A gentle rocking motion in the accompaniment of the first song, Închinare” (Toast), reminiscent of a lullaby, evokes the comfortableness of Griviţa’s residents feel for their community. “Dupa mort” (After Death) is a bocet, a traditional funeral lament in Romania . Here a widow laments the death of her drunken husband and the financial uncertainty she now faces in raising their children. Chromatic harmonies and dissonance accompany the plodding footsteps of the pallbearers in the accompaniment.

Greva” (The Strike) begins the center of the cycle. Here the dramatic fortissimo, dissonant chords and cries of the crowd depict the enraged citizens during the railroad strike. Strutting and posturing musical figures in “Colonelul” (The Colonel) paint the character of the overbearing colonel in charge of quelling the uprising. In “Pitpalacul” (The Quail) the innocent quail sought by the wolves in sheep’s clothing cited in the poem refers to the dreaded precursors of the security police. Constantinescu’s deft writing captures every nuance of the two men’s dialogue in the unfolding scena.  In “Cu dubele de pâine” (The Bread Trucks/With Double the Bread), both the music and the verses plunge listeners into the lack of the 1930s Depression in Romania : the bloody fights over empty bread trucks, people starving, nerves frayed. The final song of the cycle, “Hrisov de mai” (May Parade), celebrates a Communist Party Worker’s Parade, the accompaniment the comforting and quiet rocking motives of the first song; atypical of normal parades. A musical tour de force, Şapte Cântece din “Uliţa noastră is riveting in both the piano-vocal and orchestral versions, its music and symbolism relevant today.

 

Dr. Paula Boire