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Sigismund Toduţă

 

(Click here to see List of Art Songs)

 

During the post-World War II era, three principle cities and their surrounding regions were primary centers of Romanian composition: Bucharest, Iaşi, and Cluj-Napoca; the latter a political hotbed of dissent, a large Hungarian community, and a mecca for composers pursuing contemporary music techniques, which until the 1990s, were strongly discouraged. Born in Simeria on May 17, 1908, Sigismund Toduţă rose to national prominence as a composer and musicologist. He attended the Gheorghe Dima Conservatory in Cluj-Napoca (1931-1933) where he studied harmony, counterpoint, and composition with Marţian Negrea. Toduţă spent several years at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome (1936-1938), where he studied composition with Ildebrando Pizzetti, and earned his doctorate in musicology from the Instituto pontificio di musica sacra in 1938.

Toduţă accepted a professorship at the Gheorge Dima Conservatory in 1946 and remained there until his retirement in 1964, resigning from his final two years as director of the Conservatory. As a teacher and mentor, Toduţă had a profound impact on his students and colleagues. Toduţă’s works include symphonic music, chamber works, choral pieces, art song, and an opera, Meşterul Manole (1947). His compositions took prizes in the George Enescu Competition (1940), First Place in State Prizes (1954, 1956), and Cultural Order of Merit (1966, 1969).

 

Sigismund Toduţă-Art Songs

            Toduţă turned to song composition throughout his career, leaving fifty-six songs. His early songs (1942-1953), to verses by Mihai Eminescu, Octavian Goga, Vlaicu Bârna, Ilia Balea, versuri populare, and Ion Brad, remain in manuscript. It was with the verses of Lucian Blaga that Toduţă found his trademark path in this genre.

Toduţă chose seventeen poems by Blaga, set the songs mostly in groups of three, each composed for a specific type of voice: mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass, and bass-baritone. Other than a set for tenor (1961), Toduţă composed most of the Blaga songs between 1979 and 1980. The latter settings reflect Toduţă’s synthesis of Blaga’s complex literary voice, mirrored by equally complex layers in the accompaniments, often through contrapuntal textures; tone clusters; sinuous vocal lines at times reminiscent of Byzantine Catholic music; and careful wedding of text to voice. These Toduţă weaves into a harmonic language at times diatonic, modal, chromatic, or bitonal. These vocal masterpieces demand mature interpreters.

            In 1988, the Gheorghe Dima Conservatory published an art song anthology that included five Toduţă songs to verses by Shakespeare, von Schober, Rilke, Baudelaire, and Montale. Toduţă eschewed titles for these songs, numbering them instead. For the Shakespeare Sonnet No. 8, Toduţă uses a strummed mixture of late Romantic and chromatic harmonies in the lengthy introduction. With the entrance of the voice, a tonal center of C dominates, together with frequently shifting meters, and Baroque devices: thematic transformation, fragmentation, canonic imitation, and retrograde thematic treatment.

            Toduţă treats Franz von Schober’s “An die Musik” with bold chromatic, dissonant, and bitonal harmonies combined with an implied chromatic folk mode. The frequently shifting meters, narrow vocal range, and brief melismas drawn from Romanian folk music, characterize Toduţă’s style. The complex accompaniment and widely spaced harmonies of the Rilke poem, “Muzică: Suflu-al statuilor,” suggest the profound stature of music. Dissonant seconds anchor the fluid scalar passages of the accompaniment of the Baudelaire poem, “La musique,” in a more transparent musical texture. A motive from the vocal line of the first two songs recurs in the vocal line of the final song, “Corn Englez,” unifying the cycle.

            Toduţă set sixteen poems by the internationally prominent poet Ana Blandiana, at that time a politically provocative writer. Editura Muzicală published these songs in 1987. All but one are scored for low voice. Snow forms a refrain in many of the Blandiana poems Toduţă selected as texts, symbolizing death, rebirth, hidden truth, childhood memories. The composer responds to Blandiana’s poetic images through dissonance, chromatic harmonies, tone clusters, or contrapuntal lines in innovative ways that are highly evocative of the texts. Accompaniments are challenging for the pianist, meters change frequently. The melodic choices deftly illuminate the text, not unlike the marriage of text and music in the Lieder of Hugo Wolf, here within an often more restrained vocal range, typical of Romanian folk music. As in the conclusion of “Sonet No. 8,” the occasional passage of Sprechgesang appears.

            Toduţă has not only left a legacy of significant art song that merit discovery and performance internationally, but helped shape the direction of many Romanian composers. He died in 1991. As Romania claims her place in international recognition, Toduţă’s works will stand the test of time.          

 

(Article by Dr. Paula Boire)