Romanian Music Online












Tudor Ciortea


(Click here to see the List of Songs)


Composer Tudor Ciortea, one of Romania’s most influential composers of the twentieth century, pursued a career as an international diplomat prior to devoting himself to composition and teaching. In an era in which Romanian composers were urged to create works inspired by aspects of the Romanian culture, Ciortea’s music reflects his international education. His forays into atonality and eclectic choice of poets influenced Romanian composers who studied during the 1960s and 1970s, and forged a new path for Romanian art song. One of the first Romanian composers to stray from recognizable traits of Romanian folk music in some of his art songs, these characteristics are nonetheless imbedded in the fabric of his music.

Coupled with a lack of parental support for a career in music as a young man and his initial uncertainty of his talent for composition, Ciortea was forty years old before his wife convinced him to focus on composition. His music, inspired by the traditional Romanian culture, is often infused with dense harmonies, neo-Romanticism, and ambiguous tonalitities. One of the first Romanian composers to explore atonality in his art songs, these contemporary-voiced pieces generally retain his penchant for cantabile vocal lines. Consequently his choice of poems for his art songs is eclectic in comparison to those of other Romanian art song composers active during his lifetime.

Ciortea’s early music studies began in his native city, Braşov, where he studied piano and organ (1910-1917), and harmony lessons for a year at the Gheorghe Dima Conservatory in Cluj-Napoca (1921-1922). To appease his parents, he studied at the Commercial Academy in Cluj-Napoca from 1920-1924. During his law school studies in Brussels (1924-1926), Ciortea also studied counterpoint. He spent the following two years in Paris where he worked in further counterpoint studies, and for the final year there, enrolled in the École normale de musique to study composition with Paul Dukas and musical analysis with Nadia Boulanger. He returned to Romania and studied composition, counterpoint, music history, and Romanian folk music for a year (1929-1930).

His diplomatic career began during World War II, where he served as Assistant Director of the Cultural Section and Press Director of the Ministry of External Affairs (1944-1948) and in posts abroad. It was in such posts that Ciortea and his wife became friends with Lucian Blaga, a prominent poet and philosopher. In 1949, Ciortea accepted a position as Professor of Harmony at the National University of Music), and then as a Professor of Musical Form from 1950-1973. He was elected Vice-President of the Romanian Union of Composers and Musicologists (1963-1968). In 1982, Ciortea died of lung cancer, diagnosed only a week prior to his death.


Tudor Ciortea Compositions  

Apart from Ciortea’s significant contributions to musicology, his compositions range from symphonic works, solo piano, chamber music, choral pieces, numerous art songs, and three works for voice(s) and orchestra. Although his earliest compositions date to 1927, they were not published until the mid-1940s and later. All of his works for piano were published, primarily in Romania by the forerunner of Editura Muzicală, ESPLA; or by Didactic-Pedagogical Editions in Bucharest . One of his final pieces for piano, Four Songs of Maramureş for Piano (1967) also appeared in Neue rumänische Klaviermusik, (Heft II), H. Gerig Publications in Köln (1971).


Tudor Ciortea Choral Pieces

Although Ciortea’s contributions to Romanian choral music are slim and date only from 1963, several were influential upon younger Romanian composers, primarily in the use of accompanying instruments and non-Romanian poems. The texts range from Federico Garcia Lorca (Patru balade galbene, 1963, published by Editura Muzicală in 1966 in Coruri pentru voci egale de compozitori români), to folk verses: (Şapte strigăuri şi o mustrare, 1967 for SATB, published by Editura Muzicală in 1974). His Three Pieces for Children’s Choir, oboe, flute, and percussion, to verses by Marin Sorescu (1978); Şase Madrigale (1978) for 3 equal voices, oboe, and horn, to verses by Spanish lutenists of the 15th-16th centuries; Două madrigale (1978) for three equal voices to Spanish melodies by Luiz Milan of the 16th century, Colindă pentru copii (Children’s Carol), for equal voices to versuri populare taken from Cartea satului  (Village Book) by George Breazul; Pleaca lina la fântână for two equal voices to versuri populare, remain in manuscript. The addition of accompanying instruments was a novelty in Romanian choral music of the era. 


Tudor Ciortea- Art Songs

Ciortea’s art songs span three stylistic periods: predominantly folk-influenced in his first songs (1927), neo-Romanticism, and atonality and Sprechgesang in many of his final pieces (1976). Most of his seventy-six art songs were published in his lifetime, a rare achievement in Romania .

In 1958, Ciortea turned to the chamber ensemble; blending voices with instruments. His “Poem-Madrigal,” for vocal quartet, clarinet, and piano; “La cosit,” for female quartet, horn, and piano; and Three Geisha Songs, for three sopranos, piano, and cello, were early forays into this genre. Editura Muzicală published this last set in 1960.

His cycle of Three Duets for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Piano in 1963, to verses by Lucian Blaga, were published along with his final voice-instrumental work, Trei istorioare despre vânt, (1964) scored for soprano, flute, and piano, in the 1977 Editura Muzicală publication of Ciortea’s songs. Pentatonic modes, church modes, and chromatic folk modes meld into moments of bitonality in the Three Duets, together with filigree brush strokes of sound in miniature motivic figures. Expanding mini-cells and Sprechgesang, chromatic folk modes, and church modes appear in Trei istorioare despre vânt.

Of his early songs to versuri populare, “Joc în soare” (1941) is still performed. It is in Ciortea’s setting of Mihai Eminescu verses that his middle period style emerges: dense sonorities, ambiguous tonalities, clearly delineated sections, and a predilection for the meter of 6/4. One of the most beautiful songs of this set is “La Steaua” (To the Star), recorded, and oft published in Romania, and now by Leyerle Publications in New York

In 1955, Ciortea turned to the miniature cycle, which is a precursor of his fascination with the miniature in general, be it brief Japanese poems, miniature motives, cells of notes, and so forth. Bitonality, church modes, simple melodic lines and textures and evocations of children’s folk songs resonate in Din lumea Copiilor (From the Children’s World). Trei Ghicitore (Three Riddles) for soprano and piano followed in 1956. Both mini-cycles were included in the 1964 Editura Muzicală publication of Ciortea’s songs.

In 1964, Ciortea composed Three Miniatures for three sopranos, cello, and piano to ancient Japanese poems. Other unpublished works include “Cântec în doi” in 1968 to verses by Lucian Blaga, scored for soprano, baritone, flute, and cello; and “Balada fiului pierdut” in 1969 for three female voices, clarinet, cello, and harp. In 1978, Ciortea set eight poems of Spanish lutenists from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, scoring them for various vocal and instrumental combinations.

Of his later period art songs, the atonal soprano cycle Culori (Colors) (1969), to verses by Adrian Maniu, is particularly effective. The brief miniatures draw meters and intervallic patterns from the first song. Ciortea maintains his cantabile vocal lines in the cycle, with occasional words in Sprechgesang. Equally effective is his atonal cycle of Four Songs to Verses by Marin Sorescu, his final songs, composed in 1976, for soprano and piano, similar in style to Culori. Both were included in the 1977 Editura Muzicală publication of Ciortea’s songs. Culori is currently published by Leyerle Publications of New York in their Romanian Art Song series (

Ciortea’s influence on future Romanian art song composers was fourfold: an international compositional style with less obvious traits of Romanian folk music; use of contemporary harmonic devices, internationalization of choices of poetry; and voice and instrumental ensemble, in lieu of the more traditional piano-voice arrangements.


Dr. Paula Boire