Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, op. 11

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            George Enescu was the most significant composer and performer from Romania in the late nineteenth and twentieth century.  A gifted composer of a large of body of compositions for most genres, he was also active as a touring violin virtuoso and conductor, making many appearances in the United States from the early 1920s until ill health restricted his activities; he died in Paris in 1955, and is buried in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery.  A child prodigy, he entered the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven, distinguished himself, and after graduation—already a celebrity--matriculated at the Paris Conservatory for further studies.  He was widely appreciated in the United States, making his debut as conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and was one of those considered to replace Toscanini as conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

            The two Rumanian Rhapsodies fall into that category of compositions which bring a young composer world-wide popularity, but of which the life-long demand to hear them performed drives the composer to regret ever having created them.  It’s always easy to see why, however, and in the case of Enescu’s rhapsodies it is their effervescent rhythms, charming Eastern European melodies, and general swagger and élan that sells them.   Enescu artfully weaves together a succession of Romanian folk tunes in a variety of moods, beginning with that favorite instrument of Eastern Europe, the clarinet, in a kind of musing free improvisation.  

            It’s important to realize that what you experience in all of these songs is not Gypsy music, but authentic Romanian songs.  Oftentimes, to our untutored Western ears, all Eastern European folk or folk-like music is gypsy music, but of course, it is emphatically not so.  It’s simply the common musical coin of the region, whether Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Semitic, or whatever.  The Romanian language is a Romance language, related to French, Spanish, and Italian, with French being the predominant foreign language spoken.   Romanians are predominantly not of Slavic descent, but rather—hence the name—distant descendants of Roman legionnaires, when the area was an important outpost of the Roman Empire.  So, with all of that in mind, enjoy a rousing medley of true Romanian music, arranged and composed by its greatest musical artist.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan