George Enescu – biography and work (I)

Considered to be a wonder-child, little Jurjac (the pet-name given by his family and the close ones), as early as the age of five, dreamt to be a composer: “It’s odd though: I never knew anything, I never listened to anything or to very little, I never had anyone near me who could influence me. And still, as a child, I had a definite idea about being a composer. Just a composer“, George Enescu said later to Bernard Gavoty, a music critic and a radio journalist.

At the age of 3, he had one of those decisive musical experiences when he heard, by accident and for the first time, some fiddlers playing near to his native village. Impressed by what he heard, the child tried to imitate the instruments of the folk music band the very next day: the violin was a “thread sewn on a piece of wood” (G. Enescu in B. Gavoty, George Enescu´s Memoires), the cembalo was a couple of wooden sticks, and he imitated the reed pipe by blowing through his lips.

He receives his first musical notions from his father at the age of 4. As they noticed his preoccupation with the art of sounds, his parents give the little musician a small violin with three strings. He gets upset because he isn’t taken seriously and given a real violin and throws the toy into the fire. Only after he receives the violin he dreamt of, so much, he starts playing by ear, on a single string, with one finger, the songs he heard in the village.

In 1886, Eduard Caudella, who was a composer and a professor at the Conservatoire in Iasi, noticed George Enescu’s special talent and advised his parents to direct him towards musical studies. Proofs of his first attempts at composition are dated 1887, the next year, when Enescu (born August 19, 1881 in Liveni-Varnav (now George Enescu town, Dorohoi county) was only six years old.

Between 1888 and 1894, George Enescu was studying at the Vienna Conservatoire with renowned professors of the time, such as Siegmund Bachrich and Josef Hellmesberger Junior (violin), Ernst Ludwig (piano) and Robert Fuchs (harmony, counterpoint, and composition).

As soon as I had a piano at my disposal, I started composing. (…) I changed with a profound joy the monody instrument I had been playing at until then with a polyphonic instrument; it was so good to revel in strains after I couldn’t do anything else but play some songs without any accompaniment at all! (…) And, without any hesitation, I started composing.

(G. Enescu in B. Gavoty, George Enescu’s Memories)

At the recommendation of Josef Hellmesberger, violin professor and the son of the director of Vienna Conservatoire, George Enescu was sent by his father to study in Paris. Thus, he studied at the Paris Conservatoire (1895 – 1899) under the guidance of professors Martin-Pierre-Joseph Marsick and Jose White for violin, Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré for composition, Ambroise Thomas and Theodore Dubois for harmony, and André Gédalge for counterpoint.

The four “school symphonies” date back from the period he spent studying in Paris: The Romanian Poem Op. 1 (1897) for orchestra and male choir, Sonata no. 1 for piano and violin in D major Op. 2 (1897), Suite no. 1 in G minor, in the old style, for piano Op. 3 (1897), Sonata no. 2 for piano and violin in F minor Op. 6 (1899), works that brought the young composer George Enescu the acknowledgment.

Although, what he wanted most was to compose music and not to become a virtuoso violin player, the studies, the perseverance and the participation in violin competitions at the Conservatoire in Paris brought Enescu a second prize in 1898 and, a year later, the first prize – with which he graduated on July 24th, 1899 the violin class at the Conservatoire in Paris; and he was offered a precious Bernardel violin with his name engraved on it, on this occasion.

However, even then, I wasn’t thinking too much about violin. I was drunk with music and not with giving performance on an instrument. I dreamt only about composing, composing, and again composing. (…) As I remember those happy times, I smile to myself. Sure, to master my quill and exercise my spirit, I wrote a lot – it is true – but I dare say that everything came from the bottom of my heart!

(G. Enescu in B. Gavoty, George Enescu’s Memories)

As a performer, he founded and conducted two instrumental music ensembles in Paris: a piano trio (in 1902) and a string quartet (in 1904).  He played in Germany, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and the USA.

The best known Enescu’s compositions date back to the first years of the 20th century. Among those there are  the two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-1902), Suite no. 1 for orchestra in C major, Op. 9 (composed in 1903 and firstly performed  in 1911 by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the renowned composer and conductor Gustav Mahler), and Symphony in E flat major, Op. 13, no. 1 (1905).

In 1913, he created and paid from his own money the George Enescu National Composition Award, which was given annually until 1946. This composition competition was organized to encourage Romanian creation and offered the winners, alongside generous amounts of money, the opportunity of having their works interpreted in a concert. George Enescu was also the founder (in 1920) and the president (from 1920 till 1948) of the Romanian Composers’ Society in Bucharest.

An article by The National Museum “George Enescu”



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