Symphonie Concertante for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 8 (1901)

By Anthony Burton

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Assez lent – Majestueux

As a performer, George Enescu was endowed with phenomenal gifts, including that of versatility. He was a violinist of international reputation, a pianist of concert level, and a first-rate conductor, not only of his own music. And at the age of about twelve, while studying at the Vienna Conservatoire, he also learned the cello. He must have reached a good standard: in his biography of Enescu, Noel Malcolm relates that, on one of his many tours of the U.S.A., he took part in a string quartet evening in a private house by playing each part in turn.

However, along with Enescu’s undoubted brilliance went a deeply felt distrust of virtuosity for its own sake. It is significant that, although a showpiece with orchestral accompaniment would have been in great demand on his concert tours, he never completed a work for violin and orchestra: an early attempt at a concerto, and much later drafts of a Caprice Roumain and a Sinfonia Concertante, all remained unfinished. So too did two student essays in the medium of the piano concerto.

In fact, his only work for any solo instrument and orchestra is for his third instrument, the cello. It is the Symphonie Concertante, which he composed in Paris in 1901, at around the same time as his two most enduringly popular pieces, the two Romanian Rhapsodies. It met with considerably less success than the Rhapsodies. It was not performed until 1909, when it was played in Paris by its dedicatee, the French cellist Joseph Salmon, with Enescu conducting; and its first performances were failures. It was not published until 1938, and has remained a rarity in the concert hall.

The piece seems originally to have been called simply “Cello Concerto,” but Enescu decided instead to revive the title of Symphonie Concertante, which had been given in the classical period to a multiple concerto. This title does not signify, as it did later in the hands of Walton and Szymanowski, a work in which the soloist plays a kind of obbligato role, sharing material equally with the orchestra: on the contrary, the cello takes the melodic lead almost throughout, mostly in its singing upper register, pausing only rarely for orchestral tuttis. What Enescu must have wanted to indicate is that this is a work of extended, quasi-symphonic thematic development, rather than a lightweight virtuoso concerto in the French tradition of Lalo and Saint-Saëns.

A more appropriate model for a serious cello concerto – though it is not clear whether Enescu could have known it–would have been the great Dvořák, then only six years old. The Symphonie Concertante in fact begins in the same key as the Dvořák Concerto, B minor, and its first melody has a family resemblance to the opening theme of the Dvořák. But it soon acquires a Romanian, rather than Bohemian, lilt; and, whereas Dvořák quickly begins to develop his material and introduce contrasting ideas, Enescu characteristically extends his melody organically into a vast opening paragraph, crowned by a brief orchestral statement.

A little later, while the initial “rather slow” tempo is maintained, the time-signature changes from 4/4 to 3/4 for a second main theme, sung by the solo cello over murmuring string triplets. Another significant theme follows, still in 3/4 but at a slightly faster tempo: its modal inflections and arpeggio accompaniment (initially on pizzicato strings) recall Enescu’s beloved teacher Gabriel Fauré. A scherzo-like section, with brilliant sextuplet figuration for the soloist, leads to the restoration of the opening tempo and 4/4 time: but the cello’s “sweet and dreamy” melody here is related only distantly to the first theme. However, the second and third themes return in recognizable form, though at a higher emotional temperature, before a rare pause.

This heralds the final section of the piece, which can be thought of as an extended coda, or–perhaps more helpfully, since the thematic material is essentially new–a short second movement. The key is B major, and the tempo marking “majestic.” Again there are three main themes: the first a broad, noble melody, introduced for once by the full orchestra without the soloist; the second presented ardently by the cello on its re-entry; the third a more angular idea in the cello’s gruff lower register. Again the movement proceeds less by literal repetition than by a process of continuous melodic expansion, culminating in a genuinely virtuoso passage of repeated eighth-notes, and a brief summatory coda.

Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 13 (1905)

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Symphony No. 1, Op. 13 vividly reflects Enescu’s training in Vienna, where he studied with Robert Fuchs and mastered the Brahmsian tradition in composition. At the same time, however, this work reveals the enormous French influence on Enescu that took hold when he studied in the 1890s with Massenet and Fauré. In 1905, Enescu was already well established as a violinist and some of his first pieces, including the Symphonie concertante for cello and orchestra, Op. 8, had already appeared. However, the numbering of Po. 13 belies the fact that Enescu had written four previous symphonies already which are now known as “school” symphonies. The fourth such symphony is in the same key as Op. 13 and was completed in1898.

When encountering an early symphony by a young composer, one might be struck by the enormous burden of the task, the great weight of tradition and accomplishment behind the form. It certainly struck Brahms, who waited decades before writing his first symphony. Enescu, however, had no hesitation in confronting his predecessors confidently–he chose as a key for this symphony E-flat major, inviting a comparison to the Eroica Symphony of Beethoven, not to mention Schumann’s Third Symphony as well. Like these two earlier works, the piece opens with a dramatic and stunning statement in 3/4 meter announcing not only the key but the basic thematic material. Both first and second thematic groups are related in the first movement, which is written in sonata form and marked assez vif et rythmé. Enescu makes good use of percussion coloring including triangle, cymbal, and bass drum. In a concession to the habit of dramatic extension characteristic of the later nineteenth century, he structures a fabulous closing coda to the opening movement.

The second movement, marked lent is based on a slow-moving eighth-note pulse and is particularly noteworthy for its original instrumentation. The use of bass clarinet, English horn, and trumpets and two harps, alongside an innovative use of timpani, give the movement a distinctly mysterious and French atmospheric sensibility. The movement has aspects of a free, improvisatory fantasy on a basic opening motif. It opens in A-flat minor and closes in B major, as it dies away with an eloquent evocation of the unique sonorities that the composer evokes.

Enescu prefigures a modernist tendency to rethink the four-movement symphonic form in the Op. 13. Instead of writing a scherzo and then a grand finale, he chose to write only a three movement symphony. The last movement the finale marked vif et vigoureux combines aspects of scherzo and finale. In this sense, the Beethoven and Schumann models, which can be brought to bear in an understanding of the first movement, become less significant in favor of a new idea. The examples of Brahms and Bruckner are left behind as well. Enescu mixes the rondo form and the sonata form, and explicitly challenges the tendency during the nineteenth century to shift the weight of the symphonic form away from the first movement toward the last movement. This is a process which began with Mozart’s last symphony and which was measurably popularized by Beethoven’s Eroica and Ninth Symphony. Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler sought to give the symphony an organic character by making the last movement the dramatic highpoint so that a symphony would not, as had become customary in the classical period, become defined by the opening movement. The third movement of Enescu’s Op. 13, however, is shorter than the first two, and is marked by tightly constructed episodes. However the movement shows a clear and concise architecture. It opens with rapid string figuration characteristic of a scherzo, above which is the thematic material of a grand finale. As the movement progresses, Enescu utilizes his mastery of orchestration to give increasing weight to the powerful dramatic gesture. The movement closes in a blaze of symphonic glory. In the final bars, the Viennese influence is present as Enescu slows the pulse of the work down, permitting a majestic ending to unfold, asserting with trumpet fanfares the framing tonality, E-flat.

Since Enescu is best remembered as a violinist and as an advocate of Romanian folk traditions, the choice of this work was motivated by the conviction that in Enescu the twentieth century possessed a great and overlooked master of symphonic form. All of the four “school” symphonies are worth hearing and performing. Of the works that Enescu himself considered worthy of publication, there are three symphonies in all, the last of which uses both chorus and piano solo. Further, there are also two more unfinished symphonies. It is clear that Enescu was throughout his career fascinated and compelled by symphonic form. Of all seven completed works, this one may be the most impressive. In the massive output of symphonic music after the death of Bruckner, the symphonies of Enescu deserve a better place in concert programs than they now occupy. This work reminds us that it is not sufficient for English and American and German critics and audiences to pigeonhole composers from Eastern Europe as merely ethnic and exotic, as figures from so-called peripheral cultures who have appropriated mainstream European forms. Insofar as there is any residual value to the claim that music transcends ethnicity and nationalism, the unexotic originality of Op. 13 is a straightforward tribute to the compelling talent of this great violinist and composer.

Suite No. 3, “Villageoise” (1938)

By Bernard Jacobson

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

As a composer, George Enescu (1881-1955) may well have suffered even more than he gained from the breadth of his talents and interests. His very celebrity as a virtuoso violinist, as a conductor, and most of all as a teacher–his pupils included Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Ivry Gitlis, and Christian Ferras–has tended to throw his creative work into the background. As a result, though one or two short works of folkloric inspiration have attained some popularity, his more ambitious compositions are little known beyond the border of his own country. Yet, according to as good a judge as that other distinguished composer-conductor, the late Jean Martinon, Enescu’s Oedipe stands with Roussel’s Padmâvatî as the most unjustly neglected of 20th-century operas.

Another case of double focus had, for Enescu, a more congenial result. This was his widely acknowledged gift for bringing his cosmopolitan career and experience and his firm roots in Romanian tradition into fertile combination. Having completed his composition studies in Paris with Ambroise Thomas, Massenet, and Fauré, he divided his time thereafter between the French and Romanian capitals, as well as teaching at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, at several American universities, and at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy. But Enescu’s compositions never degenerated into facile stylistic globe-trotting. They were supported throughout by the integrity of the sheer Romanian-ness that formed the core of his musical personality. His first published opus, completed when he was sixteen, was a Romanian Poem for orchestra with wordless chorus. By that time he had already sketched two Romanian Suites. The two Romanian Rhapsodies of Opus 11, which followed just four years later, have remained by far his most celebrated compositions, and even those Enescu works that do not have the word “Romanian” in their titles are, almost without exception, closely linked with the tradition of Romanian folk music.

The last of his three completed orchestral suites, the Suite villageoise in D Major commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and composed in 1937-38, is especially personally involved with Enescu’s native inheritance, for it is in essence a reminiscent and imaginative series of “scenes from childhood.” The five movements suggest the passage from morning, through afternoon, sunset, and night, to morning again. The title of the opening Allegro moderato, Renouveau champêtre, may be translated “Springtime in the Country”; it establishes as once the bright, fresh sonority that results from Enescu’s highly accomplished scoring.

If Enescu’s represents a gentler evocation of awakening nature than Stravinsky’s famous image of ice breaking up “like the whole earth cracking” in The Rite of Spring, it is another Russian piece–Musorgsky’s observation of children playing in the Tuilerie Gardens in Pictures at an Exhibition–that may be suggested by the next movement, Gamins en plein air (“Urchins in the Open Air”). But Enescu’s portrayal, marked Allegro con brio, has plenty of character of its own, and again displays an orchestral technique just as brilliant as Ravel brought to bear in his arrangement of Musorgsky.

If you know Enescu chiefly from the Romanian Rhapsodies, or even if you have heard the irrepressibly propulsive performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony that is part of the sparse legacy he left as a conductor, you may well think of him primarily in terms of fast music and driving rhythms. The heart of this suite, then, will come as an illuminating surprise, for its consists of two very leisurely, poetic, atmospheric, and quite beautiful slowish movements. The first of these, Moderato pensieroso, quasi andante, is a kind of stream-of-consciousness ramble through early memories. These present first “the old house of childhood, at dusk,” and pass, by way of “a shepherd” and “migratory birds and ravens,” to the peaceful tolling of “the evening [or Vesper] bell.” Next is a Moderato malinconico, ma senza lentezza, that beautifully paints the “river in moonlight.”

Finally, daytime sunshine asserts itself again (Allegro giocoso, non troppo mosso) in a rousing sequence of “country dances,” vernacular in idiom and colorful in scoring. But it is probably those evening and nocturnal scenes that will stay most persistently in the listener’s mind when this unfailingly individual suite has run its course.

Romania’s Bright Emblem

By Norman Manea

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

At Age four he started violin lessons, at seven he was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory, which he graduated cum laude, at eleven he gave concerts in the Austrian capital, at thirteen he had a first performance of the Sonata in A minor for Piano and Violin and of his Quintet at seventeen he had the premiere of his Romanian Poem and his Sonata in D major for Piano and Violin…

George Enescu’s ascent was prodigious. Born into a musically gifted family of rural clergy and clerks, he followed a series of four stillborn siblings and seven others dead in childhood. Similarly, in his career, he would come to fulfill definitively his country’s longstanding aspirations and striving for a national school of music.

This is not the only such correspondence. Just as his native region, in Northern Moldavia, bordered the frontiers of Romania, so the life and work of this artist would both embrace and exceed the boundaries of his homeland. His deep connection to his country and his family would soon be challenged, from childhood on, by his passion for music. The early separation, imposed by his concert tours, would dramatically affect his mother, to whom he was particularly close. His galvanizing role in Romanian musical life, on the other hand, would be enhanced by his brilliant presence in the world’s music capitals.

His relationship with Romanian fold and fiddle music went deep and remained constant. It started in early childhood, before his departure for Vienna, when he built himself a plywood violin. Shortly afterward he received his first real one, on which he played mostly folk tunes. It continued throughout his life. “The Gypsies–he would write in 1921–they are the ones we have to thank for preserving our music… with that sacred regard they have for what they hold most precious in the whole world: song.” The fiddle-like improvisations in his compositions often provide a link between Romanian folk music and Balkan and Mideastern melodies. The tempos, accents and variations also reveal the connection with archaic roots. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the most genuine appreciation of his Romanian folk inspired music, would come from Britons in France and Irish music lovers in the American Northeast. They may have been particularly sensitive to the Celtic “gene” in the sonorities of some of his pieces, reminiscent of both the Geta-Thracians as well as the Celts, whose path it seems they crossed on the ancient territory of Romania.

Unlike his friend Bartok, Enescu does not borrow directly from the folkloric raw material. Instead, he filters the hybrid elements, and, going deeper and stylizing, strives for a new musical vocabulary, for a personal compositional syntax within modern esthetics. His music becomes an expressive synthesis between East and West, a unique fusion of inspiration and arduous experimentation, of nostalgic, pastoral lyricism and bracing serenity.

At twenty-four, Enescu would define himself first as a symphonic composer and then as a virtuoso player. This order of preference would be challenged, again and again, as his fame grew. It would be left to posterity to confirm and legitimize his place as a composer. His virtuosity as a violin and piano player, ever more engaged in triumphant tours with some of the greatest performers of the times, his prodigious memory (he knew all of Wagner’s work by heart), the grace with which he could conjure up each musical note, as if recovered then and there out of nothingness–all this stunted his compositional projects. It only delayed the reception of his compositions, which amply deserved the recognition conferred upon him, among others, by his illustrious student, Yehudi Menuhin, who called him “the most complex musician of our century.”

At the time they met, the young American saw Romania as “the most musical of European countries,” a privileged place, where “music symbolizes the national soul,” and where his beloved Maestro reigned as “first in the heart of his compatriots.” “The lion with dark locks”… as these compatriots describes him, was a man of refined civility, passionate and gentle, with a strength “unencumbered by any common conventions,” and with that mark of genius which distilled and heightened his vibration. As befits an aristocrat of the spirit, he was, above all, possessed of a proverbial modesty, a rare blend of common sense and decency. Its eloquent expression was his “mute violin,” an instrument the size and shape of a regular violin, without the sound box, which he preferred to practice on, so as not to disturb the other inhabitants of the hotel where he lived. “Let’s exercise our craft in silence,” Enescu would say, in an age that was beginning to ignore silence, modesty and decency.

On the eve of the great world war and of generalized hatred, Enescu reflected with concern on the destiny of his country and his music: “Our artistic life is in shameful disproportion to the rest of our social life. If Romanian politics and administration were on the level of our artistic life, we would be one of the most blessed countries.” It wouldn’t take long before the “disproportion” would darken and bloody the sky above the Danube and the Carpathians. Enescu’s name would remain unblemished, however, etched into the Romanian consciousness, as a rare and happy conjunction between creative genius and high moral conduct. Impervious to political manipulation, disgusted by militant extremism, Enescu never wavered; neither when he reflected the nationalism of Fascist Romania (which many of his illustrious intellectual contemporaries supported), nor when he left Communist Romania (where so many other artists would compromise their conscience and their work). He also stood his ground when he refused to participate in a charity concert at Carnegie Hall, in 1948, marking the 20th anniversary of the Autonomous Jewish Republic of Birobidjan, in Stalinist Soviet Union, yet took part – in the “triple posture of violinist, pianist and philanthropist”–in a concert for the newly established state of Israel.

In this Olympian being, the virtues of his native land were intensified, heightened by the moral, intellectual and emotional stature of a great artist. A “child of nature,” he had a sacred, instinctive solidarity with the humanness in every person, also at home within the vast artistic family of the planet. “Having a foundation in German education and living in Paris, which I adore, while being Romanian by birth,” he wrote, “I am essentially international, and insist on being perceived as such, despite the adoration I have for my native country and the many treasures of Romanian folklore.”

Enescu–“Eneas’ son”… a Moldavian in Romania, a Romanian in Paris, a European in New York, a cosmopolitan musician, drawing equally from the folkloric sources of his country and the universal adventure of modernity.

The artist as a citizen of the world belongs often to the great encyclopedia of Exile. Even while living far away from his native land and language though, Enescu did not inhabit his biography as an exile. His true residence was in the spiritual realm, just as it was for the two other great innovators of modern art, Constantin Brâncusi, and Eugene Ionesco, whose names, like his, brighten lastingly the Romanian presence in our syncopated twentieth century.

Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Since World War II, many of the leading twentieth-century composers of Eastern Europe have become part of the standard concert repertory. But figures such as Szymanowski, Bartók, and Janáček, despite the popularity of their works, are still viewed through the prism of a simplistic notion of national identity. No doubt they were indeed nationalists, and used an array of folk materials and distinctive characteristics of their native language and culture in their music—but the same can also be said of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Yet we never marginalize these classical masters as idiosyncratically German or Austrian; they seem to transcend national characteristics. Despite the broadening of Western European and American tastes, our attraction to the composers of eastern European is still intimately connected to our sense that there is something exotic about their music. When these composers have tried to counter that sense and avoided highlighting an audible nativism, their music has been traditionally criticized as derivative. This double bind has been particularly true in the case of the lesser known twentieth-century Russian symphonists. We still fall into the trap of concentrating on what seems uniquely Finnish about Sibelius or Danish about Nielsen.

There are two composers from Eastern Europe who have suffered particular neglect because their work does not lend easily to reductive nationalist symbolism: Ernst von Dohnányi and George Enescu. The careers of both of these musical geniuses have unusual parallels. Each was a remarkable prodigy as an instrumentalist—Dohynanyi as a pianist, Enescu as a violinist. Each was trained in Vienna at a conservatory over which the tradition of Brahms held a profound influence. Dohnányi and Enescu both went on to achieve international success primarily as performers, and both contributed actively to the development of concert life and musical culture in their homelands, Hungary and Romania respectively, after 1918. Unlike Dohnanyi, however, Enescu honored a longstanding Romanian cultural connection, and went on to study in Paris, where he came under the spell of French masters and influences. In this regard, Enescu’s experience bears particular resemblance to those of Szymanowski and Martinu. Unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, the linguistic connection between Romania and France was quite intimate. Bucharest prided itself on being the Paris rather than the Vienna of Eastern Europe. As a result, Enescu more self-consciously than Dohnányi became a truly international and cosmopolitan figure, who lived not only in Romania and Paris but (again like Martinu) in New York.

As CD re-issues of his violin playing have made clear, he was a spectacular and original violinist, as well as a great violin pedagogue who found a way to integrate the French violin tradition with that of central Europe. His sound and interpretive strategy were completely different from the Russian tradition that emanated from Leopold Auer (which has left a distinct mark on our tastes through the artistry of such pupils as Jascha Heifetz), or the tradition which took hold in Berlin through the influence of Joachim and Flesch. In this regard, Enescu outpaces Bartók, Szymanowski or Janáček, because he maintained a virtuosity as an instrumentalist that was indisputable and lifelong. Perhaps only Dohnányi, who returned late in life to public piano performance, offers a legitimate comparison. But the comparison is a bit ironic, because even more than Dohnányi, Enescu saw himself first and foremost as a composer. Despite this conviction, however, most of his music is largely neglected today beyond the borders of Romania (though, thanks to the advocacy of Lawrence Foster, the opera Oedipe [1936] is experiencing something of a revival today). This is also ironic, because Enescu’s music cannot in any way be simplistically defined as Romanian, but rather is an innovative extension of the three traditions he knew—French, German, Romanian.

To acknowledge that Enescu artistically transcended nationalism is not to say, however, that he abandoned his native country. Rather, Enescu’s life and work serve to disrupt the hard and fast categorization of a restrictive nationalism in the first place. Unlike many of his equally famous Romanian contemporaries, Enescu managed to avoid both sides of a terrible opposition. He neither flirted during the 1930s with local fascist movements that exploited national pride, nor succumbed to the lure of distancing himself entirely from Romania through acculturation into an international world of artists (which is often a form of cultural conformism in disguise). Like Bartók, Enescu was a courageous and honorable individual in a world obsessed by nationalist hatred, xenophobia, fascism, and anti-Semitism. His tireless work to expose Romanian musicians to the range of European tradition and technique, as evidenced in his founding of Romania’s most important musical institutions, make Constantin Stihi-Boos’s comment on Enescu’s constant compositional revision–that he was “like a first-rate jeweler continually polishing precious jewels”—applicable to his service to his country as well. Enescu wanted to point out a direction for his native land towards an open, proud, and tolerant democratic society. He has been a national symbol in Romania in both the autocratic and democratic eras. The conservatory and leading orchestra of Bucharest are named after him, and there are Enescu streets and statues everywhere.

It is not, however, out of respect for Enescu’s life and personality that his music deserves to be reintroduced into the repertory. In one final comparison to Bartók, it must be acknowledged that Enescu was a great composer. To this end, this concert has been designed to provide as concise a snapshot of his orchestral output as possible. Two pre-World War I works show the full range of his mastery and appropriation of nineteenth-century traditions. One major work represents his most productive period in the 1930s, and there is one fine example of the music he wrote later in his career.

Concert Overture (on Popular Romanian Themes), Op. 32 (1948)

By Anthony Burton

Written for the concert Polishing the Jewel: The Genius of George Enescu, performed on Feb 4, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

In the last years of his life, after the end of World War II, Enescu was living in poverty in Paris, cut off from Romania and from his savings there, and prevented by hearing and spinal disorders from pursuing his most lucrative career, that of solo violinist. During this period, he devoted most of his effort as a composer to works which had previously remained unfinished: in particular, he completed his Second String Quartet and his symphonic poem Vox Maris, both of which he had begun as long ago as the 1920s. But he did also compose two new works, the Ouverture de concert sur des thèmes dans le caractère populaire roumain and the intimate Chamber Symphony. The Overture was completed in September 1948, and first performed the following January by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., conducted by the composer.

As its full title suggests, the Concert Overture belongs to the long line of pieces by Enescu inspired by the riches of Romanian folk music. This began with his precocious Opus 1, the Poème Roumain, and the two highly successful Romanian Rhapsodies. But, while these had been based on actual folk melodies, later pieces in the same line–like the Third Violin Sonata of 1926 and the Suite villageoise–were in a language inspired by folk traditions, and used no folk material. The Sonata shares with the Concert Overture the phrase in its sub-title “dans le caractère populaire roumain.” Enescu explained this choice of words in an interview for a Romanian magazine in 1928, speaking about his Caprice Roumain for violin and orchestra, then in progress but never completed (the translation is from Noel Malcolm’s biography of Enescu):

“I’m writing it in the character of folk-music. I don’t use the word “style” because that implies something made or artificial, whereas “character” suggests something given, existing from the beginning … The use of folk material doesn’t in itself ensure an authentic realization of folk character; it contributes to it, circumstantially, when it is done with the spirit of the people; in this way Romanian composers will be able to write valuable compositions whose character will be similar to that of folk music, but which will be achieved through different, absolutely personal mean.”

The Overture is in the bright key of A major, and is scored for a large orchestra, including céleste (doubling keyed glockenspiel), piano and harp – a combination of colors of harmonic instruments which may have been suggested by some of the richer orchestral scores of Szymanowski. The intricate detail of the orchestration, in particular the use of solo strings playing something completely different from the rest of the section, is characteristic of Enescu. So too is the precise indication of phrasing, dynamics, harmonics, and many minute inflections of tempo (all with exact metronome markings)–the legacy of many years’ experience as an orchestral conductor.

The Romanian character of the thematic material is established by its strong rhythmic impetus, mostly accumulated through short two-measure phrases of 2/4 time, and in its stress on certain intervals–notably the fifths of open violin strings, and the augmented seconds which may have reached Romania from the Middle East. Equally characteristic of folk tradition are the heterophonic textures, in which different instruments decorate the same melodic line simultaneously in different ways, and the manner in which the melodies are constantly varied and extended, as if by a fiddler relying less on memory than on fluency of improvisation. Indeed, there is almost no exact repetition of thematic material in the course of the work’s nine or so minutes. It is shaped instead by its alternation between passages at the hectic basic tempo and episodes at slower speeds: a lament led by a solo flute, a darkly passionate cantilena leading to the work’s central climax, and a powerful coda.

This coda conveys a strong sense of tragedy; and it suggests that the Overture as a whole expresses the all too familiar twentieth-century emotions of nostalgia and protest at separation from a lost homeland. The work is dedicated to the memory of the Romanian princess Elena Bibescu, the influential patron of many writers and artists in Paris until her death in 1902. She had taken Enescu under her wing some fifty years earlier, when the young Conservatoire student’s Poème Roumain had first expressed his feelings for his distant native land.