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  • Ilinca Stroe

Romania’s Treasures: the Musicians

There can be little doubt that Romania’s contribution to the World’s music is fairly substantial, as well as wide-ranging, for an otherwise medium-sized European nation. Examples abound: “the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart”, aka Romania’s master composer George Enescu; brilliant Roma musicians, from the Royal Family’s favourite lăutar Cristache Ciolac, who “turned your heart inside out” in belle époque Romania [1], to contemporary Taraf de Haïdouks, seemingly Johnny Depp’s buddies; the “nu-mă-nu-mă-iei” song that swept Europe last decade; and, like it or not, the manele (“folklore music with a disco beat”) clubs in Vienna, one of which is fatefully located near the Richard Wagner Park!...

So Romania has certainly proven it’s got talent. Out of all that cornucopia, let’s zoom in on a fine, fine trio.

George Enescu – violinist, pianist, composer, conductor, teacher

Born: 19 August 1881 in the village of Liveni, Botoşani County, northeast Romania

Died: 4 May 1955 in Paris

Career highlights: He started playing the violin aged 4, composed his first musical piece and first performed in public aged 5. He received his initial musical instruction from a local lăutar, and when he turned 7 he was admitted as the youngest student ever to the Vienna Conservatory. Later on he studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and composed works drawing on Romanian folk music (such as the Romanian Rhapsodies, one of which you can listen to at the end of this post), and shaped talents as great as Yehudi Menuhin.

Follow-ups: The National Museum “George Enescu”, located in the stylish Cantacuzino Palace in Bucharest; the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, operating in iconic Atheneul Român, Bucharest; the prestigious George Enescu International Festival and Competition, organised every two years in Bucharest; and, odd as it may sound, Enescu’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris - highly popular with tourists!...

He was... “thin as a breeze, he tuned his violin a little more, ... leaned his cheek against it, and brushed aside a strand of hair from his eyes, with his beautiful hand, before attacking the first note. The Queen was listening lying on her chaise-longue, ... doing her tireless lacework.” [1]

Cella Delavrancea – pianist, writer and teacher

Born: 15 December 1887 in Bucharest, Romania

Died: 4 August 1991 in Bucharest

Career highlights: She studied the piano at the Conservatories in Bucharest and Paris, toured inter-bellum Europe with Enescu and other celebrities of her time, and was the first artist to perform at her own centenary concert. Above all, she was an extraordinary socialite who met and/or was intimate with a dazzling range of celebrities: Romania’s Queen Marie, sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi and satirist Ion Luca Caragiale, besides composers like Serghei Rahmaninov and Gabriel Fauré, poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Valéry, etc.

Follow-ups: Seven volumes of memoirs and fiction, prominent contemporary pianists Dan Grigore and Nicolae Licareţ, whom she taught and mentored, as well as her family house at no. 151 on Mihail Eminescu Street in Bucharest - once a lively hub visited by scores of cultural celebs, nowadays a Chinese restaurant (with a noble name: Templul Soarelui).

She was... a walking volcano! The daughter of a prominent Romanian writer who called her “my ideal child”, she was witty, passionate, rebellious, and the word is out that philosopher Nae Ionescu (the mastermind of Romania’s inter-bellum intellectuals, controversial or not), as well as canon writer I.L. Caragiale were crazy about her. Be that as it may, Queen Marie described her as “intelligent, an independent thinker beaming with gemüt [temper] and warmth, moreover extremely funny, besides being an excellent artist.” [2] As for herself, Cella gave thanks for being spared "the three calamities of jealousy, envy and vanity, the diseases which destroy the human being.” [3] Fair enough.

Angela Burlacu Gheorghiu – soprano

Born: 7 September 1965 in Adjud, Vrancea County, east Romania

Career highlights: She started studying singing at the National Music Academy in Bucharest when she was 14, and made her world debut in 1992 at the Royal Opera House in London. Her performance as Violetta in La Traviata brought her international acclaim. She has performed for royal highnesses such as Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Sophia of Spain, Queen Beatrix of Holland, as well as former US President Barack Obama. She has won five 5 Gramophone Awards, the title of Female Artist of the Year twice at the Classic Brit Awards, and is an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by decision of the French Ministry of Culture. Also, she has recorded over 50 albums so far, with labels like Deutsche Grammophon or EMI - and still counting...

She is... Romania’s own Maria Callas. Gorgeous and lively, but also known/feared for her bouts of temper, she has worked closely with the likes of Placido Domingo and Franco Zefirelli, and admits unashamedly that she basks in her role as Diva! As for those who occasionally complain about her temper, let them be duly warned: “Because I grew up in a country where there was no possibility of having an opinion, it makes me stronger now. Lots of singers are frightened about not getting invited back to an opera house if they speak out. But I have the courage to be, in a way, revolutionary.” [4]

Are you now ready for Enescu’s sweet masterpiece? It comes with the peculiar yet mesmerising performance of famed conductor Sergiu Celibidache. Enjoy!

Photo credits:


[1] Cămărăşescu, Zoe. Amintiri. Bucureşti: Ponte, 2012. Print. 271.

[2] Mihăilescu, C. Dan. Castelul, biblioteca, puşcăria. Trei vămi ale feminităţii exemplare. Bucureşti : Humanitas, 2013. Print. 78.

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