Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes (Last update 08/05/2006)

"Oh, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania, Rumania. Was such a lovely place, I just can’t explain ya…"1

Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955)

Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op.25

"In the Popular Romanian Style" (1926)

(First a note of apology for those expecting to hear the advertised Violin Sonata by Ionescu. That work, actually for violin and rhinoceros, proved too difficult to present. We could not engage a rhinoceros willing to share the stage with a violinist.)

Georges Enescu (you’ll also see the name spelled Enesco, as well as Romania spelled Rumania2) was by all accounts a remarkable musician: called by cellist Pablo Casals "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart", he was a violin virtuoso, but was equally at home on piano and cello, as well as at the conductor’s podium. His performances of Bach’s violin works were especially noteworthy. As a teacher his most famous pupils were violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Arthur Grumiaux.

His best-known compositions were, and probably still are, his two colorful Romanian Rhapsodies. This distressed him somewhat, as it left what he felt were his more substantial compositions in the shadows. As a composer, he was quite cosmopolitan in outlook. His works range in style from Brahmsian Romanticism, to his own idiosyncratic brand of "neo-classicism", undoubtedly influenced by Bach’s Suites and predating neo-classic works by Stravinsky and Hindemith. He was not averse to occasional forays into ultra chromaticism verging on atonality. The music of the East also held a fascination for him, which brings us to the work to be heard today.

In the classic L.P. collaboration between Yehudi Menuhin, and Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, Menuhin, accompanied by his sister Hepzibah Menuhin performed Enescu’s A minor Violin Sonata. In the liner notes he wrote, " I have chosen as the Western contribution to this recording the remarkable and haunting "Sonata in the Popular Rumanian Style" by Georges Enesco. Although it is a Western composition in the purest sonata form, the piece exudes the rhapsodic and improvisatory atmosphere characteristic of the Rumanian Gypsy violinist playing with the cimbalum and it is thus a rare and authentic example of improvised folk music giving birth to a composition in an evolved Western form." (Menuhin dislikes commas as much as I like semi-colons.)

"Coming from a people who inhabit the very borderline between West and East, Enesco developed a deep interest in Oriental music and Ravi Shankar recalls how, in the early thirties, he often used to listen to him and his brother Uday Shankar rehearsing with their musicians. At the same period, it was Enesco who took me to the extraordinary Colonial Exhibition in Paris where he introduced me to the Gamelan Orchestra from Indonesia. The Sonata on this record could only have come from the mind and heart of one born and bred of a union between the intuitive world of the East and the crystallized and consolidated world of the West."3

The improvisatory quality of the music is an illusion. Enesco went to great pains to accurately notate in the score the quartertones, bent notes, slides, elaborate ornamentation, rubato and rhythmic complexity of the violin part. The piano part suggests, as Menuhin points out, a cimbalom, or hammered dulcimer used in East European Folk Music. In the second movement, the violin seems to evoke the sound of one of the many types of flute found in Romanian folk music. This "Popular Romanian Style" (The score is actually marked ‘dans le caractère populaire roumain’), actually evokes Romania’s urban folk music, but without actually quoting any folk tunes. With the revival of interest of Klezmer music in the past two decades, not to mention the vogue some years ago for Georgy Zamphir’s panpipes, this Romanian style lives and is being heard again.

Central to Romanian folk traditions is the Doina, or lament. Ann Breigleb, Director of UCLA’s Ethnomusicology Archives writes, "the term doina, or long song as Bartók named it, is a specific Romanian musical form characterized by free rhythm and indefinite form (named parlando-rubato), and the improvisatory skills of each performer, who lengthens or shortens the notes, speeding or slowing down the performance according to his individual artistic mastery. The doina is not connected to any special custom or rite and yet occupies a prominent place in the folk music repertory, both vocal and instrumental. Performance is always soloistic because of its improvisatory nature. 4 As Yehudi Menuhin pointed out, Enescu was able to the adapt rules of sonata form to this music of "indefinite form". Also to be heard in this work is the dotted rhythm characteristic of the Hora, an ancient slow choral dance.

Finally, we hit pay dirt in another book by David Ewen; Ewen’s Musical Masterworks-The Encyclopedia of Musical Masterworks (Ewen clearly had a predilection for grandiose titles) in which Enescu himself provided the following notes to this sonata.

"First Movement: The cries and complaints of unhappy Rumanian refugees (in the days of their tribulation as an oppressed people) in their mountain retreats…anguished lamentations of those who lost their homes and fertile valleys. In the relative peace of their mountain refuge where the enemy could not reach, they stretch out their arms with hope and prayer to the distant horizon, awaiting a miracle to happen for their salvation and deliverance. In vain do they pray; their misery deepens and grows until it reaches desperation.

Second Movement: Mysterious voices and strange cries out of the deep and dark night, sinister omens, oriental, distant sounds shrouded in the shadows of pessimism.

Third Movement: Among the unhappy folk is one who, in a fit of drunkenness, finds his consolation in a sort of deliberate philosophical and abstract indifference, and thus reaches sublime serenity and splendid isolation, a state of ‘Nirvana’ in the midst of the unhappy world around him."5

I suspect that sometimes it’s better not to know.

So anyway… after the concert go get yourself a bit of "pastramele"(pastrami) and a "glazele vayn" (a glass of wine) as the song goes, and drink a toast to the folks who gave the world Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula) and all those little prepubescent girl gymnasts.


1 Rumeynye (Rumania) words and music by Aaron Lebedeff ©1947,1994 Ethnic Music Publications

2 During the time of the Roman Empire, the area of land now known as Romania was a favorite retirement spot for Roman ex-military. Their presence in the area was such that the Romanian language is actually derived from the Latin spoken by these Roman soldiers. It is the only Romance Language found in Eastern Europe.

3 East Meets West . Angel Records 36418 (EMI) Library of Congress Catalog No. R67-2984 notes © Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, John Barham, 1966

4 Liner notes by Ann Briegleb, Director UCLA Ethnomusicology Archives.Reflections of Romania – Village and Urban Folk Traditions© 1983 Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records

5 Ewen, David Ewen’s Musical Masterworks – The Encyclopedia of Musical Masterpieces. Arco Publishing Co., New York. 1944,1954.

2000-2001 Season, Program II, Sunday, December 10, 2000

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