George Enescu

About the great composer George Enescu


George Enescu, known in France as Georges Enesco (born August 19, 1881, Liveni, Botoșani – died May 4, 1955, Paris), was a composer, violinist, educator, pianist, and conductor. He is considered the most important Romanian musician. Born on August 19, 1881, in Liveni (later renamed “George Enescu” in his honor), Botoșani County, he showed an extraordinary inclination for music from childhood. A prodigious child, George Enescu created his first musical composition at the age of 5. His father later introduced him to the professor and composer Eduard Caudella to begin composition studies. At the age of 7, he was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied under the guidance of Joseph Hellmesberger Jr., Robert Fuchs, and Sigismund Bachrich. He graduated with a silver medal from Vienna before he turned 13. He quickly became part of Vienna’s musical life, with his concerts featuring performances of compositions by Johannes Brahms, Pablo de Sarasate, Henri Vieuxtemps, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, captivating the press and the audience, even though he was only 12 years old. Debut as a performer and composer. Early years of George Enescu’s youth. In 1895, he went to Paris to continue his studies at the Paris Conservatory (1895-1899) under the guidance of Martin Pierre Marsick (violin), André Gédalge (counterpoint), Jules Massenet, and Gabriel Fauré (composition).


The beginning of the 20th century. Significant works


Some of his most famous compositions date back to the early 20th century, such as the two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-1902), Orchestral Suite No. 1 (1903), his first Symphony (1905), and Seven Songs on Poems by Clément Marot (1908). During World War I, he remained in Bucharest. He conducted Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (for the first time in its entirety in Romania), compositions by Claude Debussy, as well as his own creations: Symphony No. 2 (1913), and Suite for Orchestra No. 2 (1915). In the same year, the first edition of the “George Enescu” composition competition took place, in which the composer offered generous cash prizes to the winners from his own income, as well as the opportunity to perform these pieces in concerts.


Interwar period


After the war, he continued his activity divided between Romania and France. Unforgettable were his interpretations of Ernest Chausson’s Poème for violin and string quartet and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. He made several trips to the United States, where he conducted the orchestras in Philadelphia (1923) and New York (1938). His pedagogical activity also became of considerable importance. Among his students were violinists Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, and Yehudi Menuhin. The latter, a virtuoso with a profound humanistic culture, held a true reverence and deep affection for Enescu, considering him his spiritual father. “For me, Enescu will remain one of the true wonders of the world. (…) The strong roots and nobility of his soul come from his own country, a country of unmatched beauty.” (Yehudi Menuhin)


World War II and final years. Mature works


During World War II, while staying in Bucharest, Enescu had a rich conductingactivity, encouraging the creations of Romanian musicians such as Mihail Jora, Constantin Silvestri, Ionel Perlea, Nicolae Brânzeu, and Sabin Drăgoi. After the war, he performed concerts together with David Oistrach, Lev Oborin, Emil Gilels, and Yehudi Menuhin, who visited him in Bucharest and Sinaia. In the last years of his life, he composed String Quartet No. 2, Chamber Symphony for twelve solo instruments, completed the symphonic poem Vox Maris for soprano, tenor, choir, and orchestra, which was sketched as early as 1929, and the unfinished Symphonies No. 4 and 5 (later orchestrated by composer Pascal Bentoiu). Once the communist dictatorship was established, he permanently exiled himself to Paris, where he passed away on the night of May 3 to 4, 1955. He was buried in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, in a white marble vault at position 68.


The musical style of George Enescu


George Enescu’s compositional style is difficult to define, oscillating between the monumental romantic style of Richard Wagner (in Symphony No. 1), influences of French music (for example, in the Songs on Poems by Clément Marot), neo-Baroque tendencies (in Orchestral Suite No. 2), and a wholly personal modern expression in chamber music, the opera Oedipe, or the Chamber Symphony. The influence of Romanian folklore should not be forgotten, evident in the two Romanian Rhapsodies, the Sonata for violin “with Romanian folk character,” and the Village Suite. George Enescu’s international fame – which intrigued him himself – is primarily due to Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, popularized especially by Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, overshadowing his great creations. Through the “George Enescu” International Festival, regularly held in Bucharest with the participation of world-renowned musicians, Enescu’s musical oeuvre is highlighted.