Enescu – Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11, No. 1 in A Major and No. 2 in D Major

by Max Derrickson

Georges Enescu (1881-1955)

Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11, No. and No. 1 in A Major and No. 2 in D Major

The written history ofRomania, like that of many European countries, began with the Romans. After they left,Romaniawas overrun by a series of invaders—the Goths, Huns, Avars, and so on. The main principalities that have remained over the centuries areMoldavia, Walachia, andTransylvania. Even into the 19th Century, however, the provinces were being fought over and their rulers kept changing. Not until 1881 wasRomaniafinally declared its own kingdom. Also in 1881 was born the musical prodigy Georges Enescu. By age 8 he had learned violin, developed some composing skills, entered a music conservatory, and given his first recital. At 14 he continued his violin and composition studies at the Paris Conservatoire (with classmate Maurice Ravel). During those short years, Enescu studied with the greatest musical teachers of his day, and played several times for Johannes Brahms. By 17 he was hailed inRomaniaas a figure of national importance. The nationalism that accompaniedRomania’s long-sought autonomy set the tone for Enescu’s greatly beloved Poème Roumain, Op. 1, for Orchestra, Chorus, and Bells (1897), and, soon after, the two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901).

From this point on, Enescu’s career followed a thrice-divided path of conducting, concertizing, and composing. As a conductor, he was strongly considered as a replacement for Toscanini after his death. As performer, Enescu was regarded as one of the most musical violinists of his generation. As composer, he contributed strongly to the orchestral and chamber music repertoires, and spent 24 years creating the opera Oedipe, premiered in 1936. Enescu’s contemporaries marveled at his brilliance, such as his knowing every note of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by heart. Because of his active schedule, his compositions number only 33. Had he been less self-effacing, his works other than the flashy nationalistic pieces would probably be better remembered.

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Tonight’s performance begins with the second Rhapsody, the more subtle of the two. [. . .]