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ClassicsOnline Home » ENESCU: Suites Nos. 1 and 2 / Concert Overture
Suite No. 1 in C
Major, Opus 9
Prélude à l'unisson
Suite No. 2 in C
Major, Opus 20
Concert Overture, Opus
The Romanian composer
and violinist George Enescu may now be seen as the most important figure in the
musical history of his country. He was born in Moldavia in 1881 and had violin
lessons there with a pupil of Vieuxtemps, before moving, at the age of seven,
to the Conservatory in Vienna, where he studied with Joseph Hellmesberger. In
1893 he went to Paris for further study with Marsick and took composition
lessons at the Conservatoire from Massenet and Fauré. In 1897 a concert of his
work was given in Paris and by 1899, when he won the first violin prize of the
Conservatoire, he was already known as a composer, his Poéme roumain
having proved particularly successful. His subsequent career brought him
similar distinction both as a performer and as a conductor.
career was centred on Paris, with the formation in 1904 of the Enescu Quartet,
and increasing commitments both as an unwilling virtuoso and later as a
teacher, he retained his connections with Romania and did much to encourage
music there, through the Bucharest Conservatory and through the Conservatory at
lasy, where he established the George Enescu Symphony Orchestra in 1917. His
influence on younger Romanian composers was to remain considerable.
Yehudi Menuhin, in his
autobiographical Unfinished Journey, has described the powerful impression that
Enescu made on him, when, as a small child, he first saw him at a concert in
San Francisco. He was later to become Enescu's pupil in Paris, and has given
testimony to the strong influence that Enescu had on his musical development.
Other pupils included Arthur Grumiaux, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel.
Enescu was a
remarkably versatile musician. He was a competent pianist, accompanying Thibaud
in the first performance of his own second Violin Sonata, and able to play all
of Wagner from memory at the keyboard. In his phenomenal memory he held the
complete works of Bach, and Menuhin describes how he was able to play Ravel's
new Violin Sonata from memory after two brief readings with the
composer. His natural ability as a small child had led him to become a virtuoso
violinist, but his interest was always rather in composition than performance,
the second providing the means for the first. His life was divided between
Paris and Romania, his character and his music presenting a similar contrast
between cosmopolitan urbanity and the more passionate elements that were part
of his Moldavian inheritance.
Enescu had won his
early success with compositions of a pronounced national flavour. The Romanian
Poem had made use of thematic material of clear national inspiration, while
the two later Rhapsodies were to make use of existing folk-themes of one sort
or another. He was later to develop as a composer in a different direction,
having made studies of traditional symphonic form in his four so-called
"school" symphonies, works written in the 1890s. His musical language
was to remain informed by the folk-music of Romania, but only after 1920 did he
achieve a full synthesis of this national element with late romantic techniques
The Suite No. 1
in C Major, Opus 9, was completed in 1903. It opens with a Prélude á
l'unisson, a strongly stated unison movement that is clearly Romanian in
melodic inspiration. The widely spaced theme is accompanied, towards its
ominous close, by the threatening roll of drums. This is followed by a slow
Minuet that is a logical continuation of the first movement and by a more
sombre Intermède, marked by the composer's polyphonic treatment of thematic
material, in which one melody is superimposed on another. The final movement is
a re-assertion of life, a dance with something of the Gigue and of the
Tarantelle about it.
The Suite No.
2, also in C Major, was completed in 1915 and first performed under the
direction of the composer in Bucharest in the following year. Enescu takes as
his model the Baroque suite, and shows his own mastery of counterpoint in the
Overture, with its double fugue, handled with an assurance that led an early
critic to remark on the influence of Bach, as well as a suggested debt to Beethoven
in the Bourrée, cited as evidence of the composer's relation with continuing
classical musical traditions. The Sacrabande is of a clearly Romanian cast and
is followed by a Gigue of unusual metre that undergoes a more extended
development than would have been usual in the earlier dance-form. There is a
solemn Minuet, a nostalgic and expressive Aria and a final Bourrée treated in
the manner of a symphonic finale, an ebullient rondo.
Overture, Opus 32, was completed in 1948. In an addition to the title it is
described as "sur des themes dans le caractére populaire roumain".
The work belongs to the last stage of Enescu's life, coming, as it does,
between the Suite villageoise of 1938 and the final Chamber Symphony of 1954.
The work exemplifies many of the recognisable features of Enescu's musical
idiom. The central section is in a freer style of obvious popular Romanian
character, the dramatic heart of a composition that, while drawing on national
inspiration, and possibly from memories of childhood in Moldavia, avoids direct
folk-song quotation. The Overture brings to an end in markedly different
fashion a form of composition on which he had embarked with the Romanian
Poem and the Romanian Rhapsodies.
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ENESCU: Suites Nos. 1 and 2 / Concert Overture