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Enesco, George - Romanian Rhapsody, Op. 11 No. 1 in A Major

Romanian Rhapsody, Op. 11 No. 1 in A Major
George Enesco
b. Liveni Virnav, Romania / August 19, 1881; d. Paris, France / May 4, 1955

Enesco was the most important musician his country has produced, as well as one of the most active and versatile musical figures of his era. He won renown as composer, conductor, violinist and teacher. His modesty in regard to his own music and his dislike of self-promotion led to an under-evaluation of his compositions. They include chamber works, piano pieces, choral music and an operatic setting of the Oedipus legend (Oedipe, 1910). The orchestral creations include three each of symphonies and suites.

Only a pair of early works, the two Romanian Rhapsodies, keeps his name alive in the concert halls of the world. The model was the folksy, free-wheeling Hungarian Rhapsodies of Franz Liszt. Nostalgic longing for Enesco’s homeland may also have played a role in their creation. He composed the rhapsodies in 1900 and 1901. He conducted the first performances himself, at a concert by the Orchestre Pablo Casals, in Paris during February 1903.

Addressing the nature of the musical materials he used in them, he wrote, “Contrary to the general idea, Romania is not a Slavic country, but Latin. Settled 2000 years ago, it has maintained its completely Latin character...Our music, curiously enough, is influenced not by the neighboring Slav, but by members of these remote races, now classed as Gypsies, brought to Romania as servants of the Roman conquerors. The deeply oriental character of our own folk music derives from these sources and possesses a flavor as singular as it is beautiful.”

The First Rhapsody is a straightforward medley of traditional rustic dance themes. Enescu made little effort to develop them in any serious, academic way, or to ornament or elaborate them with techniques drawn from western European art music. The first tune has been identified as a tavern song, I Have a Coin and I Want a Drink. The others remain unspecified. Perhaps Enesco copied them down from live performances, or received them from people who had. The rhapsody builds to a final round dance of delirious, almost savage abandon. It features the ciocirlia, an imitation of chirping birds widely found in Romanian folk music. The dancers pause for a moment to regain their breath, to strut about proudly, then power ahead to a spirited conclusion.

Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2018

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