Past Master, FORUM Lodge No. 64 and AGORA Lodge No.175, Bucharest;
Assistant Grand Master for Foreign Relations, Grand Lodge of Moldova;
Founder & Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
I reproduce this article, published 11 years ago in Masonic Forum. Because this year there was a new edition (21st), of the George Enescu International Festival and because my Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection called, what else, George Enescu, celebrates 10 years from the beginning. And, not least, because I love music.
George Enescu, a Romanian composer only five years and a quart
We all read in the elementary school the story with little Jurjac (how George Enescu was called by his parents) who, rewarded with a little toy violin with three strings for being such a good boy, threw it away, for he wished a real one. Well, it was just so.
Having a strong temperament at only five years old, when he was asked to play, he answered the famous Eduard Caudella: “First you play! Show me what you can.”. But the pathway towards music couldn’t have started only with those tunes heard by Enescu in Cracalia, at Lae The Bosseyed’s folk music band, close to Dorohoi, or at the weddings in Liveni, his native village. One day, his father told him:
– If you want to deal with music, you should learn the notes.
– But, daddy, music is for playing, not for reading.
– Well, if you don’t want to learn music, you’ll look for the pigs.
– If it’s so, I’d rather learn music…
And so happened to be one more musician and one less swineherd in the world! “Much later, at the Music Academy in Paris, I found out there could be even musician swineherds since Gounod consacrated a page from his work Ulysses to a choir of swineherds, a very beautiful choir otherwise. Had I known…”
Once he learned the notes, little Enescu passed straight to the composition. He was not composing tunes or little arias, but…real works. It is well-known that manuscript entitled “Wallachia – work for piano and violin by George Enescu, Romanian Composer, five years and a quart”
In 1888, the year of the inauguration of Romanian Athaenaeum, whose organ was to be given Enescu as a present, subsequently, Enescu had turned 7. A diphteria epidemic stroke the northern land of Moldavia. Terrified for they had already lost other five children because of another epidemic, Maria and Costache Enescu wished to shelter their son. Caudella’s suggestion happened to be well inspired, “This Wunderkind should be taken to Wien, his rare gifts should be improved”. The family followed his advice. In 1888, in October 5th, Enescu entered the Music Academy, the second after Kreisler, being only 10 years. Two years later he graduated the Music Academy in Wien.
At only 13 he is guided towards Paris. Here are the words of Alfred Cortot (of 17 years old, then) regarding Enescu’s arrival at the Academy: “I saw a boy of about 13 entering. He was stout and he was wearing a too tight coat and a pair of trousers too short for him. A big head, extremely pensive, with eyes unceasingly watching all sides, very quiet…he didn’t look like a child. We pestered him, as the old pupils do with the new ones, but he was not disturbed by the fireworks of our questions:
– I don’t know.
– But do you play some instrument?
– The violin.
– So you enter Marsick?
– Play a little, we want to hear.
– If you want to…
And Enescu magnificently played an excerpt from a concert of Brahms.
– But I also play the piano a little.
And Enescu sat to the piano and magnificently played the Allegro from Aurora Sonata.
– And yet, I prefer to compose.
– What? Do you compose?
– What? Lieds?
– No, symphonies. I’ve already written three.
Three symphonies and he was only thirteen.”
When he reached 17, his suite Poema Română op.1 composed a year before was being played in the famous house Colonne.
The year 1897 (Enescu was 16) proved to be fertile for the young composer, in the same time his fame as a violonist increasing. He also became popular in our country, for because of a small accident he had to return to Romania at the very moment when he could have won the Music Academy Award. What had happened? Well, swinging himself on a chair, he fell down and crushed one finger. After he had recovered, on 1st of Mars, he showed up as a conductor at the Romanian Athaenaeum, performing in the first audition in Romania Poema Română.
After this concert, a committee organized a collection in order to buy him a precious violin. They gathered 9,000 francs and his father added 10,000 francs more. Enescu bought a Stradivarius from Stuttgart and then substituted it for a Guarneri (made in 1736), that can be found today at the Romanian Music Museum.
A very good friend and a loyal supporter of George Enescu was Carmen Sylva, who called him “The Sphinx” and later on “Pinx”. On the occasion of the 17th anniversary she gave him as a present a complete copy of Bach’s works. The Peleş Castle had always been opened for him and also the Palace, where in the first years of his career he had an apartment booked every time he came to Bucharest. On lines written by Carmen Sylva Enescu composed lieds, a cantata, and in 1903 he made a quartet entitled with the name of the Queen, which was performed at the National Theatre, when Aristizza Romanescu retired.
A 19 years old violonist conquers Europe
His violonistic carreer will become a marathon. His first performance as a soloist took place in 1900, February, when he was 19 years old, in Paris, where he played “Concert for violin by Beethoven”, as part of the Colonne Concerts. Considering the tradition, they used only to applaude, no matter how good the performance might have been. But Enescu was cheered standing up. The columnist from “Le Figaro” stated: “ The young composer is remarkably and exceptionally gifted. He performed Concert of Beethoven like a great artist, with a nobility of stile, with authority, masterliness, a simplicity in attitude, a sonorous candour and a depth of admirable feelings.” I kept the French columnists epithets for they best define the interpretative art of Enescu during his entire life. Even though he considered himself a composer rather than a violonist.
“It is said to be love marriages, but I married my violin for interest. Of course I happened to spend wonderful moments with it. But I sometimes despised this little instrument which forced me to waste my energy and my time.” There was a time he desired to dedicate to composition and conduct.
At the beginning of the century, Enescu could be listened to as a pianist also, playing music for two pianos or accompanying other violonists. A history of music freed from dry information tells us about a vocal soloist Enescu.
In 1937, at a rehearsal with the Radio Orchestra, they were repeating act III from Siegfried by Wagner. One bass singer failed to come and Enescu sang from the conductor’s desk with his “full, expressive and accurate voice” Wotan’s part, surprizing the audience who burst into cheers.
The Soar of a Morning Star
Even since the beginning of the century he had been well-known all over Europe: in 1903 he made his debut in London, in 1908 – in Rome, as a conductor, composer and interpreter, in 1909 performed in Russia, in 1912 in Budapest, he had thousands of concerts in Paris and in 1923, January, started the collaboration with Philadelphia Orchestra, then with other American Orchestras. Weird that not even after the World War II Enescu didn’t agree to cross the Atlantic by plane, but only by ship.
Enescu also halted in the most unexpected boroughs in Romania. Always ready to perform in charity concerts, not only in his country, but also abroad, with a generosity proper to great personalities, Enescu made a public appeal through the newspapers “Epoca” and “L’Independence Roumaine” for an organ that was to be set up in the Athaenaeum. He himself donated 30000 lei in 1914. He also visited hospitals, went on the front during the war under the auspices of the Red Cross, performing for the wounded.
The 20’s meant for Enescu the restitution of
his manuscripts, considered national patrimony and “misplaced” in 1916, when the jewelry of the crown and the national treasure reached Moscow in 1740 cases.
In 1928 he started teaching violin lessons to a dumpy, reddish and freckled little boy who, after he had listened to Enescu in one of his concerts, insistently followed him with the request to accept him as a disciple: Yehudi Menuhin. The examination of the little pestering boy took place at dawn, at 6 o’clock, in the master’s apartment in Paris, while Enescu was packing up. Menuhin proved to be more than a short flicker and a false wonderboy. He followed his master to Romania, to Peleş, and Enescu shared him not only the shaded polish of a great talent, but also his love for Romania.
In 1939, his tempestuous and sinuous love for Maruca Cantacuzino was crowned by their marriage. They had actually got married twenty years before in Lausanne, Switzerland, after Maruca Rosetti-Cantacuzino had just got divorced. But before leaving Bucharest, Maruca failed to copy officially this marriage; by the time they returned to Romania the time had expired. Their marriage and the divorce were valid only in Switzerland and Maruca’s ex-husband, Mişu Cantacuzino, would have become a bigamist, if he had wished to get married again.
There was one more impediment towards the legalization of their marriage: Enescu didn’t like any contact with the administrative offices. He went only in few audiences at some ministeries, not in personal interest, but to intercede in somebody’s favour. For instance, Enescu requested a minister the well-deserved salary of one cook wronged by her master.
The taxes in Romania were paid by others; he had diplomatic passport, he had been exempted from military service, he didn’t pass through recruitment; he dealt neither with the ceremonies at his parent’s death, nor with the plot of land in Sinaia – it was Maruca who supervised the building of villa “Luminiş“. He had lawyers to take care of the buying of the land in Moldavia, friends to see to the purchasing of villa Les Cytises from Bellevue and impresarios to organize his concerts.
The Red Disaster
Almost all the money earned in the concerts was used in order to buy pieces of land. But after the World War I and also after World War II things grew cheaper and Enescu had to take his violin and wander again to play. One of his grieves was the fact that he was treated like all the great land-owners and after 1945 all his estates were confiscated one after the other , false acts of donation being drawn up. For a lifetime Enescu hadn’t had his own house in Bucharest. He had dwelt in an apartment of three rooms with a piano, monthly rented, in Hotel Bratu, Grivița Boulevard, then in a street near ştirbei Vodă (now George Enescu str.) on the 5th floor of a block of flats near the White Church, eventually in Palace Cantacuzino, Victoria Boulevard, actually in the small dwelling behind the impressive palace. The only house really belonging to him and built in accordance with his plans was villa “Luminiş“ from Sinaia, on Cumpătu, whom he donated to the Romanian State in 1947, in order to be turned into a rest-home for Romanian and foreign artists and intellectuals designated by an advisory committee, made up – among others – of Mihail Jora, Octav Onicescu, Duiliu Zamfirescu, and Romeo Drăghici – his lawyer.
Year after year, Enescu owned a flat in Paris, in rue de Clichy and a villa in Bellevue, near Paris, whom he sold in the last years of his life, strongly marked by straitened circumstances.
There are few who know that Enescu suffered from a heart-attack in December 1936, during a concert in Oradea, Romania. His body had also been touched by an anchylosing spinal spondylosis.
Oh, my dear Moldavia!
Once the war ended, the events rushed. When he last visited the realm of his childhood, he was welcome with cheers at Te]cani, Liveni and Dorohoi. In his way towards the Prefecture of Dorohoi, Enescu stopped at his formerly supplier of pens and bought all the pens from the storehouse.
Then he halted in Mihăileni, at his mother’s tomb, where he stood alone with his head bent, saying: “I leave this place rested. It is this sap of my land that gives me courage to separate from my country again for such a long time”. The “separation” took place on the 10th of September; he took the train to Constan]a, where he was to embark the ship “Ardealul”, which was going to leave for New York with the staff of our Embassy. Al. Cosmovici tells that up on the deck Enescu tenderly uttered the lines: “ Oh, my dear Moldavia,/ Those who leave you are terribly aggrieved”.
Time seemed not to bear Enescu anylonger; in 1954, July 14th , he suffered from a mental shock (in his flat from Paris) followed by a partial paralysis.
It was a nurse, not his wife, that watched him on his death bed. His great love, Maruca Cantacuzino, left him alone in the jaws of death. Due to the large-hearted people, Enescu had spent the last months of his life in Hotel Atala, rue de Chateaubriand.
The Queen of Belgium in person came especially from Bruxelles to watch his last moments. He died at the night between the 4th and the 5th of May, 1955. His body is resting in the historical Parisian graveyard Pere Lachaise.
“Enescu will always stand for the Absolute through which I’m judging the others” (Sir Yehudi Menuhin)