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George Enescu

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George Enescu

Biography

George Enescu (known in France as Georges Enesco, 19 August 1881, Liveni, Romania – 4 May 1955, Paris, France) was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher, regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and Romania's most important musician.

Enescu was born in the village of Liveni (later renamed "George Enescu" in his honor). A child prodigy, Enescu began experimenting with composing at an early age. Several, mostly very short pieces survive, all of them for violin and piano. The earliest work of significant length bears the title Pămînt românesc (Romanian Land), and is somewhat pretentiously inscribed "opus for violin and piano by George Enescu, Romanian composer, aged five years and a quarter". At the age of seven, he became the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied with Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr., Robert Fuchs, and Sigismund Bachrich.

In 1891, the ten-year-old Enescu gave a private concert at the Court of Vienna, in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph.

Joseph Hellmesberger, Sr., one of his teachers and the director of the Vienna Conservatory, hosted Enescu at his home, a place where the child prodigy met his idol, Johannes Brahms. He graduated before his 13th birthday, earning the silver medal. In his Viennese concerts young Enescu played works by Brahms, Sarasate and Mendelssohn. In 1895 he went to Paris to continue his studies. He studied violin with Martin Pierre Marsick, harmony with André Gedalge, and composition with Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré. Enescu then studied from 1895 to 1899 at the Conservatoire de Paris.

On 6 February 1898, at the age of only 16, George Enescu presented in Paris his first mature work, Poema Română, played by the Colonne Orchestra.

Many of Enescu's works were influenced by Romanian folk music, his most popular compositions being the two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901–2), the opera Œdipe (1936), and the suites for orchestra. He also wrote five symphonies (two of them unfinished), a symphonic poem Vox maris, and much chamber music (three sonatas for violin and piano, two for cello and piano, a piano trio, two string quartets and two piano quartets, a wind decet (French, "dixtuor"), an octet for strings, a piano quintet, and a chamber symphony for twelve solo instruments). A young Ravi Shankar recalled in the 1960s how Enescu, who had developed a deep interest in Oriental music, rehearsed with Shankar's brother Uday Shankar and his musicians. Around the same time, Enescu took the young Yehudi Menuhin to the Colonial Exhibition in Paris, where he introduced him to the Gamelan Orchestra from Indonesia.

On 8 January 1923 he made his American debut as a conductor in a concert given by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and he subsequently made frequent returns to the United States. It was in America, in the 1920s, that Enescu was first persuaded to make recordings as a violinist. He also appeared as a conductor with many American orchestras, and in 1936 he was one of the candidates considered to replace Arturo Toscanini as permanent conductor of the New York Philharmonic. In 1935, he conducted the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris and Yehudi Menuhin (who had been his pupil for several years starting in 1927) in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. He also conducted the New York Philharmonic between 1937 and 1938. He lived in Paris and in Romania, but after World War II and the Soviet occupation of Romania, he remained in Paris.

He was also a noted violin teacher. Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, Ida Haendel and Joan Field were among his pupils. He promoted contemporary Romanian music, playing works of Constantin Silvestri, Mihail Jora, Ionel Perlea and Marţian Negrea.

Pablo Casals described Enescu as "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart" and "one of the greatest geniuses of modern music". Queen Marie of Romania wrote in her memoirs that "in George Enescu was real gold". Yehudi Menuhin, Enescu's most famous pupil, once said about his teacher: "He will remain for me the absoluteness through which I judge others. [...] Enescu gave me the light that has guided my entire existence." He also considered Enescu "the most extraordinary human being, the greatest musician and the most formative influence" he had ever experienced. Vincent d'Indy claimed that if Beethoven's works were destroyed, they could be all reconstructed from memory by George Enescu. Alfred Cortot, one of the greatest pianists of all time, once said that Enescu, though primarily a violinist, had better piano technique than his own.

Today, Bucharest houses a museum in his memory; likewise, the Symphony Orchestra of Bucharest and the George Enescu Festival—founded by his friend, musical advocate, and sometime collaborator, the conductor George Georgescu—are named and held in his honor. Recently, Bacău International Airport was named George Enescu International Airport.

Works for Winds


References