"What We're Listening To:" George Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 for Orchestra
George Enescu (1881-1955) was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. He is regarded by many as Romania’s most influential musician. He demonstrated musical ability from early on in his childhood, and dreamt of becoming a composer. Enescu is quoted as saying, “It’s odd though: I never knew anything, I never listened to anything or very little, I never had anyone near me who could influence me. And still, as a child, I had a definite idea about being a composer. Just a composer.”
He began experimenting with composing at a very young age, writing many short pieces for violin and piano. In 1888, at age seven, he became the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory. There was a rule in place that no person under the age of fourteen could study there, but Enescu was the second person (after Fritz Kreisler) for whom they bent the rules.
Later in his life, Enescu created the George Enescu National Composition Award, which was awarded annually until 1946. The competition was organized to encourage Romanian creators and offered the winners money as well as an opportunity for their works to be interpreted in a concert. Enescu was also the founder and president of the Romanian Composers’ Society in Bucharest. Enescu earned international acknowledgement during the course of his career which gave him many opportunities to give music interpretation courses as well as form and analysis courses at the École Normale de Musique in Paris.
Enescu wrote two Romanian Rhapsodies for Orchestra, both of which are his best-known works. They were both written in 1901 (Enescu was only nineteen years old) and were first performed together in 1903. Both rhapsodies, especially the first, have held a place in modern orchestral repertory since their inception. They hold many elements of Romanian rhythm, style and excitement.
Below is a performance of Enescu's first Romanian Rhapsody conducted by Mariss Jansons.