Date of Birth: August 19, 1881
Date of Death: May 4, 1955
Contribution(s): Enesco was a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. He is regarded by many as Romania’s most important musician.
Enescu was born in Romania, in the village of Liveni (later renamed “George Enescu” in his honor), in Dorohoi County at the time, today Botoşani County. He showed musical talent from early in his childhood. 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 inscribed “opus for piano and violin by George Enescu, Romanian composer, aged five years and a quarter”. Shortly thereafter, his father presented him to the professor and composer Eduard Caudella. On 5 October 1888, 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. He was the second person ever admitted to this university by a dispensation of age (there was a regulation that stipulated that no person younger than 14 years could study at the Vienna Conservatory), after only Fritz Kreisler (in 1882, also at the age of seven), and the first non-Austrian.
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. André Gedalge said that he was “the only one [among his students] who truly had ideas and spirit”.
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 (at the time, one of the most prestigious in the world) and conducted by Édouard Colonne.
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 1932, Enescu was elected a titular member of the Romanian Academy. 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. In 1939 he married Maria Rosetti (known as the Princess Cantacuzino through her first husband Mihail Cantacuzino), a good friend of Queen Marie of Romania. While staying in Bucharest, Enescu lived in the Cantacuzino Palace on Calea Victoriei (now the George Enescu Museum, dedicated to his work).
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, Serge Blanc, Ida Haendel, Uto Ughi and Joan Field were among his pupils. See: List of music students by teacher: C to F♯George Enescu. He promoted contemporary Romanian music, playing works of Constantin Silvestri, Mihail Jora, Jonel Perlea and Marţian Negrea. Enescu considered Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin as the “Himalayas of violinists”. An annotated version of this work brings together the indications of Enescu regarding sonority, phrasing, tempos, musicality, fingering and expression.
On his death in 1955, George Enescu was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Today, Bucharest houses a museum in his memory; you can also visit his house in Dorohoi; 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.
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