Thanks to the classical music festival that takes place once every two years in Bucharest the name of Romanian composer George Enescu is no longer a novelty to many foreigners, so let’s discover who Enescu really was and what made him famous throughout the world.
George Enescu is a Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor and teacher, who was born in the last part of the 19th century (August 19, 1881) in north eastern Romania, in the village of Liveni. He showed his musical talent early on, creating his first composition when he was five. Shortly thereafter his father presented him to the professor and composer Eduard Caudella. At the age of seven, Enescu entered the Vienna Conservatory. He graduated before his 13th birthday, earning the silver medal. Between 1895 and 1899 he continued his studies in Paris. In 1898, when he was just 17, Enescu started his career as a composer at the “Colonna Concerts” hall in Paris with his work called, so suggestively, “Romanian Poem”. After his graduation, he started giving violin lessons and recitals in Bucharest and was admired by many of the country’s elite, including by the Queen Elisabeth who invited him to perform at the Royal Peles Castle in Sinaia. Princess Martha Bibesco, who had a very important role in Romanian cultural life during that period, was also an admirer and supporter of the young Enescu.
The young composer found inspiration in Queen Elisabeth’s poems, who was writing under the name Carmen Sylva, and wrote some lieds based on her work. At the beginning of the 20th century, Enescu composed two of his famous works: “Romanian Rhapsodies” (1901-1902) and “7 songs on the Clement Marot’s verses” (1908). During World War I, he performed and conducted classical music concerts in Bucharest and, in the inter-war period, he organized shows in Romania, France and the US. During those years, he became a well-known and respected violin professor and taught the likes of Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis and Yehudi Menuhin. The latter was much influenced by Enescu, whom he considered his spiritual father.
In 1923, Enescu made his American debut, as a conductor in a concert given by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was in America, in the 1920s, that Enesco was first persuaded to make recordings as a violinist. 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.
His opera Oedip premiered in 1936 in Paris and enjoyed great success. In 1939, when he was 58, he married Maria Rosetti (known as the Princess Cantacuzino), a good friend of Queen Marie of Romania. While staying in Bucharest, Enescu lived in the Cantacuzino Palace on Calea Victoriei, which now is the George Enescu Museum. During World War II, after he donated an important amount of money to the Romanian government to help defend the country, he remained in Bucharest acting, composing and, above all, promoting Romanian composers and musicians.
After World War II for a short period of time he performed in Bucharest and Sinaia with famous performers as David Oistrach, Emil Gilels and Yehudi Menuhin. In protest to the Communist regime, Enescu left for Paris, where he died in 1955. He is buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in the French capital.