George Enescu often described himself as “a five-in-one man,” referring to his equal fame as a violinist, pianist, composer, conductor, and pedagogue. He performed frequently with cellist Pablo Casals and conductor Richard Strauss, and his students included such luminaries as violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Above all he considered himself a composer, having begun creating pieces at the age of five immediately after learning musical notation. His busy schedule and unflagging perfectionism allowed him time to compose only 33 opus numbers, although within these he shows a remarkable breadth of style. Enescu’s knowledge and command of musical literature was legendary; accounts of his performing and conducting never fail to mention his always doing so from memory. Because of his facile memory, he was able to effectively compose anything, from delicate neo-Classical works to intricate modernist textures.
Enescu’s first Romanian Rhapsody dates from1901, during his first compositional period. Although Romanian folk music would be an inspiration for his entire life, during his early career its prevalence recalls the use of folk music by other nationalist composers, such as the Hungarian Béla Bartók or the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. In composing his Rhapsody, Enescu followed the episodic nature of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. The work begins by quoting a folk song entitled “I have a coin, and I want a drink,” which is passed between the oboes and clarinets. This is soon replaced with a slower melody first introduced in the violins. As the work progresses, this tune grows faster and livelier to emerge as a vibrant whirling folk dance.
Performed by the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra on 5/29/09
Edited by Marian Wilson Kimber