A to Z: Enescu

Form in music is a tricky thing. There are many forms, and they all determine how the melodic material is treated. Sonata form, passacaglias, toccatas, canons, fugues, double fugues, waltzes, theme-and-variations – lots and lots of forms, and studying nothing but form can consume a music scholar’s time for years and years.

And then there are pieces like this, which are essentially formless. It’s the Romanian Rhapsody #1 by Georges Enescu, and it’s nothing more than a collection of tunes. That’s it: just one tune after another, in this case, one dance tune after another. And at least one of them is a drinking song. This only goes to demonstrate that the most banal material, in the hands of a gifted composer, can rise well above its musical station.

I could go on for a while, but I won’t. This piece is just pure pleasure from start to finish, even if I have recently learned that it (and its brother work, the Rhapsody #2) eclipsed the rest of Enescu’s output to a degree that really irritated the composer. As for a performance, this one is absolutely scintillating. The video and sound quality aren’t the greatest, as it’s a videotape from 1978, but every single flicker of fire is there. The conductor, Sergiu Celibidache, was a native Romanian who obviously had the requisite affinity for this music, and you can really tell just by watching his conducting. The inspiration to dance is there, and he doesn’t always quite resist it. (And if you listen closely during the more fiery passages, you can hear him shouting. That’s always fun.)

So here is the Romanian Rhapsody #1, by Georges Enescu.

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