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George Enescu’s Beauty In Life – The Artist, The Maestro, The Man

by Mădălina Mărgăritescu

Almost a century and a half after his birth, in times of terrible hardship for art and artists all over the world, we find in George Enescu’s personality, in the legendary way in which he faced his destiny, in the sympathy, kindness, modesty, and dedication which characterized him, inspiration and relief, as well as the courage to recognize and choose to preserve the beauty in our lives, whatever it takes.

In the summer of 1933, in an interview given to the publication “Rampa”, George Enescu spoke, among other things, about the beauty of life. Asked if life truly deserves to be lived, Maestro replied, “Of course it is. I find it so beautiful. And even the one suffering could understand its pleasures if he knew how to look at life from a more philosophical angle; to see the wonders of creation. I had enough reasons to suffer myself, but I always tried, like a sailor, to stretch the sail so that the boat would go right against the wind. I suffered from angina pectoris, my heart stopped beating, and despite these difficulties, I kept working. I had to interrupt a piece of Beethoven a few times during a concert. I went on with my work, even if I’d have died with the bow in my hand, but I did not die. People, to realize how beautiful life is, must have a clear conscience, giving up things that could endanger their conscience. It’s not that hard. Only in this way, they will be able to reach the peace of mind that will allow them to experience the pleasures of life without any remorse, and to take everything that is given to them without destroying the charm of life.

This Prince Charming of Music, as the composer Mihail Jora called him, seems to be an embodiment of kalokagathia, the ideal of beauty in Ancient Greece, which expressed the complete harmony between physical and moral qualities. Beauty and kindness were gracefully intertwined in the personality of the great musician George Enescu, who, although he lived a personal life tried by suffering and in hard times for the whole world, was convinced that as long as courage prevails and there is faith, man can overcome the obstacles of life.

In an interview given to Miron Grindea in 1931, Enescu said that humanity had confronted adversities before and managed to overcome them all, and “culture will live” because “the patrimony that has been accumulated by so many centuries of hard work and faith is too great to erase all that we have gathered and acquired”. The great composer believed that even when he goes through difficult moments, a man cannot give up faith and the expression of beauty, which helps him conquer everything.

George Enescu had throughout his life more critical periods, but he always rose above with patience, courage, and a natural sense of humor. As a child, he loved wordplays and he escaped in their cheerful ingenuity many times over. Since the time of his separation from his parents, at the age of 7, when he left to study music in Vienna and Paris – noticing that “Vienna rhymes with hyena”, to his last moments of life, when – visited by the violinist Serge Blanc, in the evening of May 3, 1955 – Maestro makes one last pun. His former student whispered, ” Est-ce qu’ il est encore lucide?” (“Is he still lucid?”), and Enescu answered from the next room, “Lucid, de la Mer Morte” / “Lucie de Lammermoor”, (“Lucid, from the Dead Sea”, referring to the “Lucia de Lammermoor”, Donizetti’s work).

George Enescu “finds life beautiful” and “tastes its pleasures” even when going through painful times. As a child living away from his parents for studies, his sadness is soothed by the news coming from home, as well as by the letters he tries to write every day about everything he does.

The correspondence during those years reveals Enescu’s sensitivity and his special care nurtured for his mother, Maria – “Tell Wanda [the caretaker of his childhood house] to take good care of you until I will come back”, he wrote to his mother at only 8 years old. From the childhood stories of Enescu, we find out that he played chess, did gymnastics, rode a bicycle, went to the opera. By the age of 8-9, he had already seen Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Josef Bayer’s ballet “The Dolls’ Fairy” and Verdi’s “Aida.” The letters sent to his parents or aunt Tinca were accompanied by short poems or drawings created by Enescu. He tried to bring joy to his mother not only through his writing but also through the way he addressed her – Mamțichi, Mamelebțichi, Mameleben – or through the way he signed the letters – “Good times and joy”, “With health and joy”, Ghiț, Gîț, Ghiță, Ghițișor, Ghițkiț, Ghițkițik, Ghițikuțișor.

At the age of 16, the success of the newly composed “Romanian Poem” worried his teachers, who saw him as a “dangerous student”, because genius causes others to fear or flee. Moreover, the success of this work determined the one-year postponement of receiving the first prize at the Violin Competition. However, he listened to Camille Saint-Saëns’ advice to persevere despite the many things he would encounter in life and he would not give up either the violin or the score.

George Enescu and Alfred Cortot (1930)

Extremely sensitive, George Enescu often went through emotional turmoil and sometimes felt demoralized. Among those who encouraged and brought him joy was Nineta Duca. The correspondence with this good friend introduces us to the intimacy of the Maestro. A  letter from 1907 speaks of an “infernal angst” (a tachycardia crisis due to stress) that had reached its climax during a concert held in the Châtelet Theater Hall. “Dear Miss Ninette, The adorable three-signature telegram brought me immense joy. Ah! Why didn’t it arrive before the concert? It would have stopped this infernal angst that I felt from this morning and that reached its climax while I was performing in the crowded Châtelet Hall. You can imagine my anguish, aware that at any moment I would have been forced to stop, knocked down by a suffocation crisis!

A year later, Enescu complained that he was sad, “deadly sad” and asked Nineta to tell him about “car feats, flirtations, violin, and others…” and to send him “affectionate messages that would comfort and warm his tense heart a little ”. Not only Nina Duca’s letters brought happiness to Maestro, but also the sweet gifts sent by Miss Ninette – “the magic sherbet ” or the glazed fruits.

Chamber music was another source of beauty in life for Enescu. In “Memories”, the Maestro talks about the joy he experienced when he made chamber music with pianist Alfred Cortot and how much emotion and beauty brought him the Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Bach, which he performed with his good friend: “I was happy, because, in the presence of such beauty and with a partner like that, I felt at home.

And perhaps more expressive and briefly than ever, Enescu describes what was sublime beauty in his life in a dedication written as an acrostic, in 1946, for the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra: ”The musician/Forgets/His sorrows/By cultivating /Art.” In the original Romanian words, the acrostic spelled out Work.

Bibliography:

  • Gavoty, Bernard, Amintirile lui George Enescu / Les Souvenirs de Georges Enesco, trad. Elena Bulai, București, Editura Curtea Veche, 2017;
  • Cosma, Viorel, ”George Enescu, Scrisori”, vol. I, București, Ed.Muzicală, 1974;
  • Idem, ”George Enescu, muzicianul de geniu în imagini”, vol. II, București, Ed. Institutului Cultaral Român, 2018;
  • Cosmovici, Alexandru, ”George Enescu în lumea muzicii și în familie”, București, Ed. Muzicală, 1990;
  • Eco, Umberto, ”Istoria Frumuseții”, trad. Oana Sălișteanu, București, Ed. Enciclopedia RAO, 2005;
  • Kogălniceanu, Ilie, ”Destăinuiri despre George Enescu”, București, Ed. Minerva, Ed. R.A.I, 1996;
  • Manolache, Laura, ”George Enescu – Interviuri” vol. I, București, Ed. Muzicală, 1988;
  • Idem, ”George Enescu – Interviuri” vol. II, București, Ed. Muzicală, 1991;

Photographs:

  • George Enescu fotografiat de Yousuf Karsh, 1954, Sursa: https://karsh.org/yousuf-karsh-georges-enesco-1954/
  • George Enescu și Alfred Cortot fotografiați în timpul recitalului susținut, în 12 iunie 1930, la Școala Normală de Muzică din Paris, Sursa: Viorel Cosma, ”George Enescu, muzicianul de geniu în imagini”, vol. II, București, Ed. Institutului Cultaral Român, 2018.