Enesco, George: Roumanian Rhapsody Number 1

In 1974, in my Sophomore French class with Starr, we read a number of 20th century works by writers like Jacques Prevert, Guillaume Appolinaire, Samuel Beckett, and George Ionesco. These authors–surrealist, existentialist and dadaist–created works for which, growing up in rural Indiana (me and Dan Quayle, right?) had few points of reference. How does a Hoosier boy deal with titles like “The Bald Soprano,” “The Rhinoceros,” “Krapp’s Last Tape,” and “Song of the snails going to a funeral?”

What appealed to me about these works was their iconoclasm. An interesting thing I learned about 20th century French was that France had two entirely different languages–one spoken, and one written. Now this is true for most languages, but in France, the distance between the two used to be huge. And it wasn’t until 1934 when an author named Celine wrote a novel in what amounted to spoken French, that anyone officially recognized it. And even to this day, “correct” French is regulated by the French Academy and was disseminated through the school system. Every few years you hear about another law passed in which the French try to forbid people from using words from other languages, when one exists in French. And if one doesn’t exist in French, they will invent one.

This linguistic chauvinism puzzled me in a race that gave us the French revolution, which still believes in labor unions, and which has always been known to be liberal in the area of morals. As anyone who has studied linguistics will tell you, it is almost impossible to keep languages from evolving, especially when speakers of one come in contact with another. English is a particularly good example, having words from Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin and German. That’s why the spelling is so difficult. Only rarely do you find pockets where a language has never changed. I am told, for example, that in part of Southern Italy, there are isolated mountain village where people still speak Attic Greek, which goes back to the days when Italy was part of Magna Grecia.

All this by way of saying that after a while, the sense and sensibilities of the old guard got to be so insufferable that the young generation had to revolt. The discovery of the symbolism and importance of dreams by Freud captured an entire generation beginning just before the First World War. Then, when intellectuals saw what an insane and senseless waste of human talent that debacle was, and realized how impotent and vain the old guard was, well they declared open season on the bourgeoisie.

If I could choose to have lived in a different era, I would have moved my birthdate up just 55 years to 1900. Back then, it seemed like a new movement seemed to spring up about every ten minutes-Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Neo-Classicism. And some of these were humorous attacks on the stuffy snobs of the older generations. In a way, these artists were just doing what the youth were doing in the 60s (and what all youth try to do)–trying to find their voice. To me, however, they were better educated and had sharper wits about them than my contemporaries.

I chose today’s entry because of a temporary brain lapse: I had confused the names of its composer–Georges Enesco–with the writer, Eugene Ionesco, whose play, The Bald Headed Soprano I went to see on the urging of my French teacher, Starr. This was a bizarre piece about a middle class couple sitting in their living room having an insanely boring conversation about a guy in the paper named Bobby Watson. The man sits in his comfy chair reading the paper, the woman natters on and on. A fireman comes to the door asking odd questions about Bobby Watson or something like that. This was one of the most screamingly funny things I’d ever seen. It remined me so much of the arnarchy of the Marx Brothers, whose films were full of similar jibes at the bourgeoisie and upper classes. Being from eastern European peasant stock, it really resonated with me.

So back to Enesco. His first Roumanian Rhapsody gets a lot of air play on classical call in shows. I love it because it’s hot and fast and firey, which riles up my gypsy blood. It starts out with a kind of fun little reverie, based on some eastern European melody, but it quickly picks up speed. I particularly love the orchestration: Enesco has the violins play these absolutely shimmering cascading runs at breakneck speeds.

Several years ago, I picked up a compilation of Hungarian music, played by a popular orchestra from Budapest. One of the songs was called “The Lark” and it was exactly the same as the piece by Enesco. The orchestra leader, a violinist uses it to showcase his virtuosity. At the end, he breaks into an extended solo in which he imitates a skylark’s melody. It’s kinda kitchy, but it was designed to be pure entertainment. Enesco’s piece is desinged to be “high art.” I love both, and maybe that has helped me balance and temper a bit my own iconoclasm, which on occasion I still like to trot out.

Download MP3 of Enesco’s Rhapsody No. 1 or buy CD from Amazon

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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