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Romanian Rhapsody No. 2 in D major, Op. 11, No. 2

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: George Enescu
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Lang Lang, piano, performs Tchaikovsky May 17 - 19, 2007
© Richard Freed
Enescu composed his Romanian Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2 in 1901; they were introduced together under in Bucharest on March 18, 1903. The National Symphony Orchestra first performed the Second Rhapsody on February 9, 1933, under Hans Kindler, and presented it last on July 9, 1976, under James De Preist. The NSO made the premiere recording of this work, under Kindler for RCA, and subsequently performed it with Enescu himself conducting.
The score calls for 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, cymbals, harp, and strings. Duration, 11 minutes.
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Enescu based himself in Paris for years (though the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, found him living on his farm in a Romnian village) and was known during his lifetime by the Gallicized form of his name—Georges Enesco: it was under that name that his music was published and circulated, and under that name that he performed as violinist, pianist and conductor. In the last of those roles he appeared several time with the National Symphony Orchestra several times during the Kindler years. In all three roles he was closely associated with his famous violin pupil Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he recorded as conductor in concertos by Mozart and Dvořák, and as fellow soloist in Bach's Concerto for Two Violins (with Pierre Monteux conducting). He was, and remains, the most respected of Romanian musicians: several of his works in various forms are built on Romanian folk material, he was an effective activist for the expansion of Romania's musical life from his youth, and today both his native city and the country's principal orchestra bear his name.

Before Enescu reached the age of 16 a concert of his compositions was given in Paris. While his splendid opera Oedipe, introduced there in 1936,is regarded as his masterwork, it is virtually unknown to today's audiences—to whom the EMI recording under Lawrence Foster is strongly recommended. He also composed symphonies, concerted works, orchestral suites and a good deal of imaginative chamber music, but none of these more ambitious works has achieved the enormous popularity of his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, which long ago earned a permanent place in the international repertory. That brightly colored work, in A major, and its lesser-known companion piece that opens the present concerts—both built on authentic folk tunes—were both composed at about the time Enescu turned 20; he was only 21 when he introduced them together in Bucharest, as the two constituent parts of his Op. 11.

The Second Rhapsody stands in marked contrast to the ebullient, outgoing character of the First: it is a more inward and reflective piece, based on the theme of a folk song about certain heroic episodes recounted in ancient Moldavian chronicles and characterized by a spirit of poetic rumination. Toward the end there is brief episode of restrained animation, evoking for an instant the spirit of country fiddlers, but the end is undemonstrative. The contrast of the two rhapsodies when they were introduced together must have been as striking as the music itself.

Enescu appeared with the NSO as guest conductor in five concerts between January 1947 and January 1949. In these last of these, on January 23, 1949, he conducted the world premiere of his Concerto-Overture on Motifs in the Romanian Character, and in his earlier NSO concerts he conducted his Symphony No. 1 and both of his Romanian Rhapsodies. His repertory was broad, however, and his programs here were made up mostly of music by earlier composers.