Enesco - Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, op. 11

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, 2 harps, strings.

Duration: 11 minutes.


THE COMPOSER – GEORGES ENESCO (1881-1955) – By the age of 16, Enesco was already making an impression as a musician of national consequence in Romania and it would take just a few more years for his reputation to reach the international stage. Enesco established a professional routine after the turn of the century that involved splitting time between Romania and Paris. This arrangement allowed him to stay active as both an instrumentalist and composer.    

THE MUSIC – Enesco was quite serious about craft and legacy in his compositional activities. Though not exceedingly prolific, he wrote string quartets, symphonies, an opera, sonatas and other exemplars of “high” art. Given such an earnest output, it might come as no surprise that he grew quite bitter about the singular popularity of his Rumanian Rhapsodies of 1901. He thought them too youthful and resented the ease with which they stole attention from his other works. But as has been stated before, composers rarely get to choose their own magic and their audiences often respond to (and ultimately remember them for) a work about which they are rather ambivalent. This was certainly the case for Enesco. The Rhapsodies were premiered together in the spring of 1903 and the enthusiasm for them (No. 1, mostly) has continued unbroken into our century. There was precedent for this style of idiomatic, folk-based instrumental writing in music by 19th century giants like Liszt, Dvorak and Brahms. Specific influence for Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 seems to have come from Liszt and his set of Hungarian Rhapsodies, especially in Enesco’s similar use of alternating slow and fast sections and an overall improvisatory feel. Both men captured the thrilling wildness of their Gypsy subjects but where Liszt relied predominantly on the piano, Enesco composed his dances for a full Romantic orchestra. The scoring is superb, the energy infectious and all of it too good to deny.   

THE WORLD – Cuba reluctantly leased Guantanamo Bay to the United States “in perpetuity” in 1903. Also that year, King Alexander I of Serbia was assassinated along with his Queen and the first Tour de France was held.

THE CONNECTION – Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 appears frequently on various Utah Symphony programs. The last Masterworks concert was in 2008 with JoAnn Falletta on the podium.