George Enescu: Symphony No.1


Romanian composer George Enescu (1881-1955) composed his First Symphony in 1905 after training at the Paris and Vienna conservatoires where he studied under the tutelage of Gabriel Fauré, Robert Fuchs and Jules Massenet. The symphony was performed the following year and the score was dedicated to Alfredo Casella, a former classmate of Enescu whom he had met at the Paris Conservatoire. 


The Music

The first of five symphonies that Enescu would go on to complete, the First shows Enescu’s grounded techniques and his creativity when it came to working with an orchestra. Cast into three movements, the First Symphony is a true feast for the ears.


Movement I – Assez vif et rythmé

The bold trumpet opening to the first movement is a dramatic statement that is repeated a number of times throughout the movement. This initial burst of sound from the brass not only signifies the home key of Eb major, but also the base theme for the movement. Enescu’s Romantic flair came from his inspiration from Johannes Brahms and his tutor at the Vienna Conservatoire, Robert Fuchs. To challenge this, Enescu also incorporates techniques learned from his tutors at the Paris Conservatoire. The composer’s use of percussion to create colour within the textures of the music shows his more French style of composition. 

Throughout this movement Enescu asks a lot of the orchestra, with blinding results. High intensity threaded with a Romantic flair, the music is a testament to the composer’s creativity. The coda section is based off of the opening material, which leads to the ultimate climax of the movement. Enescu’s layering of voices creates an almighty rumble that leads to the opening brass statement. The movement concludes with the brass playing an epic fanfare. 


Movement II – Lent

The French sensibility of the second movement can be heard with Enescu’s intriguing mixture of instruments used at the forefront of the orchestration. Utilising the bass clarinet, cor englais, trumpet and harp adds to the ever-developing mysterious atmosphere. Rich string sections are often decorated with sparkling harps who add so wonderfully to the texture. The movement is based on the slow opening theme and overall the structure resembles that of a improvisatory fantasy. Now in the key of Ab minor, Enescu cycles through a number of different keys before ending interestingly in B major. 


Movement III – Vif et vigoureux

Opening quietly with a quick theme, the dense texture at the beginning soon turns into another bright brass fanfare. The bombastic percussion accompaniment accentuates the sound and timbre of the brass as the opening climax flourishes. The intricate woodwind lines complement the rich Romantic-style strings who develop the main theme throughout the finale. As the movement heads towards the coda, momentum is built up across the orchestra. The opening brass fanfare, now accompanied by the rest of the orchestra, bursts into action. The intensity at the end of the movement is really dramatic and as the climax is reached the orchestra swell once more for the final two chords of the symphony, back in the home key of Eb major. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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