An alien dared these days to gravely insult Romania in a scandalous manner, striking at what it holds dearest -- its music teachers and, by consequence, its music. This alien, a German, dr. Emil Kolberg of Vienna, sent to Berliner Signale correspondence on the musical state of Romania -- correspondence in which he shamelessly denies the Romanian public's discernment and taste in music, and denounces our Conservatory in Bucharest, this metropolitan temple of Eutherpe, Thalia and national Melpomene, as an institution entirely bereft of seriosity.
The reader is invited to judge by a few lines, which I shall reproduce from that correspondence, as to how far the impudence of that nazii went. Speaking of our Conservatory, he says :
This institute of musical education would be sufficient for the limited development of the most modest diletantism. There's not known in the world abroad of such a wonder as Romanian artists who had learned their craft in their country...
Students in the last years display by and large the agility and pertinence of our beginners today.
Speaking of local musical production, here's what he says :
At public venues and the so-called soirees the clavicymbaliiii are maltreated in the most revolting of manners, generally on a dance rhythm...
The place of concert is the Atheneum hall, where, alongside the occasionally misplaced foreign artist one can find niggersiii, musical beggars and other proletarians, selling cheap pleasure for good money.
The alien then claims that truly great artists, who necessarily and by their nature despise publicity, can not be successful before the Romanian public ; but that instead the greatest success is reserved for Le Bataillon de damesiv -- eighty women in short skirts and shameless decolletages, who demonstrated, immediately after the first performance, their fitness for private interviews with the young men and other sponsors of Romanian art.
Ah!... I must confess here the alien reached the peak of infamy. And if all his calumny contained the meagrest kernel of truth! So that the reader can perceive the absurd insanity of this alien's infamy, I will reproduce here the following resolution :
We the undersigned music professors at the Conservatory and otherwise, upon an insulting article published by Berliner Signale no. 2 of 18 June 1897 against the faculty of the National Conservatory in Bucharest, as well as against the culture of the whole country, meeting today, 10/22 June 1895, in the hall of the Press Society, resolve :
That Mr. C. M. Cordoneanu is authorised to inquire whether the redaction of said magazine undertakes the responsibility for the article signed by dr. Emil Kolberg ; and what are the persons who give the tone in music which he had met while in Bucharest. Further, that he is to intervene with the Romanian press (urgently) so as to defend against the insults published by said magazine.
(follow the signatures)
Honor to them! Honor to those who know how to take such brave attitude in front of the serious insult cast upon the Motherland and their right! But, although very troubled by the indignation which the alien's infamy produced in my own bosom, I will daresay something about the professors' motion ; my troubling will not prevent my being methodic. I shall therefore examine the three points of the motion.
As to the first, whether the redaction of said magazine takes responsibility for the article signed by dr. Emil Kolberg, I say : it either will, or it will not. Outside of this dilemma said redaction of said magazine can't escape. Therefore, we must seriously prepare for either of the two sole alternatives possible, of which either one, or the other, is inevitale. For, in matters of international politics above all are required aforethought and prudence. Suppose that it doesn't take responsibility. What can we do ? Admit that it takes responsibility. What's to be done ?
I believe, and it seems to me I'm in the right, that the only course left in either cases is nothing besides taking note of said magazine's response, and break off any relations with it, considering it unworthy our esteem. But to which one might answer
"So what ? What's some musical magazine in Berlin going to care about your esteem ?"
I answer :
"If it respects itself in the slightest, it must absolutely care. In everything, be it politics, literature and especially in art, the esteem of honest people is worth more than some dr. Kolberg imagines -- in any case more than any merit."
Moving on to the second point, as to the tones and meetings : I believe the second part of this question is at the very least indiscreet. While an artist dwells in a foreign town, travelling there for his own amusement, he's bound to enter into contact with all sort and manner of persons who have nothing to do with music -- especially around Romanian concert halls and musical events. It is probably prudent to dispense with requiring the nazi to list those who he has met while in Bucharest. What we can't dispense with, however, is the answer that must be furnished as to "who gives the tone in music" ; but even here I fear the infamous calumniator is provided with very easy escape, especially seeing how the question is posed by specialists. He's shown himself capable to answer, smiling :
"How, you don't know who gives the tone in music ? But it is most basic : the composer gives the tone, by marking it down precisely at the beginning of any piece, immediately after the key. When he makes no mark -- which occurs in maybe a case in two dozens -- even then he precisely denotes C hard, as we say in Germany, or do major, as you say in the South. All that's missing is for you to ask who gives the measure ; but even then I'd answer : the composer gives the measure as well, and also at the beginning of the piece, immediately after marking the tone. So we're understood : at the beginning of each piece, the composer first gives the key, they the tone, and then the measure."
As you can see, neither with this question can we likely trip the alien, who dared etc. Let us then move to the third point, intervening with the local press. This to me seems spurious, if not outright depressing. When was ever that time when our national press needed anyone's intervention to reveal and redress insults aspersed upon the country by foreigners ?! When, when was it that Romanian journalism wasn't at its height, and especially if the matter came to national art, and especially music ?! No, let our professors be certain that we shall know how to do our duty! Yes, we will proceed con brio, but without preccipitation, keeping the rhythm and measure. We will develop our leitmotif in all tones. We will make deafening noise, forever crescendo, until we shall have drawn the very last shred of attention from the European public upon the opera of the aforenamed Kolberg, proving it to be a complete fiasco. Romania's musical reputation will be, must be, recovered. We will advertise the names of the great European artists, starting with Tamberlicv (nobody else than Toma Birlic, Romanian gypsy from Botosani) and ending with the young first-violin at the "Kaiserliche-Koenigliches Hofopernhaus" in Vienna, d. Rosé (none other than a young Romanian jew from Yassi), all produced entirely and only by our national musical school.vi We will count all the pianos over here, so well tuned they needn't be tuned ever again! We will prove with certificates from all shops dealing in Musicalia the immense difference between the consumption of classical works and familiar pieces such as for instance polkas (Kreuz-oder Schnell), valses, pas-de-quatre, romances, chansonettes, Gigerl-Marsch, Tararabumdere etc. We will prove something more : we will prove with official paperwork that a national primadonna can receive here, if she should succeed at an exam, a certified employment contract for three, even four years, being paid often five, even six or seven hundred leivii a month! We will further prove that the same primadonna, on the same stage, in front of the same public, will interpret to the same acclaim Ernestina from Choufleuriviii, Valentina from The Huguenotsix, Eleonora from Trovatore, Margareta from Faust and Czipra from Zigeuner-Baronx.
That much should put dr. Kolberg on ice ; let the nazi dare speak again of Romania's inferiority in the matters of music and institutions for musical education!
org. Romanian by Ion Luca Caragiale.———
- There's no good equivalent in English of the vaguely derrogatory "neamt", so what can we do... we shall co-opt the old name of socialism for the purpose. [↩]
- An early harpsichord, a very basic item without dampeners, basically a key-driven string plucker. [↩]
- The term was used and genuinely intended as superlatively derogatory, on the factual (and period-fashionable) conviction of the author that indeed black music is shameful to the species in the exact manner and for the precise reasons mongoloid poetry would be. Needless to say, this view has not well weathered the intervening century-and-a-half. [↩]
- Period cvasi-burlesque act, consisting of a bunch of young Zuleikas. [↩]
- Celebrated mid-1800s tenore robusto Enrico Tamberlick. The Italians seem to be aware was indeed a Romanian, but also seem to believe his name actually was Nikita Torna. [↩]
- The claim is evidently introduced tongue in cheek, I don't expect for a second he proposes to dispute Tamberlick was trained in Rome.
- Not bad, really -- the 1870 leu was fixed by law at 5 grams of silver title 850/1000 or 0.3226 grams of gold title 900/1000, meaning 500 lei would be about 25 Napoleons d'or, roughly the same as 500 francs. Average per-family earnings at the time in the French zone were somewhere around 150 francs, with the man bringing home four francs a day to the woman's one (some small extra provided by various gratuities and child labour) as can be seen in, eg, Bulletin de la Commission Centrale de Statistique, V. XVII for 1890-1896, Belgium. Obviously enough the cost of living in Bucharest at the time trailed the cost of living in Bruxelles, a trend that over the centuries maintained. [↩]
- M. Choufleuri restera chez lui le..., Offenbach operetta. [↩]
- Meyerbeer. [↩]
- The gypsy baron, Strauss. The point being that either the woman has incredible range or else she's singing for a hallfull of asses. [↩]