Enescu on the „Bords du Gange”: Premiere of „Aurore” Cantata (1898) in Bucharest

by Eugen Ciurtin

Young, vibrant and versatile maestro Gabriel Bebeșelea, 34, a principal conductor of Enescu Phil in Bucharest who in May conducted a Pastorale-concert in Vienna at the Musikverein (Beethoven VI and Ries’ 5th piano Concerto together with Enescu’s 1899 Pastorale-fantaisie pour petit orchestre he rediscovered, critically edited from the manuscript and recorded), offers this week for the Romanian Athenaeum a program including, on Thursday and Friday from 7 p.m., the Bucharest very premiere of Enescu’s cantata L’Aurore.

Concert simfonic (Sala mare) – OVE.ro

The present note would propose to the benevolent reader cum listener a very swift examination of what musicians, musicologists and historians alike have already discerned as regards this fairly new, albeit 124 year-old composition by a very young Enescu. There is not that much and this is easily doable. There are nevertheless some grand surprises to be discovered.  

First and foremost: the first Enescu Catalogue by Clemansa Liliana Firca (CTE 1985) has auspiciously included the analysis, under §271 (pp. 393-394), of the manuscript scores as preserved by the George Enescu Museum in Bucharest, now (since October 2021) closed to researchers and public due to restoration work. As Firca’s cataloguing (1985 and 2010) remained still unfinished at her death in December 2012, such inclusion is fortunate as the piece belongs to the period before 1900, otherwise it should have wait for a subsequent, third volume.  

As one may see from this fundamental Romanian publication, the Enescu Museum in Bucharest obtained at an unknown date, possibly immediately after Enescu’s death in 1955, several dated manuscript scores of this cantata. The text Enescu made use of is a poem by Leconte de Lisle. One of the full, original French titles reads: L’Aurore pour soprano solo, chœur de femmes et orchestre and describes the definitive orchestral score. The other one – the title of piano score sketch from the same day – is even more absorbing: Bords du Gange. Soleil levant. It really derives from Leconte de Lisle’s Indic poem. A title like Shores of the Ganges would exceptionally supplement an assortment of early musical pieces of Enescu having a South- (Chant indou) and South-East Asian (Le Lotus bleu) supporting text from the same period. Bords du Gange | Aurore dates from 2nd of January 1898. Enescu is still a 16 year old student of the Paris Conservatoire signing Georges Enesco. He just celebrated the New Year 1898 in Paris, as he will be back in the Kingdom of Romanian only in March, after spending there the long, industrious summer holidays of 1897. 2nd of January was a Sunday. He might have learnt from Le Ménestrel newspaper that very morning how Parisian musical critics enjoyed his playing of André Gedalge’s new Sonata for violin and piano op. 12 his counterpoint professor dedicated to him. One biographer (Drăghici 1973, p. 229) supposed he played in public on that first Sunday of 1898, but he is mistaken, as the review of 2 January 1898 is dedicated to the concert of 23 December 1897 (e.g. Enescu 1964, p. 137). Enescu played indeed back then compositions by Anselme Vinée, Fernand Halphen and Gédalge. Be that as it may, it might have been a very assiduous day. At the end of it, the cantata’s scores, including a piano reduction (four hands, cf. infra), were ready for being read and played. Alas, this will happen for the first time not in 1898, but only in 1980, in Botoșani, under the baton of Modest Cichirdan (uncertain “August” in Firca 1985, 393), in a concert without much value it seems, as there is no news regarding the reading and multiplication of Enescu’s manuscript, unpublished to this date. A much more consistent concert with Aurorewas offered by Gabriel Bebeșelea with Transilvania Phil in Cluj in 2018 and will be this week with Enescu Phil at the Romanian Athenaeum, the 26-page full Enescu manuscript being carefully read and digitally reproduced by the Sibiu-born musician.     


As briefly remarked upon by Firca (cf. supra), the musicological literature before 1985 is scarce. While rereading it, it becomes evident it is also very uneven, a circumstance which actually covers everything on Aurore | Bords du Gange from 1898 to 2022 except Firca herself and nowadays Bebeșelea.

Popular Republic of Romania’s 1964 collective monograph on Enescu life and works has a single indication of this Cantata’s writing: title, date, author of the verses (p. 137, two lines within the Chronology). An implausibly even shorter mention with two mistakes is made by Drăghici (1973, p. 239): „La 2 ianuarie 1898 compune Cantata Aurora“, with the genre as title and the title as translation. There is another short mention by Zeno Vancea in his 1968 book (p. 243), yet I don’t have a copy at hand. However, those who wrote the two excellent books in English and French on Enescu’s life and music, (now Sir) Noel Malcolm (1990, p. 266: „L’Aurore, cantata“) and Alain Cophignon, had quite nothing to add. Malcolm only mentions (part of) the title among Enescu’s early works (while including it in his catalogue of Works numbering 173 titles, see 1990, p. 301, yet curiously without citing Firca 1985 anywhere in his magnificent book), while Cophignon simply gives the full title and the reference to Leconte de Lisle’s poem (2009, p. 70), quoting without discussing Firca 1985 (2009, p. 462 n. 53). I was not able to discover references to Aurore | Bords du Gange nowhere in Pascal Bentoiu’s essential works on Enescu, nor in any of Enescu’s letters.

There actually is a single (as far as I know), tentatively more salient reference to Aurore | Bords du Gange. In 1971, Elena Zottoviceanu, a noted, back then 37 years old musicologist associated with Voicana’s venture, offered the single musical analysis of the manuscript score I am aware of, so it is perhaps worth copying her here in full (1971, I.222):

(1971, I.223)

and then (1971, I.234)

Note the 1971 Index has a false page 220 for Aurore (instead of 222); Firca 1985 tacitly corrects this, but misses page 234. 

Bebeșelea aptly propels this old new music together with Debussy’s three corpulent, very sophisticated and magnificently enthralling Nocturnes: they were written during the same decade (1892-1899), in the same city and musical milieu, and have precisely the same choral-symphonic physiognomy.     

Grand musicologist Firca and expert musician Bebeșelea did thus most for this very early Enescu. Much more however should be done in order to analyse the score, understand the intimate relationship of music and verses as well as to offer an in-depth, more perceptive investigation of Enescu’s ‘Indic cluster’ of early music.

Nobody remembered this cantata during Enescu’s life? Is this exercise rather futile? I actually don’t think so at all. When Enescu himself played once a ‘School Symphony’ from those early years, in February 1934, an awfully eventful year as implied by recent discoveries (see my “Patru scrisori inedite ale lui Enescu, identificate, editate, comentate și restituite muzicii lui”, Dilema veche, 2 februarie 2022 [7.000 words | bilingual]. Patru scrisori inedite ale lui Enescu, identificate, editate, comentate și restituite muzicii lui – Dilema veche), in an interview with Miron Grindea from Cuvântul liber of17 March 1934, Enescu himself affectionately mentions his many early cantatas: “Sunt încărcat de atâtea emoții… […] Au rămas[,] tot de pe atunci, zeci de cantate, arii și compoziții mici” (republished by Laura Manolache in Enescu 1988, p. 242).      

Firca II.256 (Firca 1985) is Chant Indou. This lied is dated 1897 or 1898. As Aurore, Chant Indou describes India au petit matin. Aurore and the line quand le jour se lève have thus the inaugural blueprint of an Indian promise as variously supported by Belle-Époque competences and public interest in all things Indian, at the peak of the colonial period.

L’Aurore should thus be seen in its close bond with Chant indou and Le Lotus bleu for really appreciating what Bords du Gange meant – for his epoch, for his music, for him. This is thrilling for all Enescu’s aficionados – just guess how much more this is for an Indologist.      

A Sunday in Spring 1904. Bucharest Athenaeum. An Equinox afternoon with the ‘orientalising’ music adapted for a Sanskrit foremost classic, perhaps for the very first time played in Romania. ‘Exotic’ and already ‘canonical’, all things (and sounds) Indian included. They played Carl Goldmark’s 1865 Overture Sakuntala | Śakuntalā

In the third volume of my critical edition of Constantin Georgian’s unpublished manuscripts in 14 languages from the Library of the Romanian Academy (written 1872-1904), I highlighted the musical destiny of Sāvitrī episode from the Sanskrit Epic, besides his – and dozens of others across all Europe – translations from the Sanskrit. (Now in open access, see Georgian.Opere_.IIIEpilog_opt.pdf (ihr-acad.ro) I had no idea Goldmark’s Śakuntalā was actually played during Georgian’s life in his native town. This even corresponds to the background of Enescu’s several compositions with Indian titles or libretti from the same period, including his L’Aurore which is played this week under the baton of Gabriel Bebeșelea.      

It appears this admirable concert program is unknown. The document was discovered in the Athenaeum Library by Dr Mihai Valentin Cojocaru of the Bucharest Enescu Philharmonic and is published here with his permission – thousand Indological thanks and a thank!


Bords du Gange as well as Aurore: the other shore of the Ganges at Varanasi,
as seen from my boat on the 1st of February 2009 | 85th birth commemoration
of French-Romanian Indologist Arion Roșu (1924-2007).

Eugen Ciurtin is Honorary Fellow of Musica ricercata and director of the Institute for the History of Religions of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest. His current music projects include a new Catalogue of Enescu’s published and unpublished works as well as the analysis of all Enescu’s music using religious themes, in the framework of the IHR research project Sono|R|E | Sonotheism: Religion in Enescu.


Drăghici 1973

Romeo Drăghici, George Enescu. Biografie documentară. Copilăria și anii de studii (1881-1900), prefață de Mihnea Gheorghiu, Bacău, Muzeul de Istorie și Artă al Județului Bacău | Inteprinderea Poligrafică Bacău, 1973. 2,500 ex., bun de tipar 29.10.1973.

Cophignon [2006] 2009

Alain Cophignon, Georges Enesco, Paris: Arthème Fayard, 2006 | George Enescu, traducere din limba franceză de Anca-Domnica Ilea, Bucharest: Editura Institutului Cultural Român, 2009. 

Enescu 1955 | 1982 | 2017 

Bernard Gavoty, Les souvenirs de Georges Enesco, Paris, Flammarion, 1955. | Amintirile lui George Enescu, traducere de Romeo Drăghici și Nicolae Bilciurescu, Bucharest: Editura Muzicală, 1982. | Ediție bilingvă completă, traducere de Elena Bulai, Bucharest: Editura Curtea veche, 2017.

Enescu 1988 

George Enescu, Interviuri din presa românească, volumul I (1898-1936), ediție prefațată, îngrijită și adnotată de Laura Manolache, Bucharest: Editura Muzicală, 1988.

Firca 1985   

Clemansa Liliana Firca, Catalogul tematic al creației lui George Enescu, vol. I (1886-1900) | Le catalogue thématique des œuvres de Georges Enesco, Bucharest: Editura Muzicală, 1985.

Firca 1991 

Clemansa Liliana Firca, „Asupra aparatului instrumental cameral în creaţia enesciană timpurie“, Lucrări de muzicologie 21 (1991), Conservatorul de Muzică „Gh. Dima”, Cluj-Napoca, 1991, pp. *-*.

Firca 2010  

Clemansa Liliana Firca, Noul catalog tematic al creației lui George Enescu. Muzica de cameră | Le nouveau catalogue thématique des œuvres de Georges Enesco, Bucharest: Muzeul național „George Enescu“ | Editura Muzicală, 2010.

Malcolm 1990 | 2011   

Noel Malcolm, George Enescu: His Life and Music, Preface by Sir Iehudi Menuhin, London: Toccata Press, 1990. Translated into Romanian by Carmen Pațac, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2011.

Vancea 1968      

Zeno Vancea, Creaţia muzicală românească. Sec. XIX-XX, Bucureşti, 1968, vol. I: “George Enescu”, pp. 237-285.

Voicana 1971   

George Enescu. Monografie, editată de Mircea Voicana, Clemansa Firca, Alfred Hoffman, Elena Zottoviceanu et al., Bucharest: Editura Academiei R.S.R., 1971, 2 vol.





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