The two Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11, for orchestra, are George Enescu‘s best-known compositions. They were both written in 1901, and first performed together in 1903. The two rhapsodies, and particularly the first, have long held a permanent place in the repertory of every major orchestra. They employ elements of lăutărească music, vivid Romanian rhythms, and an air of spontaneity. They exhibit exotic modal coloring, with some scales having ‘mobile’ thirds, sixths or sevenths, creating a shifting major/minor atmosphere, one of the characteristics of Romanian lăutărească music.[not in citation given] They also incorporate some material found in the later drafts of his Poème roumaine, Op. 1.
The stage of the Athenaeum in Bucharest
The two Romanian Rhapsodies were composed in Paris, and premiered together in a concert at the Romanian Athenaeumin Bucharest which also included the world premiere of Enescu’s First Suite for Orchestra, Op. 9 (1903). The composer conducted all three of his own works, which were preceded on the programme by Berlioz’s Overture to Les francs-jugesand Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, both conducted by Eduard Wachmann. The concert took place on 23 February 1903(according to the Julian calendar in use in Romania at that time; 8 March 1903 Gregorian). The Second Rhapsody was played first, and Enescu maintained this order of performance throughout his life.
Rhapsody No. 2 in D major
The Second Rhapsody, like the first, was completed in 1901, but is more inward and reflective. Its essential character is not dance, but song. It is based on the popular 19th-century ballad “Pe o stîncă neagră, într-un vechi castel” (“On a dark rock, in an old castle”) which, like the opening melody of the First Rhapsody Enescu may have learned from the lăutar Chioru, though again there is some doubt whether Enescu actually remembered it from Chioru. After a development culminating in a canonic presentation, this theme is joined by a dance tune, “Sîrba lui Pompieru” (“Sîrba of the Fireman”), followed shortly afterward by the second half of a folksong, “Văleu, lupu mă mănîncă” (“Aiee, I’m being devoured by a wolf!”), which is treated in canon. Toward the end there is a brief moment of animation, bringing to mind the spirit of country lăutari, but the work ends quietly.
Unlike the First Rhapsody, there is no controversy at all about the scoring of the Second, which is given in the published score as: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, 2 timpani, cymbal, 2 harps, first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.