Musicians in archives

Romanian musicians - Biographies hidden in the Securitate Archives

Mihail Jora

Mihail Jora

Alongside George Enescu, Mihail Jora1 stood out in Romania's musical life of the first half of the 20th century.

A gifted composer, highly intelligent and benefiting from exceptional musical training2, Jora was a prolific composer of more than 50 works, for which he was awarded various prizes at home and abroad. At the same time, he established himself as a conductor, a musical critic and an outstanding teacher at the Bucharest Conservatory; not the least, he was one of the founding members of the Romanian Composers' Society.

What is not so known about Mihail Jora is that all through his life he had been an example of morality. As a young man, he volunteered in the Great War, lost a leg and had to spent two years in a sanatorium. Yet he was remarkably strong in his public gestures and in his straightforward views, which often brought him into conflict with the authorities of the day.

For Jora and his family the real problems began with the communist take-over in 1945. The Securitate3 started keeping tabs on him, officially, in 1950, when he became the subject of a surveillance dossier4. One can assume that he had already been trailed by then.

On the 31st December 1947, when the teaching corps of the Bucharest Music Academy was summoned to swear loyalty to the newly proclaimed Romanian People's Republic5, Jora fired a defiant and overtly political message. In his capacity as a Director of the Academy he invited the audience to keep a minute's silence out of respect for King Michael 1st, who had been forced to abdicate the previous day. As a result, not only was Jora sacked from his position, but he became the target of public criticism in the press. Under the title Cleaning has started at the Conservatory, Cornelia Pascal attacked him in the newspaper The Romanian Student: "He wished to show his solidarity with the plundering Hohenzollern monarchy....The former landowner dispossessed by the land reform."6

Mihail Jora was for many years the vice-president of the Society of Romanian Composers, and his position carried added weight after George Enescu, the president of the society since its foundation, left the country. He used his authority to resist the pressures exerted by the authorities to have composition transformed into a tool of the communist propaganda, as recommended by the Resolution on Music of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 10 February 1948.

At the 15th May 1948 meeting of the executive committee of the Composers' Society, Jora confronted Mauriciu Vescan and Alfred Mendelsohn, who were advocating the advent of "democratic music", stating: "The composer, as a free being endowed with his own soul, cannot be denied what he himself feels, and forced to express what others feel".7

Vehement reactions in the defense of ideology in art were not slow to emerge. In an article entitled For a New Music, in the Rampa magazine (May 1948), Nina Cassian wrote: "Mihail Jora deviated from the artistic normality of Privelişti Moldoveneşti8 towards a position of stingy subjectivism which ocasionally embraced modern miniature forms, as in Joujoux pour ma dame, or, of late, escapist, fantastical forms. Nobody could deny M. Jora's talent or competence, nor the place he held in Romanian composition, and if today his art marked a departure from the healthy balance of some earlier works, this was no doubt the result of his obvious resistance to drawing nearer to the progressive ideology."9

Yet Jora used his leading position in the Composers' Society to thwart the authorities in their determination to marginalize on political criteria those the Communist Party considered to be "dubious"10, such as Constantin Silvestri11, Theodor Rogalski, Theodor Grigoriu, Emil Monţia, Marţian Negrea, etc.; or those the party was intent on expelling from the Society: Dinu Lipatti, Paul Constantinescu, Ionel Perlea, Marcel Mihalovici, Constantin Brăiloiu, Ion Nonna Otescu etc.12

It was thanks to Jora's firm position but also to the clever way in which he handled Enescu's relation with the Composers Society that the maestro remained for three years president of the Society while living in exile. Enescu carried on untill 1949 when the Society was disbanded and replaced by a Composers' Union of the Romanian People's Republic. Neither Mihail Jora, nor George Enescu were coopted in the new Union.

But Jora wans't only targeted by the Securitate for his firm opposition to political interference in art. He had, on top of it, an "unhealthy social origin" - enough to make him a paria. He was the scion of an old Moldavian family of landowners13, and through his marriage to Elena Gafencu the brother-in-law of Grigore Gafencu, a former foreign minister of Romania between 1938 and 1939 and a former minister in Moscow from 1940 to 194114. While in exile Gafencu had been tried in absentia in 1947, alongside Alexandru Crezianu, Grigore Niculescu-Buzești and Constantin Vișoianu15.

Jora's surveillance dossier contains the so-called Professional Form printed by the Ministry for Arts attached to the Council of Ministers, and which every employee working in the arts field had to fill in. The purpose of such a form with its many rubrics was to gather information about these employees, as well as about their close relatives. Jora's form, dated 17 October 1953, reveals his hostility and unreserved disdain towards the communist regime.

In answering the question about the positions he had held, Jora added to the list the following comment: "I renounced these positions - without exception - every time I felt the political injunctions in musical matters by all governments and regimes were detrimental to the art I was serving."

Other answers are notable for their brevity and sarcasm:

"- Involvement in artistic events:
Before 23 August 194416 .....countless
After 23 August 1944 .....not enough
Work that received a prize .....countless
Political status .....I was never involved politics and neither am I now
Do you have relatives abroad [...] and, if so, how close .....Grigore Gafencu, brother-in-law, George Enescu, cousin
When and how did they leave the country .....with a passport
Provide the names of possible referees .....all Romanians
Anything you would like to add .....This is the fourth autobiography I provide and I hope I will not be troubled anymore in future.17

Jora lost his position as director of the Academy of Music as well as his professorship. Neither was there a place for him when the Society of Romanian Composers was re-branded, by the decision of the 21-22 October 1949 Conference, as the Composers' Union of the Romanian People's Republic (Republic Popular of Romania).

This conference was meant to transform music in a form of art carrying a propaganda message. The slogans already used in the meetings of the composers, such as "democratic music" or "music for the working class" had hardly mobilized those who were unanimously recognized and enjoyed prestige in the musical domain. Thus, to show where music should stand and in order to impose on the composers a leadership purged of "vestiges of the past", Iosif Chișinevski18 and Leonte Răutu19, representing the leadership of the Communist Party and Wanda Nicolski, representing the trade unions20 sat in the presidium of the conference.

The aim was achieved: The Society of Romanian Composers became the Composers' Union of R.P.R., and Matei Socor21 was elected president of the new union. A commission was set up to deal with the "re-registration and registration of members" so as to check the "membership status in the Composers' Union of R.P.R." As instructed, the commission, headed by Hilda Jerea, and whose members supported the idea that music should carry an ideological message, turned down Mihail Jora, George Enescu, Dinu Lipatti, Constantin Brăiloiu, Ionel Perlea, Marcel Mihalovici, Stan Golestan and Tiberiu Brediceanu. The new president did not show any support for Jora, Enescu and Brăiloiu, who - during the war, together with Mihail Andricu and Emanoil Ciomac - had written to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, asking for Socor's release from the Târgu Jiu detention camp where he had been held for his communist views.

There was more in store for Jora: his new composition The Burlesque for Orchestra submitted to the "status" commission was rejected and included on a list of "examples of decadence"22. Having been removed from all the institutions in which he used to be active, Jora was now practically isolated. Yet the Securitate surveillance intensified. His correspondence and phone call were intercepted.

Jora's wife, Elena (Lily) was arrested in 1952 and handed a four years prison sentence with no other reason than that of being Grigore Gafencu's sister. Jora found solace in the company of old friends, but also disciples with whom he had a close and affectionate relationship. He often acted as a host to them as well as to other composers or academics, some of which were also kept under surveillance by the Securitate.

An informant's note, dated 29 May 195223 and signed "Petra", reveals a typical situation. It appears that "Petra" was an old acquaintance of Mihail Jora and kept in close contact with the musicians surrounding him. Nobody suspected him/her of being an informer, yet "Petra" diligently reported various conversations in the note for the Securitate. Thus, the poetess Mariana Dumitrescu related how the wife of the conductor George Georgescu, who accompanied him on a concert tour in Moscow, had been struck by "how drawn and tired people in the streets looked, hungry and poorly dressed". The composer Ion Dumitrescu related that Jora had been shaken by his wife's arrest: "they came during the night, at three o'clock, and took her away". The next day - Dumitrescu confided to the informer - Jora asked to see comrade Răutu, who received him, and promised he will try to persuade "those in the Ministry of Internal Affairs" to release her.

Others, too, told the agent about Jora's state of mind. Thus, "talking to Lizet Georgescu24, the opera singer, she reported that 'Jora was very very upset by Lily's misfortune, every night he wakes up at three o'clock and cries like a child'." The Securitate officer who checked the report noted it came from a "serious source" and that "the informant was instructed to gather the impressions of the artists who had visited the Soviet Union".

A "strictly secret" note of the Securitate, dated 8 September 195225, summarizes with quasi- ridiculous arguments the accusations held against Jora". That in 1950 he had written to George Enescu "whom he had informed about the situation in Romania". In the same year he had declared in the presence of other composers that he would have never tolerated being called "comrade". "The above-named was known as an individual whose works were marked by cosmopolitanism and the influence of bourgeois ideology, an influence he exerted over a number of composers and in particular over his former pupils such as Paul Constantinescu, Ion Dumitrescu, Klepper Leon etc. with whom he kept in touch and who visited him. At the same time, during the February 1952 plenary meeting, he was supported by the composers Ion Dumitrescu and Klepper Leon, who stated that his works must be made known to the public as they will enjoyed success[...]."

The plenary meeting referred to in the note took place on 4-5 February 1952 and its objective was to draft a "motion" entitled About the development of music in the R.P.R.26. The idea of the motion was floated at the behest of the authorities during the Week of Romanian Music, held on 22-29 September 1951. It is to be noted that the Week's program included - as an opening concert - Enescu's First Rhapsody, and the choral concert, a work by Mihail Jora, although the two were not members of the new Composers' Union of R.P.R. Nevertheless, in the February 1952 motion Jora was severely criticized on the grounds that his works were "devoid of substance", "formalistic", "decadent" and "cosmopolitan".

The critics' camp, led by Matei Socor, included Hilda Jerea, Mauriciu Vescan, Alfred Mendelsohn, Sergiu Natra, Constantin Palade, Vasile Popovici and Diamandi Gheciu. They were opposed by Ion Dumitrescu, Leon Klepper and Mihail Andricu who dared to defend Jora. The Securitate, which was supposed to stop any deviation from the ideology of the Communist Party, was briefed in detail about the opponents and their arguments. Not for the first time they came under suspicion. But, although there were heated debates about Jora's work, seen as not falling into line with the new aggressive esthetics, the Securitate note concludes: "As the investigation did not find out that the above-named was conducting a hostile campaign, his actions only consisting in various discussions, our proposal is to have the file closed"[...]. The documents concerning Jora were to be kept in a general dossier concerning musicians.

Closing the file did not mean the surveillance ceased. In any case Jora remained defiant, although he was allowed to retrieve his former job as a professor at the Conservatory. Neither did he change his position when he was readmitted into Composers' Union in 1953, as part of the regime's new policy of "rapprochement" with leading intellectuals. In 1953 Jora was awarded the State Prize for the ballet When Grapes Ripen and his Sonata for Violin and Piano, and on 2 July 1955 he became a member of the Romanian Academy. Furthermore, Jora was included, alongside Alfred Alessandrescu, Constantin Silvestri, Ion Dumitrescu, but also the regime's supporter, Alfred Mendelsohn, in a group of composers sent to Belgium and France to commemorate one year since the death of George Enescu. In Brussels, the Romanian composers attended the first night of Enescu's opera Oedipus.27

The Head of the First Direction (for foreign intelligence) of the State Security sent a memo28 to his colleagues in the Third Direction: "We beg to inform you that during the visit to France the composer Jora visited Romanian defectors settled in Paris, including Constantin Brăiloiu29, Ion Dragu, Alice Mănescu, Jora's cousin, a niece who worked as a secretary at the Brazilian embassy. He also had a short meeting with his brother-in-law, Grigore Gafencu, who was seriously ill. Jora talked freely about any subject, about him, about the situation in the Romanian People's Republic. He related his wife, Gafencu's sister, had spent four years in prison, the reason she was not granted an exit visa to accompany him. [...] He said 'they in R.P.R., resigned themselves to the state of affairs' as he, and others like him, were privileged, doing as well as possible. They have very big salaries, lived very comfortably and could not even spend everything they earned, as - apart from food - there was nothing tempting to be found in the shops."

A "top secret" document of Directorate 372 in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, dated 3 June 1963, recommended ending the surveillance, archiving the documents about Mihail Jora and removing his name from the list of hostile elements. The reason given was the death of Grigore Gafencu, "in Paris, in 1957, as notified in the attached". The attached was an article from the magazine Bulletin Europeen - Tribune libre de l'europenisme published on the fifth anniversary of Gafencu's death. The president of the "reactionary sheet", as the Securitate called it, was Maurice Faure30 and the list of honorary presidents included Dr. Konrad Adenauer, Sir Winston Churchill and Robert Schumann. The article gave credit to the late Grigore Gafencu for his work in support of the, then nascent, idea of European Unity. Gafencu's death, of which the "omniscient" Securitate was seemingly hearing five years after it had happened, had been nevertheless duly reported by the Communist Party newspaper Scînteia. The article denigrated Gafencu and attracted a scathing and courageous reply from Jora, which was, of course, never published: "I have read with great interests the note [...] carried in the 1st of February 1957 edition of Scînteia no. 3818. [...] My interest stemmed from the fact that one could seldom bring together so many inaccuracies written in such bad faith as in that particular note. [...] There is an elementary duty of not maligning someone who was dead, even if he had been your political opponent. And if this opponent had been loyal, one should at least remove one's hat and keep silent. It is regrettable that Scînteia, the mouthpiece of the Central Committee, published the incriminated text, contradicting the steps taken not long ago by decision-makers for reestablishing normal relations with the man insulted today on his death-bed. Please convey to the anonimous author my utter disdain." 31

Mihail Jora

Mihail Jora died on 10 May 1971 leaving behind an impressive body of musical work, and for those who have known him, the memory of an ethical example in Romania's cultural landscape which had been distorted by the norms imposed by the communist regime. "Having studied with Jora, was unanimously considered to be a guarantee" according to the composer Pascal Bentoiu. "Mihail Jora was someone with an exemplary ethical and civic attitude, a model of honesty, correctitude, generosity, industry and devotion to the development of Romanian art" - wrote the composer Ion Dumitrescu, one of his closest disciples and his executor. After the death of the Joras , Ion Dumitrescu, at the time president of the Composers' Union, tried to fulfil Mihail Jora's wish as expressed in his will: to have the furniture, the paintings, the belongings and the library of the Jora family gathered in a "Mihail and Elena Jora Memorial House", in the very house in str. Silvestru no. 16 in which he had lived for more than 40 years.

Ion Dumitrescu did not succeed: "I went to see comrade D.P.32. I pleaded with him and I was categorically turned down. I did not manage to intercede."

Sadly, even to date, there is no commemorative plaque on the house in str. Silvestru 16 to remind a passers-by that the composer and teacher Mihail Jora lived there.


1 Mihail Jora was born on 7/14th August 1891 in Roman (Neamţ County). Died 10th May 1974 in Bucharest.
2 He studied at the Iasi Conservatoire, then - between 1912 and 1914 - in Leipzig, where he was taught composition by Max Reger and piano by Robert Techmuller and Hans Sitt (conducting). Between 1919 and 1920 he studied in Paris with the composer Florent Schmitt. Jora also read law. (Manuela Giosa, Pianul în creația lui Mihail Jora, Editura Universității Naționale de Muzică, București, 2007, p. 12.)
3 Full name The State Security Department, the secret police under the communist regime, set up with the assistance of the Soviet NKVD.
4 Dossier I no.715, C.N.S.A.S. Archive.
5 On 30th December 1947, Romania was proclaimed a "popular republic" by the National Assembly, although the law (no.363) was voted in the absence of a quorum. The Romanian Communist Party backed by the USSR secured full control over the country.
6 Octavian Lazăr Cozma, Universul Muzicii Româneşti, Editura Muzicală, Bucureşti, 1993, p.159.
7 Octavian Lazăr Cosma, ibid., p.166.
8 Orchestral Suite, composed in 1924.
9 Octavian Lazăr Cosma, ibid., p.162.
10 Octavian Lazăr Cosma, ibid., p.186-187
11 Constantin Silvestri (1913, Bucharest - 1969, London) was one of the musicians Jora liked and helped, valuing his exceptional musical abilities. In a letter to the conductor George Georgescu, dated 5th March 1940, Silvestri referred to his deep gratitude for Jora's generosity: "Some three years ago, the continuous negativity surrounding me reached its climax, crushing any enthusiasm for youth and life. After months of neurasthenia I did not hesitate to burn my compositions. That is when maestro Jora came to my assistance and it is only due to him that today I am not yet in the "world of total renunciation". Begging left and right, he collected enough money for me to be able to spend 7 or 8 months in a sanatorium. - The miracle of youth triumphed. - Unfortunately, on my return to Bucharest, my means (out of a salary of 7000, the doctor's bill was 3000!) did not allow me to continue for long the out-patient treatment. [...]. You know what followed: pleural shock, pleurizy-liquid. Resorting once more to the begging bowl, maestro Jora forced me again to leave for one-two months (as long as the money lasted) to attempt a "recovery". I don't know if you understand the boundless gratitude I ow to Mr. Jora. He wasn't my teacher or mentor - as some people lightly offer as a "justification". - He was a father to me." In: Viorel Cozma, Dirijorul George Georgescu - mărturii în contemporaneitate, Editura Muzicală, Bucureşti, pag. 137.
12 Dossier no. 434/1949 - The Composers' Union Archive in the national archives contains a long list of those "to be removed". In: Octavian Lazăr Cozma, ibid., p. 186-187.
13 The Jora family name goes back to 1392. In: Mihail Jora studii și documente, Editura Muzicală, București, 1995, vol. I, p.382.
14 Grigore Gafencu (1892-1957) left the diplomatic service in August 1941. He settled in Switzerland and advocated Romania's withdrawal from the war-time alliance with Germany. After the war he opposed the Soviet take-over of his country and became a prominent figure in the anti-communist exile.
15 The three are former diplomats who left Romania after the communist take-over. Niculescu-Buzești and Vișoianu had also briefly served as foreign ministers.
16 On 23 August 1944, Romania broke with Germany and joined the war against Hitler. What someone did or owned before that date was used by the communist regime as a crude discriminatory criteria.
17 Jora was obviously irritated by the questions and this is reflected in his hand writing.
18 Iosif Chișinevski, (1905-1963), chief ideologue and propagandist of the Romanian Communist Party (R.C.P.) between 1944 and 1957.
19 Leonte Răutu (real name Lev Oigenstein), (1910-1993), member of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(1955-1981), head of propaganda and culture section of the Central Committee (1956-1965), rector of the party academy.
20 Wanda Nicolski, born 1902, a weaver by profession, member of the Central Committee of the party.
21 Matei Socor (1908-1980), composer of two national anthems after the communist take-over. Rewarded for his services to the communist party with the chairmanship and subsequently the directorship of Romanian Radio, as well as the presidency of the Composers' Union of Popular Republic of Romania (R.P.R.).
22 Octavian Lazăr Cosma, ibid., p. 205.
23 Dossier I 715, C.N.S.A.S. Archive, p. 32-34
24 Lizette Georgescu Manissalian (1906-1988) studied in Dresden and was employed by the Romanian Opera in Bucharest.
25 Ibid., C.N.S.A.S. Archive, p. 29-31
26 Octavian Lazăr Cosma, ibid., p. 230
27 Ibid., p. 294.
28 Dossier I 715 No. 8161 of 16 June 1956, p. 17.
29 Constantin Brailoiu (1893-1958), composer and ethnomusicologist. Settled in Switzerland in 1943.
30 Maurice Faure (born 1922), minister in several French governments, co-signer on behalf of France of the Treaty of Rome, setting up the European Community.
31 Mihail Jora - Studii si documente, vol. I, Editura Muzicala, București, 1995, p. 44.
32 Dumitru Popescu (1928), vice-president of the Socialist Council for Culture and Education, member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party.