Paul Constantinescu

Paul Constantinescu

The composer Paul Constantinescu1 emerged as a star of the Romanian musical world, when aged only 22, his second opus The Romanian Suite2 was awarded a prize at the G. Enescu composing competition.  At 233, he became a member of the Society of Romanian Composers, at 25 he had already composed an opera4 and at the age of 30, he was praised by music critics and awarded a prize for the choreographic poem A Carpathian Wedding5. Who would have thought that an artist with such spectacular entry into the Romanian musical scene would be burdened for life with an ambivalent destiny? Every triumph as a composer or progression in society was accompanied by a painful setback.

In November 1935 Paul Constantinescu made his debut in Romanian opera with a Stormy Night.  The young composer benefited from a cast including well-known singers and the conductor Ionel Perlea6. The critics greeted the first night as a great event. To quote the chronicle of an impassioned listener and connoisseur of I.L.Caragiale's plays7, the writer Mihail Sebastian8: "The work of the young composer Paul Constantinescu is a direct and successful musical translation of the Romanian suburbia grasping its picturesque sounds  (((and transposed from Caragiale's dialogue into the dialectic play of the orchestra.))) (...) The verve, the irony and humour of this short comic opera are indeed in Caragiale's manner9."

Other articles however, such as the article by Nicolae Bogdan in the Iron Guard10 paper Porunca Vremii11 belonged to a different genre. Leaving aside the criticism of the opera, the article stood out for its anti-Semitic remarks about Paul Constantinescu. This was the first of a series of similar articles carried by the newspaper but also by another Iron Guard journal, Acţiunea Românească12. Constantinescu's constant interest in creating a compositional style rooted in the Romanian folklore, noted by Virgil Gheorghiu13 in 1936 in his article Muzica Românească14, was ignored by the authors of these articles, despite their claims to be  promoters of national values.

Music critics increasingly focussed on Constantinescu's work. "The Oltenian Dances" reset on music by Paul Constantinescu offers another reason to take pride in Romanian artistry and a new impetus for the Romanian ballet", according to the Universul musical critic15, in 1938. Referring to the ballet The Carpathian Wedding, Emanoil Ciomac16 argued in 1939 that "An official institution should publish such pages which belong to the few works of Romanian art deserving to represent our national soul and vividness17".

Needling by the newspapers Porunca Vremii and Acţiunea Românească would not have affected the composer's biography had it not, through its persistence and thanks to the political turn of events in 1940, led to an offical reaction by the management of the Radio Corporation, where Constantinescu had been employed since 1936. At the request of the Radio's management the composer proved that he was indeed an Eastern Orthodox Christian18, likewise his parents and his grandparents19.  Yet, unbelievably, after the Iron Guard rebellion in January 194120, Paul Constantinescu was sacked from the Radio Corporation on the grounds that he was not trustworthy enough21". This was to radically change the composer's life. For 22 years he was to be kept nearly continuously under surveillance by the police and, after the advent of the Communist regime, by the Securitate22.

We know from the memos he wrote to the authorities, preserved in his surveillance file no.1717 in the archive of CNSAS, that two allegations were made about him:
- that he had been a member of the Iron Guard
- that during the (Iron Guard) rebellion he had taken part in the events which occurred at the Radio Corporation.

In a memo sent to the Bucharest Police Prefect (23 January 1943) Paul Constantinescu answers the accusations: "(...) it would be completely cruel to be held responsible for having orchestrated Iron Guard hymns  (as requested by the Director of programmes, Mr. D. Mugur, who was still in place when the Iron Guard became a governing party) as this was my job at the time in the Radio Corporation" (...)  not only did I not participate in the rebellion (at the time I was not even present at the Radio Corporation, having taken a few days off in order to complete a private piece of work), but I was never a member of the Iron Guard".

This memo shows that the new general director of the Radio Corporation, Vasile Ionescu, appointed after the events of 21/23 January 1941, never met Paul Constantinescu who was not invited to the hearing where he was sacked.

Paul Constantinescu came to be investigated by the Secret Service, the General Direction of the Police and the Bucharest Police Prefect. Is it credible that Paul Constantinescu would have joined the Iron Guard when, on the basis of their ideology, he had been humiliated in their papers and after at the request of the Radio's management, he had to prove with documents his ethnicity and religion? And would the Iron Guard newspapers have launched such a vicious campaign against a presumed Jew who was supposed to have joined their movement?

Paul Constantinescu does not seem to have taken an interest in politics. In a 1934 letter to prof. George Breazul, sent after returning from his Vienna studies, the composer criticizes the political milieu he had been in touch with. First he recounts how politicians were using their influence even in minor matters such as securing a position of substitute teacher for their protege: "As I heard, casual work depends on intercession, particularly from politicians who control everything". As for Viennese politics in 1933 - a critical year23 - when Constantinescu was studying in the Austrian capital, the composer noted: "The Viennese are busyier with the revolution than with music, something which is not appealing to me too much24(...)".

As far as the Iron Guard, during their short spell in power, they did not promote Paul Constantinescu nor his work as they did with the works of composers who were members or declared supporters of the party. Two classical concerts were staged in December 1940 as a result of political pressure; none featured music by Paul Constantinescu25.

His sacking from the Radio Corporation led to the opening of a "special file no. 1205926" with the Security Police Service. The Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the office of the Police Prefect and the Security Police Service asked for him to be investigated.

A  memo dated 13 May 194327, lists the actions of various departments of the police dealing with Paul Constantinescu:

- "(...) In 1942 (Paul Constantinescu) complained to Marshall Antonescu28 that he was being bothered about the Iron Guard, although he had never been a member of the movement.
- The Presidency of the Council of Ministers asked for his record
- The First Bureau stated in report no.293 of 15 June 1942 that the above named is known to them and kept under surveillance in order to find out his actions
- The Bureau specified in report no.406 of 3 July 1942 that the above named featured in the P.P.C. (office of the Police Prefect of the capital) files where he is the subject of a private file no.11729. From the file it appeared that his home was searched but nothing damaging was found, yet he was dismissed by the Radio Corporation as they could not trust him anymore (...).
- Though not displaying simpathy for the Iron Guard, nevertheless he was kept under  surveillance...there was no information that he was active in the clandestine legionnaire movement (...).
- July 1942:  he was not acting on  behalf of the legionnaire movement.

A document from the General Direction of the Police, also dated 13 May 1943, refers to an answer given by the office of the Bucharest Police Prefect to the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs about the appointment of Mr. Paul Constantinescu as temporary professor at the Conservatoire. PPC answered that the above-named was not registered in the files and card index of the PPC and  that, considering his actions to date, they found no cause of suspicion29.

After losing his job at the Radio Corporation Paul Constantinescu was hired as musical councillor at the National Film Office. At the request of the National Ministry for Propaganda, on 7 June 1943 the General Direction of the Police and the office of the Bucharest Police Prefect issued a "positive recommendation" for "Paul Constantinescu, musical councillor at the National Film Office"30.

During the years under investigation, professionally the composer was moving on. A telegram from the press office of the Romanian Legation in Vienna dated 29 October 1943 reports: "On Saturday 9 October the ballet The Carpathian Wedding by Paul Constantinescu was performed at the Vienna State Opera, an occasion for the whole Viennese press to extol at length the young composer and the Romanian music"31. The suite from the above ballet was also performed roughly at the same time in Berlin and was included in the concerts given by the conductor George Georgescu in Stockholm and Helsinki.

In his own country the composer was awarded the Class II Cultural Merit order (1940), and then in February 1943, Class I of the same order as well as the Order of the Romanian Crown32.

The changes which occurred in Romania after 23 August 194433 and the rapid rise of Communism made things even more difficult for Paul Constantinescu. A report of the no.17 Police Station, dated 20 September 1945 refers to him having been placed under surveillance to establish "his current and future attitude, political actions and links"34.
His surveillance file contains four documents saying practically the same thing. They all mention that Constantinescu does not appear in the files of the police departments which have carried out searches, but some state for instance that he had been hired by the Radio Corporation in 1936 because of his sympathy for the Iron Guard, a false and ridiculous claim. Or, that during the legionnaire rebellion he "would have helped other rebels in pouring petrol into bottles to be used against the army"35.

It is noticeable that for the first time the police documents, although not providing incriminating evidence, make new claims in order to underline the supposed links between the composer and the Iron Guard. Besides the so-called "participation in the rebellion", the documents refer to his collaboration with two members of the Iron Guard -  Horia Igiroşanu and engineer Sfinţescu". The former was a film director and for a time director of the National Film Office, where Paul Constantinescu must have met him. It is unlikely though that he would have known Duiliu Sfinţescu36, a building engineer.  In 1996 Duiliu Sfinţescu published a book about the Iron Guard37 and the  various personalities who had adhered to the Iron Guard or whom he considered "followers" of the movement.  The name of Paul Constantinescu did not come up.

Furthermore, the book includes a chapter called "How I composed legionnaire songs"38, written in Milano by Ion Mânzatu, who in 1940 had been appointed by the (legionnaire) government General Director of the Radio Corporation. His Legionnaire marches were orchestrated by Paul Constantinescu. Nowhere does the author, in his detailed chapter, mention Paul Constantinescu. How is it that Mânzatu who describes his own works as "mawkish and romantic", who did not raise above the genre of romance and militant songs and who had been hired at the Radio Corporation for political reasons, does not mention the collaboration with Paul Constantinescu unless, for the latter, orchestrating his boss' songs was simply a professional duty? Why not mention him if he had been a close acquaintance or a "comrade", especially as Constatinescu was dead at the time when he wrote the article  (16 August 1978).

Despite the continuous surveillance, Paul Constantinescu creative work grew to encompass compositions of different styles and dimensions ranging from songs and carols, the Concerto for string quartet39, Olteneasca, a folk dance for symphony orchestra, to The Lord's Passion 40(awarded a prize in 1946) and Christ's Birth oratorios. Constantinescu also became a successful composer of music for films. He told an interviewer in 1943:  "I can tell you about film music, as someone who loves the expression of the moving image, that I believe I was the first in our country to warmly embrace it; and from the 1938 documentary Ţara Moţilor (awarded a prize in 1939 at the Venice film competition), to the Danube Delta (probably the same as The Fishermen's Eden awarded a prize for the music in 1943) and The Lost Letter it has been a path to follow and an interest of mine41"

If the films listed by the composer dealt with topics which were not ideollogically or polically sensitive, his contribution to the music of the film The Malaxa42 Factory (1940) and to Romania Fighting Bolshevism/Our Holy War43 would not have gone unnoticed, though they do not feature in memos and reports.

For many years the ballet A Carpathian Wedding, so highly praised on its first night, was held against Paul Constantinescu, in particular since it was staged in Odessa44, in 1942. By referring to the ballet as a "nationalistic" piece of work, the Police and Securitate reports distorted its meaning. A Carpathian Wedding was composed following the ethnographical survey carried out in the village Fundu Moldovei, in 1929, by Paul Constantinescu, dancer Floria Capsali and Mac Constantinescu (who designed the sets for the first night).  All three were members of a team of researchers headed by Dimitrie Gusti.  In a later interview, Floria Capsali recalled: "Even before writing the script, together with Paul Constantinescu, we selected the music (...). As the composer did not limit himself to the music of Fundu Moldovei, but also incorporated elements from other regions, the ballet was given the more general title.  A Carpathian Wedding is the first Romanian ballet inspired by folklore (...)"45.

From 1951 onwards the newly set up State Securitate were again focussing on Paul Constantinescu. On 23 February the decision was made to open an investigative file as he was "known to be a dubious element, who at present is acting in an unfriendly way towards progressive music"46. In opening this file the Securitate was trying to establish:
- His current and past political involvement
- The nature of his correspondence abroad
- The identity of his friends and contacts
- His attitude towards the regime
An order was issued that Constantinescu's telephone calls should be listened to and his correspondence intercepted, and that "an informer should be hired amongst his closest friends".

Five agents codenamed "Hans Roth", "Raul", "Ion Balotă", "Rodica" and "David", plus some of his companions were interviewed in order to gather information. "Hans Roth", who - as stated in his report - was helping with the translation into German of the libretto of  A Stormy Night, described Paul Constantinescu as a man who "had nothing in common with today's ideas and ideals"47. "Ion Balotă", who monitored Paul Constantinescu while travelling as part of a team of composers to Vienna, reported that  "he withdrew and spent a fair amount of money from the publishing house (Universal) which collected and deposited his fees (...).48"

The Head of Personnel at the Composers Union, Ion Dragomir, also provided characterizations in which he repeats the stories about Paul Constantinescu's past and describes him as "a very gifted member of staff", yet displaying "an attitude hostile to the regime. He composes nothing for the masses, accepts neither criticism nor guidance. (...)". Dragomir concludes: "A poor political and ideological awareness, not to be trusted politically"49. His colleagues, Professor N. Parocescu50 and A. Gherţovici, were asked about Constantinescu's work by the Personnel Service of the Composers Union or directly by Securitate officers. His artistic merits were recognized, but his hostility to the communist regime was also stressed and attributed to "his education (he was Jora's51 student) and his links with the church"52.

In the meantime the parallel biography marched on. In 1951 Paul Constantinescu was awarded the State Prize class II for his works, in 1952 the Juventus overture was well noted in Helsinki, and in 1954 he received the State Prize class I for his Concerto for piano and orchestra53. In 1955 he became an Emeritus Maestro of Arts, and in 1959, on his 50th birthday he was granted the Order for Work "for special merits in the field of musical creation and musical teaching in Romania"54. It is worth noting the irony of a 1959 memo by the Securitate, which after mentioning some of these awards, resolves that "he should be moved to the category of suspects"55. And, indeed, he would be treated as a suspect.

In February 1959 Constantinescu's family phone was bugged and the conversations transcribed. Memo no.2 in his file, dated 25 March 1959, showed that he was closely followed and photographed56.

In 1958, his wife's serious illness places him in a desperate position providing the Securitate with new ways of following him. Constantinescu wanted to send his wife to Vienna for medical treatment and applied for a passport. The Direction in charge of foreigners and passports twice recommended turning down the application. Maria Ana Constantinescu, nevertheless, was to be operated upon in Vienna. A report by agent "Raul" explained how the miracle happened: "I note the misfortune which besets Paul's wife - the loss of her eyesight - which causes him a lot of suffering. He was telling me that it is only thanks to comrade Constanţa Crăciun that he can look after his wife and that she showed so much understanding and good will towards him and their great misfortune."

The correspondence between the Constantinescu husband and wife is intercepted, opened, photographed revealing their close relationship. "I hope you liked the acrostic - Paul Constantinescu wrote to his wife on 4 March 1959 - but be careful not to wail over it as this will do you no good; did you receive the letter with the 1st of March amulet? I received the one written for you by Frau Dr. Hift (.)"57.

All of Constantinescu's letters to or from his friends were subject to the same treatment.  But they did not contain political comments, rather topics of a personal nature or music, such as the correspondence with the composer Marcel Mihalovici58. It is worth noting Constantinescu's warmth, friendship and sadness caused by anxieties and the absence of those close to him, as expressed in a letter of 4 March 1959: "I have no important news to tell you about, apart from the fact that our good friend Alfred (the composer Alfred Alessandrescu59) departed abruptly and irreversibly. This left us with a bitter taste. And a feeling of emptiness on the right elbow so that our standing side by side is less secure and we stagger.  Anyway, this had to happen at some point! Maricuţa (Ana Maria Constantinescu) is far away, old Mişucă (Mihail Jora) is again unwell and I do not feel particularly strong, so that everything is beginning to look sad and oppressive"60.

The last years of his curtailed life were marked by worries about his wife's condition and his own illness. The official biography of Paul Constantinescu ends with three significant works for the Romanian music: the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (1960), the Ploieşti Symphony, dedicated to his home town (1961) and the Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra (1963).

His secret biography, based on Police and Securitate documents, which he suspected existed, apparently ended on 28 January 1963.  It was then resolved to close the file opened in 1959 because although the classifying memo stated  "it was not established that the above named is involved in espionage - the material couldn't be confirmed" - it continues: "It has been decided to maintain the monitored subject on the list of hostile elements"61.

Paul Constantinescu passed away on 20 December 1963 after a long and difficult illness. As a farewell to life and music he was able in his last days in hospital to listen to the recording of a rehearsal of the Triple Concerto. Deeply touched, Mihail Jora spoke about the loss of his much loved friend and disciple: "It is very hard for an old teacher to talk at the funeral of one of his most beloved students in order to bestow on him praise he doesn't need - so well known and valued is the name of Paul Constantinescu in his country and abroad.  And yet I have to contain my grief, asking all those present here, around Him (sic) to remember the moving moments we experienced listening to his Christmas Oratory, his Concerto for strings orchestra, to the Stormy Night, the Piano Concerto and the songs and to delight at the thought that these works will remain landmarks and that they will be listened to by future generations with the feeling and satisfaction of having in front of them masterpieces written, sometimes, at the beginning of  the Romanian musical movement.62 (...)".

Paul Constantinescu left behind his works and parallel biographies. The one to be found in the history of music books, testimony of a bright and powerful creative fate. The other, between the covers of his personal file, a tragic testimony of his struggle against political commandments.


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Footnotes

1 Romanian composer, born 30 June 1909, in Ploeşti, died 20 December 1963, in Bucharest
2 Composed in 1930 and reorchestrated in 1942
3 Paul Constantinescu became a member of the Society of Romanian Composers in 1932 together with Matei Socor who was to be made its president in 1950. Octavian Lazăr Cosma, Universul muzicii româneşti, the Music Publishing House of the Bucharest National University of Music (BNUM),1995.
4 A Stormy Night, composed in 1934 and reworked in 1950. Awarded a prize of the Romanian Academy in 1956.
5 Composed in 1938 and awarded the 1st prize at the George Enescu composing competition.
6 Ionel (Jonel) Perlea (1900-1970), Romanian conductor, studied in Munich and Leipzig, worked after the war mainly in Italy, including at La Scala in Milan.
7 Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912), Romanian playwright and journalist, whose work has an enduring influence on Romanian humour
8 Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945), Romanian playwright, essayist and novelist. His 1934-1944 dairy - a testimony of anti-Semitism in pre-war Romania - was published in 1996.
9 Rampa, 31 Oct. 1935. V. Tomescu, Paul Constantinescu, the Composer's Union Publishing House, Bucharest 1967.
10 Iron Guard - Romanian far-right, nationalist and anti-Semitic movement and party active in Romania between 1927 and 1941under different names (originally The Legion of the Archangel Michael). Briefly in power between Sep. 1940 and Jan. 1941.
11 Porunca Vremii, 7 Nov. 1935, Library of the Academy, PIV 13005.
12 Ibid. PII 10890.
13 Constatin Virgil Gheorghiu (1916-1992), Romanian writer who settled in France after the war. The success of his novel The Twenty-fifth Hour was overshadowed by the disclosure of an earlier pro-Nazi booklet he had written during the war.
14 Virgil Gheorghiu, The Romanian Music, in Floare de foc, no.21, of 25 June 1936. The author claimed Constantinescu was "one of our most gifted composers in the young generation".
15 Article signed by C.F. in Universul of 6 Feb. 1938, the Library of the Academy, PII 10890.
16 Emanoil Ciomac (1890-1962), Romanian musicologist and music critic.
17 Em. Ciomac's article on the ballet A Carpathian Wedding, in Curentul, 8 May 1939.
18 CNSAS archive, file I 1717, page 33
19 Vasile Tomescu, Paul Constantinescu, page 27-28.
20 A legion-inspired military coup quashed by General Antonescu who forced the legionnaires out of government.
21 CNSAS archive, file I 1717, page 33
22 Full name The State Security Department, the secret police under the Communist regime, set up with the assistance of the Soviet NKVD.
23 As a result of the economic and political crisis Austria was ruled by decrees and could not be considered anymore a democracy.
24 Breazul archive - letters archive, inv. No.1549. Gheorghe Breazul (1897-1961) had been one of Constatinescu's teachers at the Conservatoire.
25 O.L. Cosma, The Universe of Romanian Music, Music Printing House of the Bucharest University of Music, 1995, page 115.
26 CNSAS archive, file I 1717, page 31.
27 Ibid. page 117-118.
28 Ion Antonescu (1882-1946) - Soldier, Prime Minister and authoritarian leader who took Romania into an alliance with Nazi Germany. Deposed in August 1944 by King Michael, Marshal Antonescu was briefly detained in the Soviet Union before being sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against peace by a special court in Romania.
29 CNSAS archive, file I 1717, page 120
30 Ibid. page 94
31 National Archives, Ministry of Propaganda - Propaganda service, item 2905, file 2759/1942, page 1
32 Vasile Tomescu, Paul Constantinescu, page 244.
33 Date of the coup d'etat led by King Michael against Marshal Antonescu. As a result Romania joined in the war against their former ally, Germany.
34 CNSAS archive, file no. I 1717, page 11.
35 Ibid. page 28.
36 Left Romania in 1941, settled in France and became an international expert in tall buildings.
37 Duiliu Sfinţescu, Answers for the youngsters wanting to learn the full truth about the Legionnaire movement, Crater publishing house, 1996.
38 Ibid. page 142-157.
39 Reworked as a concerto for strings orchestra. Vasile Tomescu Paul Constantinescu, page 492
40 In the list of his works at page 181 of his personal file (CNSAS archive, file no.I 1717) it is mentioned that the oratorio was composed in 1943, performed in 1946 and reworked in 1948.
41 Interview in the newspaper Evenimentul of 11 Oct.1943. Vasile Tomescu Paul Constantinescu, page 244.
42 Nicolae Malaxa (1987-1965), Romanian industrialist who had business links with Nazi Germany and whose factories produced arms, rolling stock, steel pipes etc.
43 First shown at the Venice festival in 1941 where it was awarded a prize for documentaries. Scripted by Ion Cantacuzino, directed by Paul Călinescu, music by Paul Constantinescu.
44 Romania fought against the Soviet Union alongside Germany from June 1941 to August 1944. Odesa was under Romanian administration from nearly three years of the war.
45 Contemporanul, 22 Jan. 1971(BNUM archive)
46 CNSAS archive, file no.I 1717, page 128.
47 Ibid. page 131.
48 Ibid. page 135.
49 Ibid. page 88.
50 Ibid. page 8-9, mentioned in a Report of 6 Jan. 1960 signed by Captain Berariu.
51 Mihail Jora (1891-1971), Romanian composer, conductor and pianist. As a professor at the Bucharest Conservatoire he was a major influence on his students not least through his refusal to embrace the new guidelines imposed by the Communist ideologues.
52 Ibid. page 90. The data are mentioned in a hand-written Recommendation signed by A. Gherţovici. Same hand writing as in the characterization signed by Ion Dragomir at page 88-89.
53 Vasile Tomescu, Paul Constantinescu, page 496
54 Ibid. Page 383.
55 CNSAS archive, file no.I 1717, page 84.
56 Ibid. page 105.
57 Ibid. page 208.
58 Marcel Mihalovici (1998-1985) Romanian-born composer who settled in France in 1921.
59 Romanian composer, conductor and music critic (1893-1959) active until the complete Communist take-over (1947).
60 CNSAS archive, file no. I 1717, page 206-207.
61 Ibid. page 229.
62 Mihail Jora, Studies and Documents, Music Publishing House of BNUM, Bucharest 1995, page 458.