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Valentin Timaru at the age of 70

Tuesday, 19 October 2010 , ora 11.03

Composer Valentin Timaru, born October 16th, 1940, in Sibiu, celebrated his 70th birthday last week.

The Romanian musician graduated from the 'Gheorghe Dima' Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca and the National University of Music Bucharest, having two reputed compositional mentors : Sigismund Toduta and Anatol Vieru. Doctor of Music in 1982, assistant, lecturer and, starting 1990, professor at 'Gheorghe Dima' Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca, Valentin Timaru has always combined composing with education and musicology.

We were curious to find out from him, a highly appreciated music personality, what his thoughts were at the round age he has just celebrated, but also his opinion on his own work and the Romanian music phenomenon at large.

Happy birthday, Mister Timaru! You have just turned seventy, an age that crowns a life dedicated entirely to music. How does that make you feel?

It's hard to say. I feel unaware of that, that is to say, I feel like I'm twenty years old (laughs). It's like the great philosophers said, ultimately you are as old as you feel, and not as old as the calendar or your birth certificate indicates. In any case, if I had had a female gender perhaps I would have asked for a certain discretion, a certain decency on your part, but, since men are usually proud of their Methuselah-like age, I realize that in comparison to octogenarians, nonagenarians and so on I am but a novice.

You have studied with Anatol Vieru and Sigismund Toduță, two composers and teachers who played an extremely important role in the development of the Romanian composition school. What do you feel you owe each of them both professionally and personally?

I studied with Sigismund Toduță twice. First, when I was an on-site student at the teaching department in Cluj-Napoca, where I attended his composition class for two years. At first, I didn't get on that well with the maestro and I followed a repartition at an elementary school in Buftea, so I automatically had to continue my composition studies in Bucharest. The first time I met Toduță I couldn't understand his severity because I wasn't mature enough. When I came to Bucharest, where there was a completely different environment, I got on incredibly well with Anatol Vieru, who wasn't only the composer we know, but also an outright teacher. I might say he acted with brotherly warmth, because we were relatively close of age and we communicated faultlessly. Thanks to Anatol Vieru I mustered up the courage to compose for larger bands, for orchestras. Having just come from Toduță's class, I was a tad stuck in miniaturist chamber music, to say so. When I went back to Cluj-Napoca, after four years of elementary and secondary teacher training school in Buftea, and I met Toduță again. The variables had changed and, inherently jolly, he immediately manifested his happiness that I had returned. He told me 'My colleague, in honour of the return of the prodigal son, I'm going to kill the fatted calf.' And, honestly, he did (laughs). I can therefore say that the last two years I spent in Cluj were the crowning glory of the experience gained in Vieru's class. When I defended my doctoral thesis, with Romeo Ghircoiașiu as my adviser, I had the pleasure of having both my composition mentors as thesis committee members. I remember I even said I was very glad to be granted this high academic title in music by the two maestros that had made me into a composer.

Your work generally abounds in vocal pieces and especially in pieces meant for children. Might I say that you have a soft spot for the human voice and for children songs, as well?

The human voice is the standard of perfection, because all instruments, no matter how technologically developed, are still mere copies of the human voice, better yet, extensions of it. I felt a natural, inherent closeness to the voice because the voice manifests itself directly, the voice is part of you. You mentioned the voices of children. It's only natural that in those four years I was a teacher in Buftea, I wrote songs for the children I taught. I remember the first graders pulling my sleeve and asking me: 'When are you coming over to sing again?'. I was very happy we had such a dialogue. Out of the ten-fifteen songs I would write, the children liked four or five. The others I threw out because the first criterion when writing for children is that they like the song, understand it and that it has an impact on them. It's a big mistake to write slow songs for children, because they are inherently dynamic and fidgety. Another mistake, a goof I should say, is to write a lullaby for a children's choir. Lullabies aren't part of children's repertoire. I learnt so much when I was a teacher and I still remember my former students today, students who are now close to retirement. I feel somewhat nostalgic these days. hen somebody wishes me a long life I feel like I should answer 'I have had a long life. Who knows what's left of it.'

You've resorted not only to folklore in your work, but to poetry, as well. What folkloric elements did you borrow and what poets in particular inspired you?

The greatest poet that inspired me was folklore. I wrote a great deal based on folk poetry, especially that from anthologies which had only slightly been changed by poets. For example, the folk poetry anthology edited by Lucian Blaga has always been close to me because in it you can feel the great poet's touch, as well. Of course, Arghezi, Blaga, Eminescu were all poets who inspired me… I confess I had a hard time composing on Eminescu's verses, but in the end I found a solution. It was difficult for me to compose on Coșbuc's lines. These are poets who are hard to put into music. Eminescu's poetry is too musical in itself to pile up music on it - there's the rub. I felt closest to Arghezi because he was in a way a little rugged and this allowed the music to 'bite' into the expression.

How important is religion in your work?

Religion is fundamental. At the time when you were not allowed to work with texts, I often used choral ideas for my instrumental music, which definitely resembled a church-like atmosphere. After 1990 I was asked to write various shorter religious themed pieces and, finally, in the hype of '90 - '92 I started writing a liturgy. This piece had several steps - at first it was for a mixed choir and a few percussion instruments, especially bells. In its concentrated form I included the hymnology and the public responsories of a liturgy and, at one point, I mustered up the courage to turn it into a solemn liturgy, like an oratory or a western high mass, but with an oriental confession formula. It is, then, an oriental confession high mass, but designed for a choir, and orchestra and vocalists. I was pleased to see that this music was popular, at least in Cluj. In two churches here it is sung in its concentrated form as a liturgy, as responsories for the office for worship.

Among your more recent works there are two scenic suites. How much do you like genres meant for scenic spaces?

It's easier to write for chamber ensembles, because the odds that your music will not die on a piece of paper are bigger. It's easier to find four, five or six vocalists to interpret your piece, than for an entire interpretational plant as the opera - think about it - choir, orchestra, ballet - where would you get this many people ? Besides, theatre institutions are reluctant to a new repertoire, especially now, when that 'work responsibility' to promote Romanian music doesn't exist anymore.

Our theatre institutions hide behind Mozart, Tchaikovsky, behind Puccini, while we are just uninvited guests in wealthy homes. Nevertheless, I had the opportunity to meet special performers. I wrote Loreley pushed by my friend and colleague, Alexandru Fărcaș, former rector at the 'Gheorghe Dima' Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca and director of the Romanian National Opera. He ordered this project for me, an opera for young people - at that time he was a permanent teacher at the Department of Musical Theatre Directing. He staged and produced it and I can say I've had great satisfactions in working with maestro Alexandru Fărcaș.

Later on, I met an exceptional choreographer, Livia Gună, former prima ballerina at the Romanian National Opera, currently a teacher at the 'Gheorghe Dima' Music Academy at the department of scenic art. She gave me a libretto with an idea from Rebreanu, based on the novel Ciuleandra and… I wrote the ballet. I'm happy to tell this is the second season that it has been included in the Cluj-Napoca Romanian National Opera repertoire.

You are not only an important composer, but also a well respected and appreciated teacher. How did you feel and how do you feel now as a teacher?

(Sighs) What shall I say ? You saw how I sighed. That's because every new generation has their own personality and, at some point, I find myself surprised when I realise I don't understand the elements or mannerism of the various generations. When this happens I perform an internal indictment and ask myself - do I belong behind the teacher's desk anymore? Each generation asks for their right to exist and we don't always understand that. At least, as far as I am concerned, there is always this question inside of me: can I still be a teacher? Students have usually answered me I do and I still feel they need what I am telling them. I am honestly telling you that, when I feel they are no longer interested in what I'm saying, I will retire, because it's time to make room for the next generation.

A third dimension of your musical activity has been in the theoretical field. Up to the present, there have been published a number of your books on analysis and musical aesthetics. Reading them, you can notice a ruminating attitude, an almost philosophical one, in your interpretation of the musical phenomenon. How do you see today's Romanian musicology? Is there a national musicology school, like there is in composition, for example?

I confess, this question is the most difficult one, because I lived in a transition period in the ascension of a new wave in Romanian musicology. The majority of Romanian musicologists focused on the historical - historicizing part, so most of them taught music history. Most of them dealt with archival science and a great deal of things I would call rather neutral. But there was also a type of fundamental, technical musicology, an essential one, that the composers usually dealt with. Very few professional musicologists ventured in this field.

My former teacher, Sigismund Toduță, used to say that 'from a failed composer a good musicologist can rise'. I don't think this thought honoured one bit musicologists and it was soon contradicted by the exceptional accomplishments of Octavian Lazăr Cosma, for example, whose Enescu Symphonism is a pivotal book. When I was young I read it with great interest, because a non-composer musicologist had finally been born, one who had a thorough grasp of the entire fundamental, essential musicology register. Another musicologist, who, as I later learnt, is a reputed composer as well, is my friend, Gheorghe Firca. Initially, he emerged as musicologist, that was how we met, and afterwards I heard his choral-symphonic pieces, which were performed in Cluj in the past years.

He is also a personality in composition. There's also Clemansa Firca, a very astringent critic. I'm referring now to musicologists who were not composers, as well, because among the composers who also dealt with musicology, there are of course Pascal Bentoiu and Ștefan Niculescu's fundamental research. Right after Gheorghe and Clemansa Firca there is a generation of remarkable musicologists, such as Alexandru Leahu or Traian Mârza… I can't enumerate them all, there are so many. I wanted to point out that I think musicologists with a calling for it and incidental musicologists are two different things. For example, I think composers are incidental musicologists. By musicologist with a calling, I mean a specialist who is passionate about research. There are admirable people, including the younger generation, in this domain.

And, since you are a composer first, I shall wrap up with a question for Valentin Timaru, the composer. Judging by the situation in the present, how do you think Romanian composition will evolve?

I confess I have never thought about this. There are all sorts of debates, the who's more catholic than the Pope type, who's more avant-garde. I think these discussions are sterile and lack vision and perspective. Right now we should consider the fact that we have the opportunity to express ourselves freely, free from any censorship or the approval of the Union Symphony Committees, the way it was under the communist regime. This is very important. On the other hand, I don't understand some of my fellow workers who start debates on fertile subjects. For example, an undeserved attack against George Enescu sparked up subsidiarily. If you don't like George Enescu, leave him to his eternity. You think you're different, do things differently, time will tell who is right and who isn't. These kinds of discussions show both a sort of complex and an identity crisis. That's my opinion.

Ioana Marghita
Translated by Gabriela Lungu and Elena Daniela Radu
MA students, MTTLC, Bucharest University