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Antigona Rădulescu’s attempt at encapsulating the Bucharest Conservatory’s 150 years of existence in a bilingual album, in English and Romanian – Musical Odyssey 1864-2014. A History of the National University of Music, Bucharest (Glissando, the NUMB’s Publishing House, Bucharest, 2014) – can be read as genealogic representation of the institution’s spiritual family. In parallel with the Conservatory’s timeline – from the founding of the Conservatory of Music and Drama on October 6 1864 by decree of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza to the present day – one can discern a branch-like growth of key figures and their disciples. The author foregrounds the portraits of great musicians who trained worthy classes of disciples, such as composers Mihail Jora and Paul Constantinescu, pianists Constanța Erbiceanu and Florica Musicescu, conductors Ionel Perlea and Constantin Silvestri, bassist Iosif Prunner, Ethnomusicologist Constantin Brăiloiu and others. If the first generations of teachers had studied abroad, at established centres of learning (Leipzig, Vienna, Paris), the Bucharest Conservatory gradually established its own identity. As such: “The reform of 1931, effected by the University Autonomy Act, created a powerful institution, an establishment of higher education, institution of the state under the Ministry of Public Education (…). Prestigious Romanian schools of teaching were consolidated by the efforts of many teachers, and their students became celebrated musicians worldwide”
(p. 58).

The author lucidly considers the historical events that shaped 20th century Romania and the impact they had on the institution. With consequences even more dramatic than the two world wars, the rise of the Communism imposed a new “vision” of the purpose of the Conservatory: “The objectives were to create conductors of trades union choirs, functionaries responsible for community cultural centres, functionaries responsible for cultural enterprises, teachers of music and cadres at the basis, in the struggle of the Romanian Workers’ Party to raise the cultural and artistic level of the broad masses” (p. 96). In the same balanced, yet uncompromising tone, the author analyses the NUMB’s post 1990 development: “The contemporary period brought with it not a conservation of the values achieved with great effort in the past, but rather a reconfiguration of Romanian music education on a new basis. Sometimes, for example in the years 1990-1992, it meant the outright demolition of habits and rules and the constituting of new ones on a democratic basis, debatable and even objectionable or detrimental” (p. 158).

Significant for the institution’s sinuous history are the no fewer than twelve name changes that it suffered in 150 years – changes imposed either by various political developments in Romanian society or by “pragmatic necessities,” as was the case after 1990: “This naming fluctuation was due less to iconoclastic impulses than to the pragmatic necessity for European and global recognition of higher-education diplomas awarded by the institution” (p. 189)

Well-written and concise, the history “commented on” by Antigona Rădulescu is bolstered by well-chosen visual aids, courtesy of the NUMB archive, and highlighted by excellent design. The synergy of the two discourses, the text proper and visual text, was a gamble well taken, as the presence of images retains the ineffable character of ages long past: photographs – most of them never before published – of musicians whose names are forever tied to the school, concert programmes, and various documents – requests, letters, summons etc.

The references to the present day, with which Antigona Rădulescu ends her exciting Odyssey of the Bucharest Conservatory, point to the merit and prestige attained by the NUMB: “With its national and international status secure, the institution now guaranteeing a quality of musical education that gracefully combines artistic intuition with scientific rigour, the National University of Music Bucharest contributes creatively to the sustenance of Romanian culture in its contemporaneity, and its projection to the world” (p. 164). As for the future of the Conservatory, Rector Dan Dediu offers this poetic prognosis in the volume’s preface: “We are (…) aware that we still have many leagues to traverse and many perils to face. So we train continuously for our musical Odyssey. It is still a long way to Ithaca.”

Florinela Popa,
English Version by Dragos Manea