Octavian Lazăr Cosma: Thirty Years of History at the NUMB


The “saga” of the Bucharest Conservatory, as recounted by Octavian Lazăr Cosma in his ample musicological opus, has now reached its fourth volume, published on the occasion of the institution’s 150th anniversary. In over 800 pages, Universitatea Națională de Muzică din București la 140 de ani [National University of Music Bucharest at 140] (Bucharest, Glissando Publishing House, 2014) covers three decades of recent NUMB history, more precisely the period 1974-2004.

Following the chronology of each academic year, the author accurately portrays the (more or less exciting) events witnessed by the Conservatory during the period, as well as the socio-political context that shaped the activities and relationships that existed within the institution. The period examined is all the more interesting to the extent that it symmetrically reflects the last 15 years of Communism and the first 15 years after 1989. The excessive politicisation of education during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime, the continuous decline of the enrolment rate, the lack of opportunities available to graduates are subtly depicted by O. L. Cosma. It may be difficult to imagine today, but, in those years, students of the Music section were forced to attend evening classes, while they also had to perform such jobs as: unskilled labourer, vulcaniser, instructor, weaving machine operator, seamstress or caretaker (for the full list of student jobs see pp. 394-397). “Post-revolutionary” concerns also prove worthy of our attention: the improvement of the enrolment rate, the “promotions merry-go-round,” the institution’s financial hardships, the adoption of the credit system, or being a PhD as a prerequisite for having a teaching position.

A result of, in the author’s own words, “extensive documentary proof – posters, scripts, programmes and accounts,” O. L. Cosma’s endeavour is undoubtedly grounded in the solid information provided by the NUMB archive. Still, it becomes obvious for the reader, as they progress through this impressive tome, that an “inside” recounting of such a complicated and controversial history cannot be free of a certain dose of subjectivity. There are certain noteworthy portrayals, which hardly seem to be drawn from records of proceedings: Dinu Petrescu, “an opportunist and a braggart” (p. 17); Nicolae Beloiu, made rector for “being liked by the new Minister of Education, Nicolae Șora [sic],” although “a handful of professors […], knowing Nicolae Beloiu to be lacking in drive and initiative, […] didn’t agree with him [sic] being made rector” (p. 416). Of course, the author’s attempts at objectivity are considerable, especially when he is forced to relate his own activities, addresses, etc., by employing the third person: “The next few addresses followed in much the same way, until Octavian Lazăr Cosma took the floor and offered a rather good introduction, spicing it up with a few witty remarks that appealed to the Minister, who was in charge of the discussion, and who said that he had long awaited for [sic] such an opinion. But the speaker then started to criticise the Ministry for not supporting a dilapidated Conservatory, for the disastrous enrolment rate, for the compromised training of future generations of musicians […]. To which, Mihai Golu started to clamour […]. Octavian Lazăr Cosma has made no comment about the re-election of the Comrade [Nicolae Ceaușescu]…” (p. 408).

The musicological discourse is accompanied by a visual one which consists in the presence of numerous photographs of the professors and students whose lives gave shape to the history of the period. Considering the enormous amount of work and energy invested in this staggering musicological project, all that is left for us to do is look forward to the moment when this fascinating history of the National University of Music Bucharest is next updated.

Florinela Popa,
English Version by Dragos Manea