Victor Giuleanu: The Man and His Times


In the last decades, the name Giuleanu has been associated by most students of the Bucharest Conservatory with a kind of Bible of music theory – a treatise of impressive length and intricate structure, up-to-date, at the time of its publication (1986), with the most recent research in the field, and still unrivalled in Romanian musicology. As such, Valentina Sandu-Dediu and Andreea Chiselev’s book: Victor Giuleanu: a portrait in documents and testimonials (Bucharest, Editura Muzicală, 2014) published in the centenary of his birth, is an opportunity for younger generations to know the man behind the impressive volume. The older generations, who had direct contact with Professor, musicologist and Rector Giuleanu, remember him as a paragon of professionalism.

The authors, who are themselves in a relation of professor-disciple, have organised the contents of the book in terms of two distinct areas of interest. Valentina Sandu-Dediu outlines Victor Giuleanu’s complex personality, placing her subject, with great subtlety, in the greater context of the Communist era, of which she has extensive knowledge. (The author’s familiarity with the inner workings of the Romanian music scene during Communism can easily be discerned from her volume Rumänische Musik nach 1944, Saarbrücken, 2006). In her turn, Andreea Chiselev analyzes Giuleanu’s main musicological texts, with reference to seminal works in Western musicology. From time to time, their discussion benefits from the views of other musicians on Giuleanu, and their “first hand” information contributes greatly to the authors’ endeavour (Dorina Arsenescu, Dan Buciu, Lavinia Coman, Grigore Constantinescu, Viorel Crețu, Dan Dediu, Veturia Dimoftache, Radu Homescu, Marina Krilovici, Irina Odăgescu, Cristina Sebastian, Carmen Stoianov, Marina Vlad).
What results is by no means a polite, tame eulogy of Victor Giuleanu, but an exciting journey through the successful career of a man who undoubtedly reached the peak of professional success, under the Romanian Communist regime. From the beginning of the book, we are witness to startling testimonies regarding his actions during the Second World War – one of which belongs to Valentina Sandu-Dediu’s grandfather, Eugeniu Bucheru, who relates the following on meeting the musician on the Eastern front: at a critical moment for the Romanian soldiers stationed in Odessa, who were encircled by the Soviet Army, “a calm and penetrating voice was heard (Giuleanu’s, obviously), singing a Byzantine chant” (pp. 9-10). Forced to later fight on the Western front, Giuleanu is mentioned in other war stories: “Lieutenant Giuleanu […], accompanied by only two soldiers, had managed to capture an entire squad of Nazis” (A. Sitaru, p. 13).

Given such tenacity, his later musicological and administrative achievements come as no surprise. In “Deceniul Giuleanu / The Giuleanu Decade”, a chapter concerning his years in charge of the Bucharest Conservatory (1962-1972), Valentina Sandu-Dediu offers a nuanced account of his approach to politics, of his strategy and skill in “building and preserving an institution”: “The Rector knew how to communicate with the regime […] what achievements to report and in what way to frame them, so as to always show the institution in a favourable light and to secure further funding” (pp. 29-30). What is impressive is that Giuleanu sometimes jeopardised his own position to intervene in favour of younger colleagues such as Irina Odăgescu, Marina Krilovici or George Bălan, who risked being expelled from the Conservatory. On one occasion, “his official account of the student [Odăgescu] managed to minimise the gravity of her deed” (p. 32). (This concerned the young woman’s “unhealthy origins” – a situation which was aggravated by the fact that she had hidden her class background when she was admitted to the Conservatory in 1957).

Giuleanu’s main administrative achievements, the volume tells us, consist in attempting to have a faculty comprised of only “the best Romanian professors,” in equipping the institution with the latest technology, in adding a new wing to the building and a new concert hall, in transforming the Conservatory’s music season into a professional one, and, most importantly, in establishing intense international exchanges from behind “the iron curtain” – the latter in an admittedly more permissive political context, following a relative opening up to the West, after 1964.

Andreea Chiselev analyses Giuleanu’s musicological work, offering an overview of Giuleanu’s innovative contribution to systematic Romanian musicology in her chapter “Contribuții moderne pentru o teorie a muzicii în România / Modern Contributions to a Theory of Music in Romania.” Giuleanu’s major volumes include Ritmul muzical: I. Teoria ritmului / Musical Rhythm: A Theory of Rhythm (1968), II. Evoluția ritmului de la începuturi până la Bach / II. The Evolution of Rhythm from Its Beginnings to Bach (1969), III. Ritmul în creația muzicală clasică / Rhythm in Classical Music (1990), Melodica bizantină / Byzantine Melodics (1981), and Tratatul de teoria muzicii / A Treaty of Music Theory (1986) – all of them published by Editura Muzicală, Bucharest. Besides contextualising his research, through necessary comparisons with theoretical volumes such as The Rhythmic Structure of Music (1960) by Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard B. Meyer or The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (2002) by Thomas Christensen (ed.), among others, Andreea Chiselev also observes in Giuleanu’s work several elliptical statements, the result of self-censorship in accordance to Communist ideology: “Writing about instinctive rhythm, Victor Giuleanu suggests that its origins lie in mystical incantations,  but he is unable to explicitly assert it, because of the atheist ideology of the Romanian Communist regime.” (As such, he starts from the theory that music and rhythm are the direct result of the labour process, as was generally accepted in Communist societies.)

Of some interest are the startling similarities to contemporary circumstances revealed throughout the book – such as the problem of academic research in the field of music, which Giuleanu and many of his successors endeavoured to clarify “with newfound élan” to the “upper assemblies.” If things today are very much the same in a number ways, Giuleanu remains an unmistakeable figure and a genuine role model for those working in Romanian music education. 

Florinela Popa,
English Version by Dragos Manea