Liviu Dănceanu

National University of Music Bucharest

The Vocation of Distributivity1

 

          On April 26, George Draga would have turned seventy-five. Twenty-five of these years (that is, a third of a lifetime!) he spent as an editor of Muzica journal, looking after the contents of issue after issue of a periodical that had to be tuned to all sorts of highly subjective tonalities or, even harder, had to negotiate with the obstacles assiduously raised by the cultural nomenklatura of the time.
           He was a passionate servant of truth. Of the great truth in terms of which one does not exist in the world by oneself and cannot stay the same for ever in a universe which, in its turn, keeps changing.  George Draga knew that truth was what made things simpler, not more complicated. He almost always had half a smile in a corner of his mouth. And, more importantly, deep in his eyes. An essential smile: one is paid for a smile; one is rewarded with a smile; one is braced up with a smile; and the mere quality of a smile can make one start afresh, carry on, hope...  He was also a passionate worker, being proud of the job he was doing, as that work earned a living for his child, so it couldn’t be an ignoble effort, since it changed into a child’s smile. 
           But maybe George Draga’s main passion was responsibility.  When you ride a stallion and the stallion gets lost, the fault is not the stallion’s.  It is as if, when one declines being responsible for the losses, one cannot be responsible for the victories either. Those victories, as much as the failures of his forced labour’s offspring – the Muzica journal – were ranked like those of the parent who, if his son has sinned, feels dishonoured himself, does penance or goes on mourning, as the son is part of himself.  They say that being led into temptation means being tempted to obey the argument of intelligence when the spirit is asleep. It is not intelligence that makes people different, even though there are various degrees of intelligence, which generate hierarchies, but a kind of understanding of things which simply exists or does not exist. It is what we call character. That is, benevolence, decency and right judgement. George Draga had them all aplenty. 
           Unfortunately, his contemporaries did not value human substance much and severely neglected Being. After I met George Draga I began to refuse to pass judgement on my fellow beings based on the formulae that justified their decisions.  It is all too easy to be wrong when you blame it all on the meaning of one’s words or the direction of one’s deeds. When someone is walking down the street one can’t tell if he is leading towards love or hatred.  And, at any rate, the question remains: what kind of man is he?  Only then can one tell what his inclinations and direction are.  After all, man always goes in the direction of what he feels inclined to. 
           And George Draga had, maybe more than anything else, the vocation of distributivity: he understood that, if what you receive can sometimes be stolen from you, what you give for free, no one can take away from you. Sometimes he went as far as sacrifice. But sacrifice means neither amputation, nor repentance. It is, essentially, a gesture and, no doubt, a way of being. It is also giving yourself away to the others who are your brothers in redemption. It is all too easy to be tempted to believe that the land we toil is a sum total of personal interests, whereas in fact it is the sum total of our gifts to others.  This is a temptation which, consciously, George Draga never fell prey to.what you give for free, no one can take away from you. Sometimes he went as far as sacrifice. But sacrifice means neither amputation, nor repentance. It is, essentially, a gesture and, no doubt, a way of being. It is also giving yourself away to the others who are your brothers in redemption. It is all too easy to be tempted to believe that the land we toil is a sum total of personal interests, whereas in fact it is the sum total of our gifts to others.  This is a temptation which, consciously, George Draga never fell prey to.

English Version by Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru

1 The text was read in Romanian at “George Draga: Remember 75”, National “George Enescu” Museum, Bucharest, 28 April 2010 and was then published in Ateneu No. 6/June 2010.



Despina Petecel-Theodoru

Romanian Radio, Bucharest

Concert Mass
“In Search of Lost Time” 2

 

          The renewed attention given to the creation of composer George Draga, through a series of recitals, concerts and programmes of recorded works, organized and hosted by the National “George Enescu” Museum since 2006 and now through the publication of his hitherto unpublished works composed in the last eight years of his life (2001-2008) by the Musical Publishing House is more than a debt of honour for our musical institutions. It is a necessary act of reconsidering a work of authentic musical value, which is being revealed to us in all its complexity, even though, unfortunately, rather late.
           Alongside colleagues of the same generation such as Liviu Glodeanu, Mihai Moldovan, Tiberiu Olah, Aurel Stroe, Myriam Marbe, Cornel Ţăranu or the somewhat older (by a decade) Ştefan Niculescu and Anatol Vieru (the latter being his mentor in the fields of composition and orchestration), George Draga was promising to become a distinct voice in late twentieth-century Romanian music as early as his student years. Proofs of this are his Piano Sonata (1962) and some other orchestral pieces that followed and which confirmed his talent and the wide span of his musical thinking: Concert Music (1968), Heterophonies (1969), Concert Overture No. 1 (1969), Concert Overture No. 2 (1974), Prelude for String Orchestra and Wind Quintet (1971), Sarmizegetusa Symphonic Poem for Orchestra (1982), as well as a series of chamber and vocal-symphonic pieces.
However, his work as editor of the Muzica journal for a full three decades (1963-1993) – in which he became involved as soon as he graduated from the Bucharest Conservatoire, where he studied with Professors Ion Dumitrescu, Nicolae Buicliu, Anatol Vieru, Tudor Ciortea – as well as the following five years’ work (1993-1998) as a museographer at the National “George Enescu” Museum – considerably diminished the time and energy required by a sustained creative process. On top of this all, the unfortunate stroke he had in 1998 isolated him from the Romanian music environment for a while, extinguishing his wish to compose!
           Nevertheless, after going through a tough inner struggle and after discovering the benefits of the Sibelius computer programme for writing music scores, around 1999-2000 George Draga decided to return to his lifelong vocation, composition, and turned it into his modus vivendi, using it to “reinvent himself”. From that moment on he effectively started on a quest “in search of lost time”, working assiduously, feverishly, as if aware that he only had a few years left to make up for over three decades of entrapment within the mechanisms of administrative duties!
           The drastic schedule he imposed upon himself allowed him to rethink and rewrite a series of compositions dating back to his youth, while also expanding his preoccupations to genres he hadn’t approached previously: choir, Lied, works inspired from folk music, brass band and vocal-symphonic music drawing on religious themes. George Draga could finally breathe – but at what cost?! – the air of the freedom to write as dictated by his inner nature, not by the political commandments of the pre-1989 age.
           His main choice, however, was the symphonic genre, on which he focused with an impressive strength of will – considering the precarious state of his health – and to which he dedicated no less than fourteen such opuses, the last thirteen being finalised between 2001-2008. It is the genre that allows him to express unhindered his leaning towards monumental sonorous architecture, towards the variety of tone colour, ample harmonic developments and especially Bach-derived polyphony, which he places at the foundations of his own musical thinking, so in tune with his own nature, governed by the triad of the “classical man’s” aesthetic: rhythm, proportion, equilibrium and harmony.
           The passion and skill with which he handled the canons of tradition, as well as his receptivity towards the musical language innovations of his time destined George Draga to achieve mixtures of great plasticity, suppleness and richness of orchestral colouring. He draw bridges between Romanian ethos, heterophony and polyphony – to create that “heterophonised polyphony” of a kind that brought him close to Ştefan Niculescu or Aurel Stroe – as well as between heterogeneous rhythms coming from the dynamics of Transylvanian folk dance and Webernian pointillism, or between the melancholy modalism specific to autochtonous folk music and the one of an oneiric, impressionistic nature.
In the good tradition of the Baroque, but also Romantic style, or in the line of some of the modern composers, among whom I would mention Benjamin Britten, George Draga focuses his conceptual interest on variation, a technique that offers him the possibility to integrate indigenous thematic patterns within a universal context. Therefore, the year 2007 was to be exclusively dedicated to a cycle of Variations on themes by Händel, Orlando di Lasso, Palestrina, but also on a Hymn by Sabin Drăgoi and on an Old Romanian Carol.
           George Draga’s art of integrating various structures and languages in a unitary form of coherent expression is defined and consolidated by every score. The dynamic, strengthened by stresses on sonorous intensity and timbrality transforms each of his compositions into an alert, inventive text, exhibiting a simple, fundamental beauty. This constant wish to avoid monotony can be noticed even in the way in which various works follow each other: symphonies alternate with suites of Romanian Folk Dances (preferably of Transylvanian inspiration, composed between 2002-2007), Divertimento in Classical Style (2005) or a series of Concerts – for flute and orchestra (2006), bassoon and orchestra (2006), oboe and orchestra (2007) –, the first Rhapsody for Orchestra, “Transylvania” (2001), quartets, sonatas and sonatinas, etc. While he was composing the Quintet for Brass Wind Instruments and Theme with Variations for Flute and Piano (2002), he was also shaping the 12 Psalms (in the score order: 92, 62, 9, 18, 19, 23, 66, 32, 33, 42, 103, 1, completed in 2002), religious Christmas and New Year’s Eve Cantatas (2004 and 2005), and the Concert Mass for Mixed Choir and Orchestra (2005).
           To the one who peruses the score of the Concert Mass, a whole sonorous world is revealed, which is as simple in expression as it is complex in technique and language. The author associates thematic motifs, repetitive rhythmic-melodic-harmonic formulae, interval leaps that go over the octave, linear and canonic counterpoint structures, direct and inverted leit-motifs, compact harmonies generated by vertical overlaps of the sounds of the whole orchestra and choir, and horizontal ones which create textures of polyphonised heterophonies, timbral-thematic mixtures, etc.
           What seems remarkable to me is the manner in which George Draga operates an exquisite double transfer of identities between the Catholic prayer characteristic to the mass form and the typical Romanian carol (from the Banat area). It is a procedure that he also applies in 12 Psalms, where he resorts even to songs from children’s folklore to underline the perfect purity of the sacred texts, such as for instance, in Psalm 62, “My soul finds rest in God alone” – where the allusion to Iepuraş, coconaş (a popular nursery rhyme whose title roughly translates as Little Lord Rabbit) is obvious. The same is true of Psalm 32, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven” or Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water”, where the insertions from children’s folklore stress the psalmist’s state of exuberance, or as in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”, throughout which we
           hear the motif of the carol Moş Crăciun cu plete dalbe (Snowy-Haired Father Christmas).
           In the Concert Mass this transfer takes place on an almost metaphysical level, reminding one of J. S. Bach’s frequent way of transposing a profane cantata into a religious one identically, changing only the lyrics. The Credo section is the most eloquent in this respect. After the strident, repetitive seventh and minor ninth, tenth or even fifteenth interval leaps and after the compact-harmonic ascent of the winds and choir suggesting the timbre of the biblical trumpets (as in Kyrie and Gloria), the Credo section – where the choir is missing – appears as a moment of calm. It is a smooth floating of the strings, in polyphonic treatment, in parallel with the mezzosoprano’s monody or chanting in a Dorian mode, based on major seconds and perfect fourths or fifths. The mezzosoprano recites the Credo in Latin with a fervour that is not without a certain warmth, favoured by the almost spiral pattern which suggests a shell shape, sketched by the tight play of related intervals. The prayer characteristic to the Catholic religious service is thus permeated by the gentle modulation of the Romanian carol and the other way round. George Draga’s refined inspiration seems to me comparable to the resourcefulness of the anonymous folk painters who depicted some of the Saints in the frescoes on the exterior walls of Northern Moldavian monasteries – such as Voroneţ – in surplices bordered with Romanian motifs. From this point of view, too, Credo remains the most accomplished and the most expressive part of the Mass, as an axis of symmetry that has all the strengths of a Byzantine orthodox icon.
           Sanctus returns to the frenetic dynamics of Gloria. Majestic and solemn at the same time, the well-marked rhythm emanates a sententious atmosphere, like an axiom enounced by the choir with the firmness of certainty. George Draga manifests here his appetite for the mathematical, ascetic rigour of harmony and counterpoint once again. Agnus Dei perpetuates the almost dramatic oratoric atmosphere in Sanctus, coming rather
           close to the archaic, medieval spirit of a requiem pro defunctis – which is actually one of the varieties of the mass form – owing to the morbid timbre of the viola, the compact orchestral unison and the obsessive repetitiveness of rhythmic-harmonic configurations that evolve vertically.
           Once again, through his Concert Mass, George Draga proves to be not only a master of the science of composition, but he also shows his capacity to sublimate its strictness, making it accessible to non-specialised audiences. Whoever listens to his works carefully will notice the easiness, the sincerity, the naturalness, but also the confidence with which George Draga builds his discourse, the force and delicacy which he alternates in the decisive moments of musical becoming, the ability of his harmonic, counterpoint and rhythmic-melodic treatments, the tension and relaxation which are balanced so as to maintain the audience’s curiosity and participation, continuously aiming at the concordance of contraries. Just like the man, George Draga the musician knew how to say much in very little and, most of all, he never cared for fashions, but only for his inner need to adopt one form of expression or another, with no fear of being considered outdated or too sensitive for the present time, without repressing his admiration for previous ages or for folk sources which are always still alive. George Draga was an incorruptible, exemplary character, whose attributes are reflected in every work and whose “code” could only be deciphered by those of a kin substance, who could identify themselves in “the other” through unmediated knowledge. By virtue of all these, his compositions remain a territory “to discover” and I do hope that this first step made by the Musical Publishing House will not be an isolated one.

English version by Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru

2 This article is a slightly different version of the text published as Foreword to the score of the Concert Mass by George Draga, Editura Muzicală (Musical Publishing House), Bucharest, 2010.

3 The remark belongs to his daughter, Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru.

4 In 2001 George Draga produced Symphony No. 2 – 38 years after his Symphony No. 1 (1963) – actually an orchestral development of his Sonata for piano No.1 (1962). This was followed by Symphonies No. 3 and No. 4 in 2002, Symphonies No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 in 2005, Symphonies No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10 in 2006, and Symphonies No. 11, No. 12, No. 13 and No. 14 in 2008.