The "Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen" by George Enescu (1881-1955)

By Hervé Roten

Story of an original musical score by Enescu, rediscovered in the EIJM’s archives

Romanian composer, but also virtuoso violonist, conductor, pianist and teacher, George Enescu was born on August 19th, 1881 in Liveni (romanian Moldova).

Child prodigy, he enters Vienna’s music school at the age of 7. He learns composition and violin, and performs regularly in public since the age of 12. In 1895, he settles down in Paris to follow music courses at the Paris music school : composition with Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré, counterpoint with André Gédalge, violin with Martin-Pierre Marsick.

In Paris, he becomes friends with Alfred Cortot, Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Maurice Ravel, Jean Roger-Ducasse, Florent Schmitt, Paul Dukas and Fernand Halphen. In 1898, Enescu dedicated to Halphen his Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen for piano and string trio. Two years later, Halphen dedicates to Enescu his Sonata in ut # minor for violin and piano, a sonata which will probably be performed by Enescu himself for its creation.
During the first world war, Enescu comes back to Romania, where he writes his Second suite for orchestra (1915) and his Second symphonia (1918), a Trio for violin, cello and piano and seven Pièces impromptues for piano. At the end of the war, he spends time between France and the United States where he regularly conducts the New-York philharmonic orchestra. He also perfoms many recitals and concerts in France, where he is accompanied by Gabriel Fauré and Richard Strauss. From 1928 on, he starts teaching violin and interpretation in Paris, Siena, New-York and Cambridge. Among his pupils, we find Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Dino Lipatti, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, Michel Schwalbé…
The second world war sees the return of Enescu in Bucarest. He blends in the musical life of the romanian capital city. Strong defender of contemporary music, he composes very modern works : the Child’s impressions for violin and piano (1940), a Quintet for piano and strings (1940) and his second Quartet for piano (1944). When peace came back, Enescu performs as a conductor or violonist In Moscow with David Oïstrakh and Emil Gilels, in Bucarest with Yehudi Menuhin or on the piano with Ernst Wallfisch. The establishment on the communist regime leads him to leave definitely. Refugee in Paris, and though he is sublect to financial and health issues, he stays very active until his death during the night of 3rd and 4th May 1955.

The circumstances around the composition of the "Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen"
The 5th of July 1898, George Enescu, who is not yet 17 years old, is invited by Fernand Halphen in Ville d’Avray, in his parents’ house. Ironical for Israelites, the house of Georges and Alice Halphen is called « The monastery » ! Enescu, classmate of Halphen in the music school, spends a very agreable time and the two friends will even continue this day until late at night. The moon is bright and gives inspiration to Enescu, who will compose a Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen for piano, violin, viola and cello, which he will dedicate to Fernand Halphen, and to whom he will give the manuscriptt.
In 2005, Fernand Halphen’s descendants donate the composer’s musical archives to
the French Center for Jewish Music, today’s European Institute for Jewish Music. Among the many documents, we find this manuscript that fell in oblivion. Some research on internet mention a draft of the musical score. Others mention this score to date between 1931 and 1936, under the slightly different name Nocturne Ville d’Avray. In 2012 is releqsed a CD dedicated to the original works of George Enescu (Georges Enescu, The Unknown Enescu, Volume One, Music for violin) in which features the Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen. This "nocturne", found in a manuscripts kept at the Romanian Cultural Institute - George Enescu Museum, is describedto be « a touching memory of the strong relationship between Enescu and Menuhin » between 1931 and 1936 ! According to Malcolm MacDonald, author of the disc’s booklet, it is during that period that Enescu wrote this "nocturne" that would have been perfomed in the Menuhin’s house, who then lived in Ville d’Avray. The reality is that Enescu only took back this yojuth composition, which he gives to be performed, particularly by Menuhin on the violin, Pierre Monteux on the viola and Maurice Eisenberg on the cello. The story erased the name of the first dedicatee - Fernand Halphen - to remember only the one of Yehudi Menuhin. We find again this error on many websites, including the French National Library.

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Manuscrit roumain
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Manuscrit Halphen

The comparison of Enescu’s two manuscripts (see above), allows to resituate the creation of the Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen in its original time and context. It is a youth work (Enescu is not yet 17 !) inspired by nature. On this sheet music, indicating that it was finished thursday 7th of July 1898 at 3h20 am, features the indications such as « nice moonlight », « rooster’s chant », « midnight rings ». That same nature will inspire Enescu one year later for his Aubade for violin, viola and cello (1899) and later a Sérénade lointaine for piano, violin and cello (1903).

Watch a video of the EIJM’s 2015 Gala Concert featuring a performaznce of the Nocturne Ville d’Avrayen according to Fernand Halphen’s manuscript
Listen to excerpts of the CD Viniciu Moroianu performs George Enescu - Pieces for piano and chamber music
See an excerpt of the sheet music republished at Salabert editions

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