George Enescu occupies an unassailable position in the history of Romanian music. Among the leading violinists of his generation, he won a wide reputation also as a composer. although his international fame has always rested rather on his achievement as a performer and as an influential teacher, the principal musical influence in the early life of the young Yehudi Menuhin. His pupils included Arthur Grumiaux. Yvry Gitlis and Christian Ferras, and Menuhin has expressed his gratitude for the musical breadth of Enescu¡¦s teaching and his amazing technical and musical command, coupled with a phenomenal musical memory.
Enescu was born in 1881 in the Romanian town that now bears his name. He studied first at the Vienna Conservatory and later with Marsick at the Paris Conservatoire, where he concentrated at the same time on composition, under the guidance of Massenet and Gabriel Fauré. His career largely centred on Paris, but at the same time he busied himself with the development of music in Romania, where his musical influence was profound and effective, both in the training of young musicians and in the stimulus he offered to Romanian composers.
The Cello Sonata, Opus 26 No. 1, was completed in 1898, during the period of Enescu’s study at the Paris Conservatoire. The composer, now seventeen, had already written a considerable amount of music, including the four orchestral works he was later to describe as "school" symphonies, a violin concerto, two Romanian Suites and much else. The sonata has never found a place in the standard cello and piano repertoire, although the composer, also an accomplished pianist, played it with the cellist Pablo Casals in a recital in 1907. In four thematically related movements that follow to some extent the example of César Franck, the sonata opens with a large-scale sonata-form movement. There follows a scherzando movement, towards the end of which the cellist must tune his bottom string down a whole tone, a practice for which Dvorák among others offers a precedent. There is a dark-hued slow movement and a finale that combines the contrapuntal with the lyrical.
The position of Heitor Villa-lobos in Brazil is comparable in some respects to that of Enescu in Romania. Villa-Lobos, however, was never a virtuoso performer, in spite of his early experiences as a cellist, under his father’s encouragement. As a young man he spent much time exploring the varied forms of folk and popular music of his native country. local success was followed by formative years in Paris, where he might have stayed, had it not been for the possibilities opened for him under the nationalist Vargas government in Brazil from 1930. At home he was entrusted with the task of devising an appropriate system of musical education, leading to the foundation of the Conservatory in Rio in 1942, tasks that had a marked effect on his style of composition.
The years in Paris saw the composition of the remarkable and varied series of Chôros, their title taken from a popular form of street music in Rio de Janeiro. Villa-Lobos followed this series of fourteen works with nine of similar variety under the title Bachianas Brasileiras, written between 1929 and 1945 and suggested by the similarities he perceived between the music of J.S. Bach and Brazilian folk-music. The Prelude O canto do capadócio (Song of the Cheat) and the Aria O canto da nossa terra (Song of Our Land) were arranged for cello and piano by the composer from the second of the Bachianas Brasileiras, an orchestral work completed in Rio in 1930. Sonhar (To Dream) was written in 1914, the Berceuse in 1915 and O canto do cisne negro (Song of the Black Swan) during the same period. These compositions formed part of the young composer’s concert repertoire during those years in which he was seeking to enhance his reputation and career in Brazil. Divagacao (Divigation), which includes an optional drum part, was written in 1946, at the start of the final epoch of the life of Villa-Lobos, during which he devoted himself increasingly to compositions for virtuoso performance.