Romanian composition in the nineteenth century went through rapid changes, moving from a Greek-oriental sound world to a Western European one. It is interesting to examine, in this context, the musicians’ quest for a ‘national’ sound and identity. Analysis of piano miniatures or vaudeville, the favourite genre of the Romanian audience in the first half of the century, shows eclectic combinations of urban folk music with sources of inspiration borrowed from popular foreign melodies. The second half of the century seems to be marked in modern scholarship by premieres: some composers are included in Romanian history just for the merit of writing the first Romanian symphony, the first string quartet, the first opera, and so forth. Their work led towards the constitution of a ‘national language’ adapted to genres borrowed from contemporary Western European music.
In addition to demonstrating these ideas in the work of a number of Romanian composers (Josef Herfner, Ioan Andrei Wachmann, Anton Pann, Alexandru Flechtenmacher, Ludwig Anton Wiest, Carol Miculi, George Stephănescu, Constantin Dimitrescu, Gavriil Musicescu, Eduard Caudella, George Dima, Ciprian Porumbescu, Iacob Mureşianu, Dumitru Georgescu Kiriac, Alfonso Castaldi, Eduard Wachmann), the present article also encompasses two case studies. The first is Franz Liszt’s tour through the Romanian Countries, which offers a clearer image of the popular ideas circulating within the musical scene of the time. Liszt’s initiative to emphasize the national spirit through folk quotations reworked in rhapsodies should have inspired Romanian musicians; we will see whether this actually happened. The second case study concerns the musical life of Bucharest around 1900, when the directions of Romanian modern music were being traced, and cautious and selective steps were made toward harmonizing with Europe began.