Memory, Enchantment, Dream: The Later Chamber Works of George Enescu

James Savage-Hanford

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis seeks to engage (philosophically, analytically, historically) with George Enescu’s later chamber works, dating mainly from the period 1935–1944. Although Enescu’s works are finally beginning to reach a wider audience outside of his native Romania, within the UK his music still suffers from a relative neglect – both in the concert hall and in Anglophone scholarship. I argue that the quiet radicalism of Enescu’s compositional output poses important questions for the field of musicology, and easily merits a position at the forefront of twentieth-century art music.

Difficult to pin down in terms of any conventional stylistic narrative, Enescu’s musical language (particularly in the forms that it took following the completion of his opera Oedipe) seems somehow trapped between Romanticism and Modernism, boasting an intricate complexity that is also highly corporeally expressive. A closer investigation of Enescu’s later chamber works yields a fully developed musical engagement with several important aesthetic categories which aid a better understanding of his frequently elusive processes. Memory and time, enchantment, and dream are each key themes through which we might further reassess Enescu’s contribution to musical modernism. In exploring these categories, I draw on a range of largely contemporaneous thinkers (both French and Romanian, thereby reflecting what I understand to be Enescu’s cultural geographical positioning) whose own writings reveal a similar preoccupation with modern conceptions of time and memory; ‘ecstatic’ or poeticised experiences within the everyday; and the increased role of the unconscious and the imaginary within the life of the modern subject.

More specifically, I look at the ways in which Enescu’s music might encapsulate and re-construct various mnemonic modes (both within a broader structural and temporal context, and more locally in terms of the experiential effects of remembering); how it employs ‘strategies of enchantment’ (including drawing on a childlike way of ‘seeing’ the world) as a means of counteracting the common understanding of modernity as heralding a ‘decline in mystery’; and the ways in which it might evoke a ‘dream-logic’ and thereby conform with the aesthetic notion that music might itself represent a mode of dreamlike translation. Throughout the thesis, I endeavour to draw these strands together through a broader consideration of questions relating to musical modernism, embodiment, and a phenomenology of listening.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Johnson, Julian, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Enescu
  • Memory
  • Temporality
  • Dream
  • Enchantment
  • 20th-Century Music
  • Philosophy
  • Phenomenology
  • Analysis

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