I have known Alexander Graur for many years now. He is not only one of my best friends, but also one of the persons whom I respect and admire beyond words. Since today is his Birthday, I am taking the opportunity to write a few words about him, even though – in his case – a book would be more appropriate; Alexander’s activity is so rich and complex, that I fear my words will not do him justice. However, since I love to tell stories of people who honour my country, I am going to try and tell Alexander’s story to the best of my abilities.
I met Alexander Graur in the fall of 2012, in the beautiful Romanian town of Timisoara, where an exquisite organ festival was taking place, under the careful supervising of another great friend and wonderful artist – Felician Rosca, the manager and organizer of the respective festival bearing the name of Timorgelfest. Alexander Graur had been invited to Timisoara with the respective occasion, in order to conduct the three vocal-symphonic works which were being presented. Amazingly enough, one of the respective works was signed by me – my first vocal-symphonic work to be presented to the public – and one by himself, a Requiem.
We had been corresponding for a while, regarding various subjects; he was sending me articles for the musical journal I was editing (No14 Plus Minus) and I was publishing them. He was undergoing extensive and highly complex research in a field which was something of a nebula for many musicians (about 99% of them, to tell the truth). One day, out of the blue, he writes: “Did you compose a work called Le Vendredi Noir?” “Yes,” I reply shyly because I had just finished the respective work after one year of very hard work, as things are when you are at the beginning. “Okay,” he said and dropped the topic. I wanted to ask why he had made that query, but at the time he did not encourage the dialogue and later on, I would get to understand that, together with Felician Rosca, they were preparing a surprise for me. To have my work scheduled in an international Festival, it was indeed a huge unexpected surprise, and the moment when I saw my name on the poster will forever remain engraved in my heart.
As you can already notice, some of the most extraordinary memories of my life are related to Alexander Graur and Felician Rosca. About Felician I have often written, even though it is never enough; now is the time to tell you about Alexander.
Alexander Graur mostly lives in Italy, but he was born in Romania on August 30, 1952. He was interested in music since the early years; he first learnt how to play the violin, dedicating himself to the hard work which this instrument requires in order to master, doing nothing else for many years (1956-1964) afterwards, he went to George Enescu music high-school and to the Conservatory of Music, as it was called back then (now, it has been renamed as The National University of Music Bucharest). He had decided to try another instrument since the high school studies – an unusual and highly inspired choice – the trombone. He was to become one of the most exceptional trombone players of Romania, and even many years later, when he was no longer living in Romania and I was a student myself, people were talking about the great Alexander Graur. My teacher of composition had procured a recording of him playing in a work by Aurel Stroe – something which she called a historical solo trombone: the first audition of Aurel Stroe’s Orestia.
Alexander has only beautiful memories of those years in which he had dedicated his time and energy to the trombone. He was highly appreciated already and that was because he had dedicated extensive time to studying and practicing and despite the fact that he was already being invited to perform in numerous contemporary music works, written by colleagues or professors, he was also playing all the major works which were already in the history of music; within a recital, he played Bach’s two-part and three-part inventions on his trombone, which generated vivid discussion and… wonder, because – they thought – you can only do so much on a single trombone. It was the time when instrument players were exploring the limits of their own instruments and were trying to find new, fresh sounds by playing differently. Alexander was naturally among those, because he had also started to be interested in music composition, and thus exploring and testing new limits and going beyond them had become somewhat of a second nature to him (I would say, he kept this habit for a lifetime!) His trombone teacher, Ion Beldi, encouraged him to pursue his dream and so he started studying the laborious art of musical composition, with some of the greatest teachers of those times, which are considered to be part of The Golden Generation – Aurel Stroe and Stefan Niculescu. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1975, having the highest mark of all students in the country. He had studied in this institution for 11 years (1964-1975)!
As per tradition, all the graduates from composition would eventually attend the summer-school of music composition which was being organized each year in the German city of Darmstadt. With this occasion, he perfected his trombone practice with A. Rosin and his composing technique with H. Lachemann.
Years passed, and he has become increasingly interested in research; he undergoes brilliant doctoral studies at New Jersey University in the United States of America, presenting a highly-appreciated thesis with the title: “The Byzantine Diastematics”, in 2004. Here, he also starts his medical studies, specializing in psychiatry. He founds the therapeutic method breveted in the United States and which combines his two greatest passions and areas of expertise – music and medicine – moulding them into a method called Music Integrative NeurotherapyTM, unique in the world. He is certified in clinic music therapy (MT-BC).
Meanwhile, he continues to play and compose, and he is being awarded numerous prizes for interpretation and composition in the United States of America, Great Britain and Romania. Between 1990-1994 he is a member of the jury for the International Composition Contest in Torino, Italy. He also starts his teaching career, becoming a professor at Torino University in Italy, in the Neuroscience Department. He is invited to conferences and seminaries all over Italy, United States of America, China, South Coreea and Sweden. He is a member of the Science Academy of New York and associated editor to BioMed Central (Journal for Bio-Musical Engineering).
During the recent years, he worked as an Associate Professor to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, travelling for conferences throughout China, India and Romania – an occasion with which I could also attend one of his conferences held at the Faculty of Biology, a remarkable event which offered me an insight into his therapeutic method which aims to be conducive to healing, in case of moderate to severe psychiatrical problems, through composing music which is specifically adapted to the neurological patterns of each patient. The mechanics of the method are beyond my power to explain, but Alexander has detailed his method throughout numerous papers and seminaries.
As I managed to read those papers which were published in English, I could understand that Alexander’s starting point is the fact that music has been used as medicine since the dawn of mankind. We can think of the way rhythm stimulates the brain of those hearing it (say, the attendants to a ceremony) by enforcing the production of endorphins. It is therefore possible to imagine a therapeutic method which uses rhythmical patters on low tones on which short melodic motives are embroidered, on pre-pentatonic or pentatonic not-temperate modes, (the most ancient musical structures). When he is composing music specially designated for therapy, he often uses structural models of the traditional music all over the world. His justification for doing so is very common-sense: if it works since the dawn of time, it means that there is genuine healing power in the respective structure.
Alexander Graur’s Requiem is structured into seven large sections, each of them having two, three or even four subsections: Introitus (Requiem aeternam), Sequentiae 1 (Dies irae), Sequentiae 2 (Rex tremendae), Offertorium (Domine Jesu Christe), Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communio et Postcommunio (Lux aeterna, Requiem aeternam). The rhythms are clear, being employed by multiple percussion instruments (a triangle, temple-blocks, tom-toms, bongs, maracas, a gong and two timpani); the orchestration is solid and impeccably built, enhancing the main melodic themes without the use of divisi, but rather by doubling them in parallel octaves and double octaves; the harmony is of neo-modal facture; all these elements shape an ineffable atmosphere of calm, or prayer and meditation, atemporal and sublime, in which moments resembling a Gregorian chant alternate with passages which are orchestrated in Byzantine manner; there are elements which come from the Orthodox ritual, but also from the Catholic and Protestant ceremonies.
The seven sections of the Requiem are in contrast with one another at many levels: melodically as well as at a dynamic and orchestral level. The organ and the rhythmical patterns are the elements which confer cohesion and coherence to the entire musical discourse. Alexander Graur’s Requiem is an exceptionally valuable musical work which will not be forgotten.
Alexander Graur is not only a very talented composer, but also an excellent orchestra conductor; even though I could only see him once in this hypostasis, I could appreciate his good collaboration with Banatul Philharmonic together with the choir conductor Maestro Iosif Todea.
At the end of this article, I hope I was able to convey a coherent image of a complex man and artist, whomever I am honoured and proud to call a friend. Today is his birthday so I am wishing him joy, happiness and may all his dreams and wishes come true!
Happy Birthday, Alex!
If you liked this story, read through his articles below and listen to the wonderful music. You will discover – or re-discover – an artist who never gets tired of creating beauty.
Concert for trombone and orchestra (soloist: Alexander Graur)
Story by Veronica ANGHELESCU