Famous Romanians: conductor Sergiu Celibidache

Sergiu Celibidache was a famous Romanian conductor and composer who is best known for his high artistic standards as well as his meticulous rehearsal style. He always conducted from memory and he only made a couple of studio recordings, believing that recordings represented “the negation of music”.

By Alexandra Fodor

Sergiu Celibidache was born in 1912 in Roman, north of Romania. In 1936 he entered the Berlin Academy of Music while continuing studies in the psychology of music and in philosophy at Friedrich Wilhelm University. Celibidache completed his education in 1944 with a PhD on Josquin Desprez’ thoughts.

In 1945, he made his conducting debut at the Berlin Philharmonic, and he held the job until Furtwangler’s return in 1952. He is remembered for his hard work in improving the orchestra’s repertoire, including more than 120 non-German works, by Barber, Britten, Copland, Poulenc, Ravel, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and others, that the orchestra had never previously played.

In 1948, he made his US debut on a tour with the Berlin Philharmonic and in the same year he went in UK for concerts with the London Philharmonic.

Between 1964 and 1971 he was named chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stockholm and he held similar positions at the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (1971-1977) and the Orchestre National de France in Paris (1973-1975).

Celibidache became famous through his spectacular shows, his expressive and fascinating gestures and through his original, unique thinking when performing in a variety of musical styles. An often mentioned feature of many of his concerts was a slower tempo than what was considered the norm, while in fast passages, his tempos often exceeded expectations.

Celibidache taught Phenomenology of Music at various universities such as Mainz University in Germany or Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (1985) and his courses were often free.

In 1979 he was named artistic director of the Munich Philharmonic, which became one of the best orchestras in the world.

Celibidache composed works of his own, including a Requiem, four symphonies, a piano concerto and an orchestral suite, which he recorded, with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. He died on August 14, 1996 at the age of 84.

Almost all of his recordings were released posthumously by EMI Classics and Deutsche Grammophon and includes albums such as The Celibidache Edition (2000), Schumann & Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos (2002) Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 3-5, 7-9 (2004), Faure: Requiem – Stravinsky: Symphony Of Psalms (2005), Brahms: Symphony No. 4 (2007), Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor & The Nutcracker Suite (2009), Classical Masters – Sergiu Celibidache (2010).

In 2009, the Columbia Country Civic Orchestra hosted the First Annual USA Sergiu Celibidache Conducting Seminar.