My favorite things Romania

by on May 12, 2012 at 12:15 am in History, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Schubert pianist: Radu Lupu.

2. Conductor: Sergiu Celibadache.  A high variance obsessive, Amazon doesn’t seem to carry his important recordings.  At his peak he is one of the best conductors ever and can force a total rethink of the music upon you.  He demanded so much rehearsal time, and so much perfection, that he was often impossible to work with.  There is a short YouTube bit here.

3. Painter: I can’t name one, sorry.  I have seen some nice folk art icon paintings on glass, see the image at the bottom of this post.

4. Sculptor: Constantin Brâncuşi, with a preference for Bird in Space.

5. Chopin pianist: Dinu Lipatti, especially the Waltzes.

6. Producer of maxims: Emil Cioran.  I have enjoyed all of his books.

7. Poet: Paul Celan.  I am surprised he is not more widely read in the United States.  At his peaks I don’t think any 20th century poet is better or more important.

8. Novelist: Herta Müller, better in German than English, both linguistically and culturally.

9. Violinist: Georges Enescu, of course he was a composer too.

10. Mozart pianist: Clara Haskil.

11. Movie: I’ve tried a bunch of the famous recent ones, but I can’t get through them and this is from a man who gladly watched the entire 7 hour, 12 minute Sátántangó .

12. Former NBA basketball center: G. Muresan.

13. Economist: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.

The bottom line: There is some real beauty here, and aesthetic romance, but I don’t have a good theory for why novels and painting are not stronger.

1 Michael May 12, 2012 at 12:23 am

From what my professor who taught poetry, and who translates German poems quite often, tells me is that Celan has not found his “translator” that adequately captures his sentiments and feel.

Supposedly, Celan used German, and used a more archaic form of German, as an artistic act to reclaim German artistic innocence following the murder of his parents by the Nazis.

2 Nathan Tankus May 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

I’d love to read a post about what you see as good in Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s work.

3 eric May 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

I second Nathan.
A blog about Georgescu-Roegen would be interesting as I do not see (yet) how his writings fit into your work and thinking.

4 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 2:00 am

I third.

5 Tyler Cowen May 12, 2012 at 1:13 am

I forgot to mention Ionesco.

6 Rahul May 12, 2012 at 1:56 am

No culinary items on the list? Favorite Romanian food / restaurant / chef etc.?

Wondering if that is a reflection on Romanian food or a chance omission.

7 pmp May 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

I was happy to see him omitted. I understand absurdism but his work was just disappointing.

8 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:41 am

I have to say I agree. Obviously I can’t read Romanian – though I don’t think you need to for this – I’ve just read Chairs, Lesson and Rhinoceros in that English volume that’s in bookstores everywhere.

9 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:55 am

Whoops – yes, as Vlad says, Ionesco wrote in French.

10 Edward Burke May 13, 2012 at 9:41 am

So did Cioran, notoriously/famously, writing only in French after arriving in France in the late 30s and publishing in French exclusively after his French composition on decompositon was published in 1949, according to his late English translator Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnson.

11 Anthony May 12, 2012 at 1:23 am

14. Dead inventor: Henri Coandă, best known for his discovery of the Coanda effect, important in fluid dynamics and areodynamics.

12 Valentin Mandache May 12, 2012 at 2:07 am

What about Romanian historic architecture?
An internet resource is Historic Houses of Romania blog:
The country has produced a highly particular architectural style, the Neo-Romanian, that unfurled over a period of six decades, between the late c19th and the 1940s:
Bucharest is also a regional “power” as regards Art Deco and Modernist designs:

13 Valentin Mandache May 12, 2012 at 2:17 am
14 R2 May 12, 2012 at 2:55 am

Favourite gymnast: Duh.

Footballer: Gheorge Hagi

15 dearieme May 12, 2012 at 5:54 am

Did any of your assessments leave you impaled on the horns of a dilemma?

16 boris May 12, 2012 at 7:07 am

Radu, though, plays Schubert so slowly. And Schubert is best heard played on a fortepiano. Jan Vermeulen does a nice job. Did Paul Badura-Skoda ever record the piano sonatas on one? The recent profusion of fortepiano recordings now needs only to migrate to vinyl and I will be forever content.

17 eric May 12, 2012 at 9:35 am

á propos Herta Müller
In case you understand spolken German well Die Nacht ist aus Tinte gemacht is a fascinating interwiev/conversation about her childhood and life in Romania – a real spoken novel witout preexisting manuscript.

18 careless May 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

Is that cabbage, George?

19 Peter May 12, 2012 at 9:50 am

You’ve got to figure Dracula in there somehow.

20 Edward Burke May 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

No category for the likes of Mircea Eliade and Ioan Coulianu? Both were profound scholars of religion and intellectual history, and both seem to’ve been accomplished writers of fiction (I’ve never seen Coulianu’s in translation, some of Eliade’s short stories are perhaps no longer in print, but Shambhala once had an edition including the haunting “Secret of Dr. Honigberger”, while Westminster had a short collection featuring “Les Trois Graces” [no circumflex available on this keyboard]).

21 Jason May 12, 2012 at 10:05 am

I find Cioran witty and insightful, but SO depressing. I’ve been reading “The Trouble With Being Born” for about 3 years now. It’s provocative and interesting, but I can’t read more than a page or two a month without becoming a model of despair.

22 Edward Burke May 12, 2012 at 10:21 am

Many pieces in the collection “Anathemas and Admirations” from Arcade, while not cheery, are comparatively late and comparatively mild (samples, courtesy of Richard Howard’s translation: “Those children I never wanted to have–if only they knew what happiness they owe me!”, “A religion is finished when only its adversaries strive to preserve its integrity.”, “A pedagogy worthy of the name should prescribe sessions in a straitjacket.”).

23 BB May 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

Question — Tyler, before you do your next “Favorites” list, would you let the commenters try to predict your choices? Think of it as a Tyler-Turing-Test. I’d happily arrange it.

24 Scoop May 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

How about some posts on Milan? The usual list wouldn’t work, but I’d be curious about your thoughts on food and restaurants. I’d also bet that you rather like the city, which most people find cold and ugly (for Italy) because so much of it was bombed flat. So I’d like your thoughts on the key to warming up to it (assuming that you have warmed up to it).

25 vlad May 12, 2012 at 11:21 am

Painter: (some of) Victor Brauner is pretty cool.
Music: have you tried Balanescu String Quartet?

As far as some of your examples are concerned, Paul Celan and Herta Müller aren’t Romanian writers – they wrote in German. Ionesco wrote some cool stuff in Romanian, but, still, his most famous plays were written in French – so, I’m not sure whether even he qualifies as a “Romanian writer”.

I think there are only two Romanian writers worth bothering with, a recent one, Mircea Cartarescu (Nostalgia), and an older one, Urmuz, e.g. see this sample (this is where Ionesco came from):

26 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:59 am

Just did an image search – all of Brauner’s stuff looks really cool.

27 Vanya May 14, 2012 at 12:35 am

Ionesco qualifies, at least my Romanian friends seem to think so. He was culturally Romanian. But citing Müller and Celan as your favorite “Romanian” writers is a good way to make yourself unpopular in Romania, and would probably be considered downright insulting by a lot of Romanians. I was just in Bucharest and couldn’t even find Mueller in bookstores. Celan belongs in the Hapsburg Empire canon along with Joseph Roth and Kafka.

Arguably Mueller is also a very late “Hapsburg” writer, probably the last, although I think she simply considers herself German. (She is an excellent writer, btw, and “eric” above makes an excellent recommendation).

28 Ed May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

The wikipedia article on Celibidache is pretty interesting.

29 Cliff Arroyo May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

On movies, did you try this?

If “The lives of others” is the definitive (so far) movie on the communist experience in action then I nominate this as the definitive (so far) movie on the real post-communist reality in action (as opposed to theoretical models of how it was supposed to work).

30 chuck martel May 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

What about soprano Angela Gheorghiu?

31 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:31 am

Yes, she’s great.

32 Ed Fett May 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

33 JS May 13, 2012 at 12:26 am

+1 !

34 mkt May 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Yep, I’d be surprised if Tyler couldn’t get through that one, good film.

35 John Murray May 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm

For a Romanian opera you might try Nicolae Bretan’s Luceafarul. Very sweet and melodious.

36 Peter May 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm

The politician who was the most nonchalant about his execution: Nazi-era leader Ion “The Hat Waver” Antonescu.

Actually the three others were pretty laid-back about it too.

37 Colin May 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Have you looked at these?
Painter / poet: Serban Chelariu
Writers: Mircea Eliade, Traian Chelariu
Films: Unforgettable Summer, The Crazy Stranger, Filantropica (films that are slightly less recent that you may not have seen yet).
Musicians: there should be more in this category than just those in the classical genre. Thoughts, anyone?

Great post, Tyler!

38 Cristian May 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm
39 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:57 am

Wow, that Tonitza guy is really good! How awesome is that Fetita Padurarului? Amirite?

40 jpmorgan May 13, 2012 at 1:19 am

Lupu is currently the greatest living musician on the planet.

41 jpmorgan May 13, 2012 at 1:20 am

I’m not just saying that either, in sarcasm, given my write-in name is jpmorgan–which signifies a lapse in credibility. Seriously, Radu rocks!!!!!

42 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:33 am

Dinu Lipatti’s Chopin Waltzes are beautiful.

That’s pretty much all I know from that list, though! Oh, and I’ve heard of Celan.

43 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:35 am

Whoops, almost forgot, I’ve seen Brancusi’s Maiastra! In real life! So close I could almost touch it. But they don’t let you, though.

44 Saturos May 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

Btw, what’s brought on the recent Romania focus?

45 Saturos May 15, 2012 at 11:25 am

Oh, I see. When is Tyler coming back to America?

46 mike May 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Producer of maxims.also enjoy his books.

47 TallDave May 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I had a summer fling with a Romanian girl a few years back. She was very, ahem, sexually adept.

48 Narcis May 14, 2012 at 2:39 am

Painters: Nicolae Grigorescu, Stefan Luchian, Theodor Aman
Movie: Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave)
Soprano: Angela Gheorghiu
and Mircea Eliade, Constantin Noica, Traian Vuia, Aurel Vlaicu, Victor Babes, Henry Coanda, Nicolae Iorga, Mihai Eminescu and many others.

49 Mike May 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

Something that may change your feelings about Celibidache, if not musically maybe on a more personal level:

50 mkt May 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm

One thing that I haven’t seen Tyler mention: favorite former world empire. Romania sees itself as a former part of the Roman Empire (note e.g. the name of the country). Granted, it indeed was part of the Roman Empire, but so was much of Europe and the Mediterranean, but most of them seem to have moved on from that, and its not as if Dacia (the Roman province that became Romania) was a central part of the Roman Empire. When I was there several years ago, the TV kept showing documentaries about the Roman Empire; one of the popular models of automobile on the streets was called the Dacia; etc.

51 Heinz Roggenkemper May 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm

As for Celibidache: there are a lot of recordings available on the German Amazon site ( – a little surprising, since he hated recordings, if I recall correctly.

52 Anca May 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Hi, I understand your reserve for Romanian movies – some say they’re dark and sad and focus too much on the communist period. Yet, you might be able to find Tales of the Golden Age in the US. It has specific humor, and I hope you’ll like it.

53 BenjaminL May 15, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Per capita, Romania produces an impressive number of successful contemporary visual artists:

Dan Perjovschi, Lia Perjovschi, Mircea Cantor, Ion Grigorescu, Ciprian Mureşan, Victor Man, Diet Sayler, Dan Mihălţianu, Irina Botea, Aurelia Mihai, Matei Bejenaru, Adrian Ghenie, Andrea Faciu, Ştefan Constantinescu, Iosif Kiraly, Belu-Simion Fainaru…

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