George Enescu and Toronto (2)

Enescu returned four more times to Toronto after his January 1937 debut. Here’s the story.

The great Romanian composer, conductor and performer made his American debut in January 1923, but did not visit Canada until his 1931-1932 tour, when he played Montreal.

Years later (in January 1937, read here more details) the Women’s Musical Club finally had him arrive to Toronto, and the locals loved it!

February 1937

Leaving Toronto in early January 1937, Enescu continued his tour South of the border. But the plan was for him to return on the shores of Lake Ontario a month later, to conduct and perform with TSO.

It must have been the Toronto premiere of the Romanian Rhapsody no 1, his world famous work first performed in 1903. The Globe and Mail was raving after the concert, listing the lovely gowns on display at the Massey Hall.

1937 was a successful and happy year for George Enescu. Later that year, in December, he married the love of his life, princess Maria (Maruca) Cantacuzino, whom he knew for over 30 years. He was 56, she was 58.

April 1938

Hard working Enescu returns to Toronto’s Massey Hall, and this pre-concert article rightfully reveals him not only as a premium violinist, but as a remarkable composer of the 20th century.

February 1939

The war was still a few months away.

For the third year in a row, George Enescu returns to Toronto as a conductor-composer-violinist. This article reveals the name of the French violin maker that Enescu used.

December 1946

After four concerts in three consecutive years (1937, 1938, 1939), Enescu’s relationship with TSO’s Sir Ernest MacMillan was flourishing. In September 1940, the great Canadian wanted to have Enescu as a guest conductor for the orchestra’s whole season. The Romanian had to decline, the war preventing him to leave Bucharest (more details here).

After this failed attempt, it would take another six dark years to have him return to Toronto. In the summer of ’46, genius violinist Yehudi Menuhin – a former student – had visited Enescu in Bucharest and convinced him to leave communist Romania for good and move to the United States. The 6th of September 1946 Enescu and his wife Maruca left by boat in the port of Constantza. He was known to never use airplanes. He was officially to tour the United States, travelling on a diplomatic passport signed by the dark communist leader Petru Groza. When arriving to New York, Menuhin arranged his mentor’s refugee status paperwork.

Enescu and Maruca decided months later to leave USA and settle in Paris instead, but while in North America he found time to return to Toronto, where he was still fondly remembered. To announce the concert, The Globe and Mail had to use a 7-year old picture from his last visit.

It was Enescu’s fifth and last appearance in Toronto. He was 65.

May 1955

Enescu’s work ethic kept him busy for the next years, but in 1950 he suffered a stroke while on stage as a conductor in London. A second stroke, in 1954, left him half paralyzed. He passed away at the beginning of May 1955, in Paris, and is buried in Pere Lachaise, close to Hector Berlioz.

September 2019

73 years after Enescu’s last visit to Toronto, a tradition is about to be born in the city that loved him so much: the George Enescu Festival. A branch of the massive festival held every two years in his homeland Romania, the inaugural edition features four world class events, one of which is in Montreal. Read all the details here.





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