Filaret Barbu

The Timișoara of Filaret Barbu

Despite its stormy history, the “God-blessed Banat”, as composer Wilhelm Kienzl called it in 1883 during one of his tours in that part of our country, remained an ethnic and religious melting pot, that peaceful coexistence a result also of what we call “the spirit of Timișoara”. Metropolis of Banat County, this city was known as the “Little Vienna” (during his visit of 1809, Austrian playwright Ignaz Franz Castelli even wrote a short prelude, Timișoara, the Little Vienna), benefiting from the art of its older sister.

Banat’s musical history boasts ties with such music figures as Michael Haydn (the famous composer’s brother, who conducted in 1754 the first performance of his Missa in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis, written for the consecration of the St George Cathedral in Timișoara), composer and conductor Franz Limmer, Johann Strauss II, or Johannes Brahms. In its turn, the city copied some of the Viennese musical models, establishing, in 1871, the Timișoara Philharmonic Association and, as a consequence, it became quite the place to be for performers from Austria or elsewhere.

Among the many Romanian artists to have studied in the city of music, Vienna – Filaret Barbu, son to Iosif and Ema, born on April 16, 1903 in Lugoj, Caraș-Severin County. Familiar since early childhood with the music of lăutari bands that could be seen everywhere in Lugoj, playing from morning to late night, he developed a passion for music, studying in his home town and in Caransebeș with celebrated Romanian composer and conductor Ion Vidu. In 1922, just months after the foundation of the Association of German Singers in Banat, the Association of Romanian Choirs and Military Bands in Banat was established in Lugoj. Filaret Barbu was one of its initiators, and he would also lead the Romanian Choral Society in Lugoj, later to take its founder’s name, Ion Vidu.

Pablo Casals’ recital in the Dacia Hall in Lugoj around 1910 was pivotal to Filaret Barbu’s decision to further his musical studies, as where the Viennese opera performances by his friend Traian Grozăvescu, described by the Viennese press as “a new star on the firmament of music”. Filaret Barbu was the trustworthy witness of the great tenor’s rise and tragical early fall, writing in his memory a monograph and a collection of choral pieces, Portativ bănățean [Staves of Banat].

Between 1922 and 1926, Filaret Barbu specialised in composition and conducting at the Neues Wiener Konservatorium in Vienna, training with Josef Willer (violin), Ernst Kanitz (harmony, counterpoint). Robert Konta (history of music), Heinrich Uhlemann and Rudolf Malcher (violin), taking private lessons in composition with Edmund Eysler and conducting with Rudolf Nilius.

Filaret Barbu recalls his first steps in the Konservatorium: “Upon arriving in Vienna, I introduced myself to Professor Rudolf Nilius, an important musician and conductor at the time, leader of the Kapellmeisterschule. I was admitted and began my studies. In a quiet ambiance, with just the piano and the folk verses I had brought with me and that inspired me, I started writing: Lugojana nouă [New Piece from Lugoj], which I dedicated to my illustrious predecessor, maestro Ioan Vidu, then the 10 coruri mixte pe teme populare [10 Pieces for SATB Chorus on Folk Themes], which also appeared in print”.

Filaret Barbu was an avid follower of the Viennese musical stage, attending concerts by such conductors as Felix Weingartner, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hans Knappertsbusch or Dirk Fock and recitals by great names – Pablo Casals, Bronisław Huberman, Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe, Eugen d’Albert, Emil Sauer.

In 1924, he made his official compositional debut with the vaudeville Privighetoarea albă [The White Nightingale], to which were added other pieces – Armonii bănățene [Banat Harmonies], Nocturnă [Nocturne], Roză albă [The White Rose]. He was thinking, however, of a “completely different subject. Now that my name was already known in the Romanian musical world as a composer for the stage, the music genre that kept me awake at night and that took over me is an easy guess. Yes, operetta! Such a popular music genre”, he wrote while still in Vienna.

Back in Romania, Filaret Barbu was appointed music teacher at the Coriolan Brediceanu High School in Lugoj and conductor of the Ion Vidu Choir. In 1931, after the maestro’s death, he succeeded him as conductor of the Reuniunea română de cântări și muzică [Romanian Society for Vocal and Instrumental Performance], which would be named after the late musician.

Filaret Barbu was a prolific composer. In his beloved genre, operetta, his best-known works are Ana Lugojana [Anne of Lugoj] (1950) and Plutașul de pe Bistrița [The Rafter on the River Bistrița] (1955), the latter on a libretto by poet Traian Iancu, him too born in Banat, in the small town of Făget.

Filaret Barbu died on May 31, 1984, in Timișoara.


Luciana Ianculescu



(From the lecture at the International Music Conference, Arnold Schoenberg Centre, Musical Style Research Institute, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, 2007, Edition Musik Südost)