Sergiu Celibidache

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Sergiu Celibidache
Sergiu Celibidache 1966.png
Born(1912-06-28)28 June 1912
Died14 August 1996(1996-08-14) (aged 84)
  • Conductor
  • Academic

Sergiu Celibidache (Romanian:  [ˈserdʒju tʃelibiˈdake] ; 11 July [ O.S. 28 June] 1912, Roman, Romania  14 August 1996, La Neuville-sur-Essonne, France) was a Romanian conductor, composer, musical theorist, and teacher. Educated in his native Romania, and later in Paris and Berlin, Celibidache's career in music spanned over five decades, including tenures as principal conductor for the Munich Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Sicilian Symphony Orchestra and several European orchestras. Later in life, he taught at Mainz University in Germany and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Celibidache frequently refused to release his performances on commercial recordings during his lifetime, claiming that a listener could not obtain a "transcendental experience" outside the concert hall. Many of the recordings of his performances were released posthumously. He has nonetheless earned international acclaim for celebrated interpretations of the classical music repertoire and was known for a spirited performance style informed by his study and experiences in Zen Buddhism. He is regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century. [1] [2]


Early life and education

Celibidache as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1946 Fotothek df pk 0000267 004.jpg
Celibidache as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1946

Sergiu Celibidache was born on 28 June 1912 [note 1] , as the son of Demostene Celibidache and Maria Celibidache, in Roman, a small city in the Moldavia region of Romania, where his father was a government official. [3] [4] He grew up in Iași, where his family soon moved after his birthday. [5] He was already improvising at the piano by the age of four, and after a traditional schooling in mathematics, philosophy and music in Iași, he was sent by his father to Bucharest and then to Paris where he continued his studies. His father had expected him to pursue a political career in Romania. [3] [5] However, Celibidache chose to enroll in the Hochschule für Musik (Academy of Music) in Berlin, Germany in 1936 where he studied composition under Heinz Tiessen and later conducting under Kurt Thomas, Walter Gmeindl and Fritz Stein. [3] [4] He continued with doctoral studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität) in Berlin where he studied philosophy with Nicolai Hartmann and Eduard Spranger and musicology with Arnold Schering and Georg Schünemann. [3] He submitted a dissertation on Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez (c. 1450–1521) and his work during the Renaissance. He received his degree in 1944. [3] [4] Throughout the 1940s, he accompanied and was romantically involved with Romanian-born dancer and choreographer Iris Barbura. During his studies in Berlin, Celibidache was introduced to Zen Buddhism through the influence of his teacher, Martin Steinke, and the tenets of Buddhism informed Celibidache's worldview and work for the rest of his life. [4] In a 1986 interview Celibidache said "I was born a Christian Orthodox, and studied philosophy, but I still couldn't find solutions to my problems. It was through Steinke that I found [...] the way of Zen. All I can say is that without Zen I couldn't have known this strange principle that the beginning is the end. Music is nothing but the materialization of this principle." [6]


Celibidache giving a conducting lesson at the Curtis Institute in 1984 to student David Bernard CelibidacheAtCurtis.jpg
Celibidache giving a conducting lesson at the Curtis Institute in 1984 to student David Bernard

Sergiu Celibidache studied in Berlin and, from 1945 to 1952, he was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Europe's most celebrated orchestra. He got his big break immediately after the war in tragic circumstances, as Leo Borchard, who had received clearance from the Americans to perform, was shot during a nocturnal car ride and no other "acceptable" (de-Nazified) conductors were available, so the job fell to Celibidache. [7] [6] However, he fought selflessly to have Furtwangler (who was a great influence on the young conductor) reinstated as orchestra leader, and from 1947 until 1952 the two shared the responsibilities of conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. [7] Celibidache later worked with radio orchestras in Stockholm, Stuttgart and Paris. He also worked in Britain in the late 1940s and 1950s, due partly to the promotional efforts of the pianist Eileen Joyce and her partner, an artists' agent. Joyce said that Celibidache was the greatest conductor she had ever worked with – "he was the only one who got inside my soul". [8] In 1970 he was awarded Denmark's Sonning Award. From 1979 until his death he was music director of the Munich Philharmonic. He regularly taught at Hochschule für Musik Mainz in Germany and in 1984 taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Teaching was a major focus throughout his life and his courses were frequently open to all without fee. Among his notable students are Françoys Bernier, Jordi Mora, Peter Perret, Bernhard Sieberer, Markand Thakar, Konrad von Abel, [9] Nils-Göran Areskoug and Tom Zelle as well as The Danish Windquintet.[ citation needed ]

He appeared in the film Ambassadors of Music (1952) where he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a complete performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Egmont overture.

His later career was marred by controversy and accusations of sexism and discrimination that came to light during a 12-year legal battle during his tenure at the Munich Philharmonic [10] due to an ongoing issue with trombonist Abbie Conant.

Personal life

In 1965, Celibidache married Ioana Procopie Dimitrescu. They had one son, Sergiu Ioan Celibidache ("Serge"), born 19 June 1968. [note 2]


Celibidache died at the age of 84 on 14 August 1996 at La Neuville-sur-Essonne, near Paris. He was buried in the Cimetière de Neuville sur Essone.


Bust of Sergiu Celibidache at his hometown in Roman Bust Celibidache.jpg
Bust of Sergiu Celibidache at his hometown in Roman

Performance style and criticism

Celibidache's approach to music-making is often described more by what he did not do instead of what he did. For example, much has been made of Celibidache's "refusal" to make recordings even though almost all of his concert activity actually was recorded with many released posthumously by major labels such as EMI and Deutsche Grammophon with the consent of his family. [11] Nevertheless, Celibidache paid little attention to making these recordings, which he viewed merely as by-products of his orchestral concerts.

Celibidache's focus was instead on creating, during each concert, the optimal conditions for what he called a "transcendent experience". Aspects of Zen Buddhism, such as ichi-go ichi-e , strongly influenced his thinking. He believed that transcendental experiences were extremely unlikely to ensue when listening to recorded music, so he eschewed them. As a result, some of his concerts did provide audiences with exceptional and sometimes life-altering experiences, including, for example, a 1984 concert in Carnegie Hall by the Orchestra of the Curtis Institute that New York Times critic John Rockwell touted as the best of his 25 years of concert-going. [12]

Celibidache was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras. [13] An oft-mentioned feature of many of his concerts, captured in the live recordings of them, is a slower tempo than what is considered the norm, while, in fast passages, his tempi often exceeded expectations. [14] In Celibidache's own view, however, criticism of a recording's tempo is irrelevant, as it is not (and cannot be) a critique of the performance but rather of a transcription of it, without the ambience of the moment, for him, a key factor in any musical performance. As Celibidache explained, the acoustic space in which one hears a concert directly affects the likelihood of the emergence of his sought-after transcendent experience. The acoustic space within which one hears a recording of one of his performances, on the other hand, has no impact on the performance, as it is impossible for the acoustic features of that space to stimulate musicians to play slower or faster.

That his recorded performances differ so widely from the majority of other recordings has led them to be seen by some as collectors' items rather than mainstream releases, 'one-offs' rather than reference recordings. [15]


Notable releases have been his Munich performances of Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Robert Schumann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Gabriel Fauré and a series of live performances with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Honours and awards

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  1. The 28 June 1912 date of birth was based on the old style Julian calendar then officially used in Romania. According to the modern Gregorian calendar that is currently used in the West, Celibidache's birthdate would be 11 July 1912.
  2. In several sources, his son's name is rendered as Serge Ioan Celebidachi.
  1. "Sergiu Celibidache – das Wesen der Musik". Focus (in German). 26 June 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  2. "Der Stachel im Fleisch des Musikbetriebs". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). 4 July 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Naxos – Sergiu Celibidache (Biography) located online here (Retrieved 31 August 2012).
  4. 1 2 3 4 EMI Classics. Sergiu Celibidache (1912–1996): Biography. located online here (Retrieved 31 August 2012).
  5. 1 2 Biography
  6. 1 2 Lang, Klaus (2015). Celibidache şi Furtwängler : marele conflict postbelic de la Filarmonica din Berlin. Bucureşti: Humanitas. pp. 16, 23. ISBN   9789735048785. OCLC   967947126.
  7. 1 2 Celibidache, Serge Ioan (2001), Sergiu Celibidache's garden, Facets Video, ISBN   1565802829, OCLC   50094469
  8. Richard Davis, Eileen Joyce: A Portrait
  9. "Konrad von Abel". Musikproduktion Höflich. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  10. Buzzarté, Monique. "We Need a Man for Solo Trombone: Abbie Conant's Story." IAWM Journal. (International Alliance for Women in Music, February 1996), 8–11. Available online here Archived 29 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine . (Retrieved 20 October 2012).
  11. James R. Oestreich (15 March 1998). "The Reticent High Priest of Munich". New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  12. John Rockwell (28 February 1984). "Debut of Sergiu Celibidache". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2007.
  13. Will Crutchfield (27 April 1989). "Sergiu Celibidache Conducts An Unhurried Bruckner 4th". New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  14. John Rockwell (29 August 1993). "When Mystic Meets Mystic". New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  15. "Conductor Sergiu Celibidache Biography". iClassics. Retrieved 17 August 2007.[ dead link ]
  16. Landeshauptstadt München Direktorium. Ehrenbürgerrecht der Landeshauptstadt München (Honorary Citizens of the Provincial Capital of Munich) located online here (Retrieved 1 September 2012).