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ROMANIAN ATHENAEUM
The history of a building that represents the "Heart of Romanian culture"

Building-symbol of national culture, the Romanian Athenaeum, built in the heart of Bucharest 120 years ago (1886-1888), became the architectural and spiritual exponent not only of a city, of a Capital, but of a nation. Romania's great personalities and scholars gave lectures here, all the established and young professional artists of the country performed here, many world-class bands and soloists took the podium here, masterpieces of local musical literature were released "in first audition" here , here were organized the first extensive exhibitions, retrospectives of painting and sculpture of the masters of national plastic art, kings and queens, politicians and distinguished guests from abroad came here to participate in events of national and universal importance in - in a word, at the Romanian Athenaeum, moments of historical importance took place that were entered in the golden book of our people.

 

Few people know today that the Palace of the Romanian Athenaeum was built with the money from a public subscription, following the organization of a national lottery (500,000 tickets worth one leu), the appeal addressed to the citizens by the naturalist Constantin Esarcu (1836-1898), the founder of the Athenaeum Society Romanian, sounding like a popular call, through a downright comical and banal slogan: "Give one Leu for the Athenaeum". The idea of the call surprisingly turned into a lesson of unity, of awakening national consciousness. Conceived by the French architect Albert Galleron, following the scientific research and indications of Alexandru Odobescu, revised and completed by a bunch of Romanian specialists (Al. Orascu, Ion Mincu, Ion Socolescu, Grigore Cerkez, Cucu Starostescu), the circular building was due to the utilization the already existing foundations in the Episcopal Garden that were to serve for the construction of a circus. Inspired by ancient Greek temples, the edifice surprises at first sight with a historical colonnade that supports a triangular pediment.

On the ground floor, the impressive marble lobby includes the 12 Doric columns supporting the concert hall. Four monumental baroque spiral staircases in Carrara marble, unfolded with balconies on the intermediate floor, connect the hall and annexes (offices, rehearsal rooms, booths for soloists and conductor, etc.). Arranged in the form of ancient Greco-Roman amphitheatres, the almost 1,000 seats (three ground floor areas and two circular rows with 52 boxes, in the middle with a central box) offer perfect visibility from any corner and impeccable hearing. The perfection of the sound is due to the huge dome (richly decorated) that "absorbs" the instrumental and vocal background from the podium, to distribute it through reverberation to the listeners, with the entire range of harmonics up to the finest timbral colors and nuances. It seems that the exceptional acoustics of the sound cavity, specific to the Romanian Athenaeum, placed the hall among the most successful constructions of this kind not only in Europe, but in the whole world. The fresco, evoking the history of the Romanian people in 25 episodes, made over five years by the painter Costin Petrescu, the organ installed in 1939 following the material aid of George Enescu, the numerous technical improvements produced after the earthquakes and the bombing of 1944, from the end of the Second World War, but especially the changes from 1966-1967 (the introduction of air conditioning, the restoration of the ceiling, the change of armchairs, the redistribution of the boxes, the widening of the forecourts, etc.) transformed the Romanian Athenaeum into a unique architectural complex in the center of the Capital. For over half a century, it has been the headquarters of the "George Enescu" Philharmonic, and since 1958 the "Headquarters" of the "George Enescu" International Festivals.

Launching cradle of Romanian musicians, from Enescu and Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Cella Delavrancea to Ion Voicu, Lola Bobescu, Radu Aldulescu, George Georgescu, Dimitrie Dinicu, Eduard Wachmann, Alfonso Castaldi, Ionel Perlea, DG Kiriac, Constantin Silvestri, Elena Teodorini, D. Popovici-Bayreuth, Zina de Nori, Theodor Rogalski, Alfred Alessandrescu, Iosif Conta, Cristian Mandeal, Erich Bergel, Horia Andreescu, Valentin Gheorghiu, Antonin Ciolan, Ion Nonna Otescu, Mircea Basarab, Mihai Brediceanu, Egizio Massini, etc. The Romanian Athenaeum offered Bucharest music lovers unforgettable meetings with Pietro Mascagni, Vincent Indy, Richard Strauss, Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Felix Weingartner, Hermann Scherchen, Erich Kleiber, Pierre Monteux, Clemens Krauss, Hermann Abendroth, Vaclav Talich, Herbert von Karajan, Carl Bahm, Wilhelm Bakhaus, Claudio Arrau, Marguerite Long, Wilhelm Kempff, Henryk Szeryng, Alfred Cortot, Arthur Rubinstein, Pierre Fournier, Zino Francescatti, Jacques Thibaud, Pablo Casals, Walter Gieking, David Oistrah, Yehudi Menuhin , Monique de la Bruchollerie, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonid Kogan, Ruggiero Ricci, Daniil Shafran, Dmitri Bashkirov, Christian Ferras, Nikita Magaloff, Sviatoslav Richter, etc.

Temple of Romanian art and culture, the Romanian Athenaeum remains, after 120 years, not only a building of universal heritage, representative as architecture for Romania and the Balkans (with reference to Greek antiquity), but also a symbol of a people's spiritual tradition . And if the original circular foundation was never dreamed of by the founders, architects and builders as an ideal form for an architectural monument (there were voices in the era who criticized the unusual technical solution), here is the time for the descendants of the culture of ancient Dacia to become a turning stage not only of history, but also of art in the context of Europe. "Riding" for three centuries (the equestrian foundation turned out to be basaltic), the Romanian Athenaeum opened wide its doors to enlightened universal spirits, who met in Bucharest, to fraternize with the natives of the lands at the mouths of the Danube. Although the founders dreamed that all the sister arts would find their place under the dome of this cultural forum, yet it seems that few realized that the exceptional natural acoustics of the hall give only music a climate of plenary, singular affirmation, becoming the parent house for the great personalities and talents of the world. To perform on the podium of the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest today is equivalent in lyric art to appearing on the stage of the Scala Theater in Milan. The temple in the heart of the Capital, built 120 years ago, has become the immortal "visiting card" of contemporary Romania.

Text by Viorel Cosma

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