Carmen Sylva and her contribution to turn-of-the-century music as poet, translator and patron

Date of Completion

January 2009






The primary purpose of this dissertation is to highlight Carmen Sylva's (Queen Elisabeth of Romania, 1843-1916) contribution to music, specifically, though not limited to, art song through her literary works from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Included is the most comprehensive list of composers who set Sylva's poetry and prose to date. Chapter one focuses on the historical and cultural background to Sylva's life, including a biographical account focusing on her transition to Romania from her country of birth (Germany) as consort to King Carol I (1839-1914) of Romania. Adopting Romania as her own country she spent the rest of her life introducing the world to its rich culture and history through her literary publications, the most famous being her translation of The Bard of the Dimbovitza in collaboration with Hélène Vacaresco (1864-1947) and Alma Strettell (1856-1939). Chapter two takes a closer look at the genesis of The Bard of the Dimbovitza, a collection of Romanian folk songs written and published as poems. It traces the development of the book from its original German edition to the popular English editions printed in two volumes (vol. 1, 1891, vol. 2, 1894). The popularity of the book resulted in the exposure of Romanian culture to the world, inspiring composers in Europe, Britain, and America to set songs to its verse. Some of these settings and their composers are explored in greater detail in chapter three: Arnold Bax (1883-1953), Charles T. Griffes (1884-1920), Arthur Foote (1853-1937), Sir C. H. Parry (1848-1918), and Stanley Hawley (1867-1916). Acknowledging that Sylva wrote works other than The Bard of the Dimbovitza, chapter four discusses those that were used as song texts, opera libretti and choral works, and explores settings by August Bungert (1945-1915), George Enescu (1881-1955), Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), Miguel Capllonch (1861-1935), Leo Ascher (1880-1942), and Luise von Wied (1880-1965). The appendices list over 400 song titles by over 100 composers, their poem sources, publishers and location of music where possible. ^