Sergiu Celibidache

Sergiu Celibidache giving a conducting lesson at the Curtis Institute in 1984 to student David Bernard

Sergiu Celibidache (Romanian: [ˈserd͡ʒju t͡ʃelibiˈdake]; 11 July [O.S. 28 June] 1912  14 August 1996) was a Romanian conductor, composer, 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 of the concert hall. Many of the recordings of his performances were released posthumously. Nonetheless, he 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. His later career was marred by controversy and accusations of sexism and discrimination that came to light during a 12-year legal battle that dominated his tenure at the Munich Philharmonic.[1]


Early life and education

Sergiu Celibidache was born on 28 June 1912[note 1] in Roman, a small town in North East Romania, where his father was a government official.[2][3] Early in his youth, he began studying piano and after traditional schooling in Romania, he was sent by his father to Bucharest and then to Paris where he studied music, philosophy and mathematics.[2] His father had expected him to pursue a political career in Romania.[2] 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.[2][3] 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.[2] 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.[2][3] 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.[3]


Sergiu Celibidache studied in Berlin and, from 1945 to 1952, he was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. He 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".[4] 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 Mainz University 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, Markand Thakar, Konrad von Abel,[5] Nils-Göran Areskoug and Tom Zelle as well as The Danish Windquintet.

He appeared in the film Botschafter der Musik where he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a complete performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Egmont overture.

One controversial incident during his tenure with the Munich Philharmonic was a protracted legal battle to oust principal trombonist Abbie Conant that lasted 12 years, with Conant ultimately prevailing. Judge Angela Mack ruled that the City of Munich through the orchestra had broken the law concerning the equal treatment of employees.[6] A detailed description of the case and the sexism Ms. Conant had to endure can be found in an internet article published by her husband, William Osbourne. Her audition and controversy is discussed in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink.


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

Personal life

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


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.[7] 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.[8]

Celibidache was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras.[9] 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 tempos often exceeded expectations.[10] 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.[11]


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.

Honors and awards


  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. 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. (Retrieved 20 October 2012).
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Naxos – Sergiu Celibidache (Biography) located online here (Retrieved 31 August 2012).
  3. 1 2 3 4 EMI Classics. Sergiu Celibidache (1912–1996): Biography. located online here (Retrieved 31 August 2012).
  4. Richard Davis, Eileen Joyce: A Portrait
  5. Konrad von Abel,and Phenomenology of Music,"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-14. (Retrieved 25 November 2013)
  6. "Aus dem Blech gefallen". Der Spiegel. 28 October 1991. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  7. James R. Oestreich (15 March 1998). "The Reticent High Priest of Munich". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  8. John Rockwell (28 February 1984). "Debut of Sergiu Celibidache". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  9. Will Crutchfield (27 April 1989). "Sergiu Celibidache Conducts An Unhurried Bruckner 4th". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  10. John Rockwell (29 August 1993). "When Mystic Meets Mystic". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  11. "Conductor Sergiu Celibidache Biography". iClassics. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
  12. Landeshauptstadt München Direktorium. Ehrenbürgerrecht der Landeshauptstadt München (Honorary Citizens of the Provincial Capital of Munich) located online here (Retrieved 1 September 2012).

External links

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