Pianist Liana Șerbescu: „So that the oblivion is not complete…”

Silvia and Liana Șerbescu in their home from Sf. Constantin St.

This is the story of two dear houses in the Bucharest of my childhood and youth, one in the proximity of Dealul Mitropoliei, built by Mother’s grandfather Ioan Bunescu, and the other close to Cișmigiu Gardens, erected by my father, Florian Șerbescu. Although very different in style, they are nevertheless related in that they were both founded on a strong feeling: a great attachment to his family, with Ioan Bunescu, and the adoration for the beloved wife and revered artist Silvia, with my father.

Mother, Silvia Chelaru Șerbescu, lived in both. The first half of her much too short life was spent in the house at 4 Profesori Street, the other, in the one at 27 Sfântul Constantin Street. The first house, as almost all others on that street located in the area between the Metropolitanate, Saint Catherine Church and the Bucharest Theology Seminary, was the dowry left to his successors by Mother’s grandfather Ioan Bunescu, church music composer, conductor of the Choir of the Romanian Metropolitanate and of other choir churches in Bucharest. Mother was thus born in the house that Ioan Bunescu had offered her mother Eliza, his second daughter, married to professor Gheorghe Chelaru. That was the offering from “Tătița” [“Pappy”] to his family. As for the other house, it was engineer Florian Șerbescu’s offering of love and veneration to his wife Silvia.

Mother was born into a highly musical family. In addition to her grandfather Ioan Bunescu, there was her great-grandfather Ghiță Ionescu, whose daughter Victoria married Ioan. Professor and ethnomusicologist George Breazul called his former high school teacher Ghiță Ionescu one of the most important precursors of Romanian choral music. He wrote both sacred and secular music, patriotic songs in particular. When Romania was raised to the status of a kingdom on May 10, 1881, he wrote the anthem Zece Mai [The 10th of May], for which he was decorated by King Carol I himself.

My childhood Sundays were genuine festive days: we would take tram 12 to Piața Mitropoliei and we would get off at Spitalul Brâncovenesc to go to the house on Profesori Street where my grandfather, Professor Gheorghe Chelaru, had invited us to lunch. Other relatives living nearby, all of them, descendants of the “Bunescu clan”, would join us, and we would go sit under Aunt Elena’s apricot tree for Turkish coffee and Aunt Constanța’s homemade sherbet.

After Father and Mother got married in 1925, they remained in Mother’s house for seven years. It was in 1932 that they bought the land on Sfântul Constantin Street on which Mother’s second house was erected, the one they would live in the rest of their lives.

They had a hard time building it. Father was an engineer working with the Romanian Railway, and as a middle-income state employee he had to get a loan from the bank and to borrow from private individuals. Sfântul Constantin Street was ideally located for Mother’s profession, downtown but in a quiet area, with no trams or busses and with Cișmigiu Gardens just around the corner. This Art-Deco house, probably designed by architect Arghir Culina (many papers were lost after my expatriation in The Netherlands), stood out among the other patriarchal residences in the neighbourhood, many of them ornated with cast iron balconies, just like the house on Profesori Street. One year after the building was completed, the nest was ready to welcome my parent’s first-born, myself.

We had a true home on Sfântul Constantin Street. My parents got along wonderfully, they loved each other and they had a close relationship. Those were ideal conditions for Mother’s creativity to blossom. I talked about this home from my exile: “There are blessed houses that, by their charisma, become nothing but a family member, houses that, not necessarily because of their opulence or originality, come to be loved like a close relative by their inhabitants. Houses filled with harmony, houses where you spent so many happy moments with your loved ones. Houses that you remember all your life, that come back in your dreams to protect you with the silent darkness of their walls”.

When the political regime changed in 1945 and the Communists came to power, storm blew on both those two idyllic houses. After Grandfather’s death in the summer of 1945, the one at 4 Profesori Street was deserted by his three children, Mother and her two brothers. Owning two houses made you a “capitalist”, an exploiter and a class enemy, and caused you a lot of trouble. This is why they simply abandoned the house, leaving all the furniture behind, including Grandfather’s wall-to-wall bookcase. I should mention that Grandfather, who was a professor of Romanian, Greek and Latin at the Gheorghe Lazăr High School, had been the private instructor of two of Queen Marie’s and King Ferdinand’s children. That bookcase held rare and old books. I remember I wanted to salvage some of them, I took a large basket and conferred with Grandfather’s housekeeper Dochia on what I should select. But sadly, I was only a child, and didn’t know what was truly valuable…

We had big problems with the house on Sfântul Constantin Street too. Unjustly nationalised in 1950, it became property of the state and the most serious charge in my parents’ file. The 1989 political change brought us no justice. In 1996 a law was passed that allowed nationalised houses to return to their owners if they the request was made until a certain date. As its only inheritor, I asked for its return within the deadline, but my request is simply put away in a drawer and the house is sold at a ridiculous price to the tenants living there, who of course jumped to the occasion. The lawsuits I filed, including those to the Supreme Court, changed nothing: the house where I grew up is forever lost. I am not attempting to draw any conclusions, only time will bring new perspectives to the interpretation of facts, will condemn or sanction them by the silence that fell over them. These lines are only meant so that such facts would not fall into complete oblivion…


Liana Șerbescu






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