Interview with Edit Gogolak, Tiberiu Olah’s sister

In Bucharest, my brother lived in three different houses. After completing his studies in Moscow in 1954, he lived at 93 Victoriei Avenue until 1959, when he married Yvonne Săucan and they both moved on Dionisie Lupu Street, at number 65. They lived there, in a rather modest building, for twenty years, and in 1980 they moved at 11, formerly 57 (as it appears in all official documents) Dacia Avenue, on the second floor. It was more spacious – three rooms, a bathroom, a gallery where they kept the scores and books and a storeroom which they turned into a kitchen, with another kitchenette, the bathroom and a water closet on the ground floor.


So, when he returned from Moscow, maestro Olah lived on Victoriei Avenue. Did he own the place?

I think it was state-owned, graduates of Soviet universities at the time were probably allocated a dwelling, so it wasn’t his. It was a studio, one room with a bathroom, I don’t even know if there was a kitchen… it was quite modest, but it was in a pretty villa likely built at the beginning of the century. What mattered to him was to have his piano, his books, and a small space to work, because music was for him the most important thing in life.


And then maestro Olah moved, with his wife, on 65 Dionisie Lupu Street.

The apartment was allocated by the state, officially it wasn’t their own, they didn’t buy it. It had two rooms, a bathroom and a small hallway where they cooked. Tiny, it was on the ground floor, and my brother told me that the water supply plant was just underneath, the apartment literally shook with this perpetual, intense tremolo. He used to make fun of it, and once told me: “I do think it even helped with my writing!”, but to me it was like a permanent alarm, that’s how I remember it. I’m sixteen years younger than him, I was six years old – I don’t even know if I already went to school – when he went to Moscow. He studied for two years at the Conservatoire in Cluj and then he went to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he in fact he started over, because in Cluj he had studied pedagogy. And so, he studied for full five years in Moscow.

The apartment on Dionisie Lupu was small, a room with an upright piano and a bookcase, and a bedroom. Quite small, like a studio. Not too luxurious, but friendly and with an intellectual ambiance, music all over the place: records, the upright piano, the record player, several cassette players. Nothing but classical music! He said that everything in pop music was stolen, “plagiarized”: “light pop music is indeed light”, he said – he didn’t think much of it, but he did speak highly of Johnny Răducanu, a great improviser who was just returning from the US, I think, and of Aura Urziceanu. Contemporary, avantgarde or dodecaphonic music, I think these were his most profound interests.


And why did they move from Dionisie Lupu?

Because the apartment was small and noisy. They first thought that the house on Dacia Avenue was bigger, friendlier, but after a while there was more traffic, and this bothered him, I guess, as he told me he mostly composed at night – indeed, he wrote almost all his works at night, during the day he slept. He had a rather serious asthma, and the house was old – I think it’s still a heritage site, anyway they weren’t allowed to renovate or restore it. They also had problems with the water supply, I think the pipes were old and hadn’t been replaced in some time. I know that they had notified the city about it. He wanted to move to a healthier apartment than this one, which he was afterwards able to buy; he lived there from 1980 until 2002 and he bought in 1991, after the revolution of 1989 and after his wife died, it cost 100,000 lei.

He spent his last two years in Târgu Mureș, I was a doctor and I also taught at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy. I was thus able to nurse him better than he would have been in Bucharest; after his stroke in 1998, when his wife died, he was feeling lost, physically so too, so he needed my care. Things didn’t go too well, because the women who nursed him exploited him more than took care of him, so after a short while I took him back home with me. He died in Târgu Mureș, at the hospital, in Intensive Care.


Where did maestro Olah compose?

In Gruiu, a commune near Snagov, where they had bought a small village house which they furnished and modernized. He didn’t have the same conditions in Bucharest as in Gruiu, and when his wife was still feeling well and didn’t limp, she drove him (he never drove) to Gruiu. They spent their summers there, and I believe it was there that he wrote most of his works. They lived in the house at the end of the commune – it still stands, it was sold, after Yvonne’s death in 1998.


When had they bought it?

I think it was at the end of the 1970s, the beginning of the 1980s, my brother was at the peak of his career then, and earned more, especially from writing film music.


Where did he compose, did he only write in Gruiu?

No, he wrote in Bucharest too. They didn’t go to Gruiu that often after the revolution, and unfortunately the house had deteriorated somewhat… When he was younger, my brother composed on an upright piano, now in my possession, but he said that in the last decades he no longer used it to write. He wasn’t very talkative, he only talked about music. And after his wife died, he stopped writing, completely stopped.


Do you remember if any musicians visited him? Who were his friends?

Doru Popovici, Aurel Stroe, Anatol Vieru too, at first, he was his contemporary at the Conservatoire, but then I guess they kind of became competitors, because they were both gifted, or their wives didn’t get along, I don’t really know. These three were my brother’s closest friends. The other professors at the Conservatoire were older. He was also friends with Octavian Lazăr Cosma, and with foreign musicians – from Poland, Hungary, France, Germany. He had earned a DAAD scholarship in West Berlin, he stayed there for a year, then for another one, he made friends among the German composers there, and they also visited him. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they were, there were many of them.

Yvonne told me that, sadly, the house hadn’t been designed for receiving guests, so his friends booked a hotel, and they would see each other at the restaurant. She jokingly said that the hallway of the Athenée Palace, as [the Hilton hotel] was then called, was built by my brother, that much money he had put in those fabulous dinners and feasts. In addition, whenever there was a first performance, he would frequently invite the entire orchestra out, so whatever money he was paid was also quickly spent, right away.

He was also good friends with conductor Marin Constantin; Yvonne and my brother were his son’s wedding godparents. Ion Marin is now a conductor in Switzerland. And he was friends with Sergiu Nicolaescu too, I think they were together in Italy, on a one-month journey. They were close, I don’t know where and how they became friends, but artists are indeed connected, by their art and their excellence.

Interview by Petre Fugaciu

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