“There are voices that express not only musical beauty, the old and yet forever new miracle of song, but something more, too – they express the soul of a place and of a time. Such was Maria’s voice. When she sang, it was like a silk-stringed cello crying”, said composer and teacher Constantin C. Nottara about Maria Tănase, the unique phenomenon in Romanian music.
Exceptional performer of romances, traditional and lăutărească music with a captivating stage presence, Maria Tănase was born in 1913 in a Bucharest suburb, Mahalaua Cărămidarilor. She made her debut in 1934 at Constantin Tănase’s Cărăbuş Theatre and one year later she entered the Royal Conservatory of Music and Drama, training with Ion Manolescu, her colleague at the Municipal Theatre. Supported and admired by ethnomusicologists Harry Brauner and Constantin Brăiloiu, Maria Tănase made her first recording in 1937, rising to fame with such hits as Cine iubeşte şi lasă [Those Who Love and Leave], Mi-am jurat de mii de ori [A Thousand Times I Swore to Myself], Mărie şi Mărioară [Mary, Molly], Şapte săptămâni din post [Seven Weeks of Lent] and Ce-i mai dulce ca alviţa [What’s Sweeter than Halvah]. Having heard her in 1938 when she first appeared in a live show on the Romanian Radio, composer Theodor Rogalski declared: “This is a phenomenon! I never heard a singer that could perform with so much talent and originality our traditional songs, preserving the authenticity of verse and melody”.
A major event in Maria Tănase’s career took place in 1939, when, selected by a jury whose members boasted Constantin Brăiloiu and composer Mihail Jora, she represented Romania at the New York World’s Fair in the company of George Enescu, Dimitrie Gusti and Constantin Brâncuşi. Returning to Bucharest, she continued on her successful path, singing, touring and recording for various labels as well as for the Romanian Radio, with no less than twenty-four albums, four of which in French, between 1953 and 1961.
Mariei Tănase liked to move house, showing good taste both in interior décor and external conditions, picking some of Bucharest’s beautiful streets (Dimitrie Sturdza, Brezoianu, Traian, Coşbuc Avenue) as residential addresses and spending the last years of her live in a superb building, a charming refuge now covered in ivy on 32 Popa Nan Street. Composer Temistocle Popa later recalled: “Maria Tănase turned the apartments she lived in into a paradise: dark rooms would fill with light, walls with cracking paint would come to life under the workers’ brush, rotting floors would disappear underneath polished, healthy parquet flooring, door and window handles shone bright. At times, and not infrequently, she fled the world, hence the need of a home to hide her and onto which she could project, in light and joy, her full personality”.
Symbol of Bucharest culture, Maria Tănase died on June 22, 1963, with thousands accompanying the funeral cortege to the Bellu Cemetery. “The dazzling bird of Romanian music”, as Nicolae Iorga dubbed her, she remains unmatched in her powerfully expressive and passionate song.