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 classical musicrepertoire 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.
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. 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. His father had expected him to pursue a political career in Romania. However, Celibidache chose to enroll in the Hochschule für Musik (Academy of Music) in Berlin, Germany in 1936 where he studied composition under Heinz Thiessen and later conducting under Kurt Thomas, Walter Gmeindl and Fritz Stein. 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. 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. 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.
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. A detailed description of the case and the sexism Ms. Conant had to put up with 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.
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 consent of his family. Nevertheless, Celibidache did pay 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, were strongly influential on him. He believed that musical 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 twenty-five years of concert-going.
Celibidache was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras. 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. 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.
Honorary Citizen (Cetăţean de Onoare) of Iaşi, Romania
^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.
^In several sources, his son's name is rendered as Serge Ioan Celebidachi.
^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).