Riviera Radio Station Interview of Sunday 3 July 1988
C. George SANDULESCU.
RIVIERA RADIO, 104 AND 106.5.
"From San Remo to Saint Tropez !"
[Against the background of Music Extract:
(1)Baldassare GALUPPI, PIANO SONATA, No. 5, Andante.]
Reporter (Lucienne): That is a very unusual piece of music. It is music written by an Italian composer called Baldassare Galuppi. It is the Andante from its Piano Sonata no 5, and it is being played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangelli. That piece of music has been chosen by my guest this Sunday afternoon to talk about his life, A Day in His Life, or several days in his life, George Sandulescu, who I think I can describe best at this point as a university professor, and the director of the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco. Hello and welcome, George ! I'm going to start by asking you as I always do, why have you chosen that particular piece of music ?
George S: Well, I always go for the obscure things, and Baldassare Galuppi happens to be an obscure composer. I chose it on account of its musicality, but also because it will trigger my choice Number Two. And I will ask you, Lucienne and all our listeners, to try to establish a connection between the first choice and the second choice which will come up in a few minutes.
Lucienne: and that connection is ....
George S: Galuppi was indeed a contemporary of Mozart, and a great influence on Mozart, a slightly pre-contemporary of Mozart, to be precise. And that indeed is the connection, because Mozart will be coming up as my second choice.
Lucienne: George, I am going to ask you now something which I think it is very difficult to you. I said, at the beginning, that this will do as an introduction to you at the start as a university professor, and director of the Princess Grace Irish Library, how would you describe yourself ?
George S: I told this once to a journalist, and he made the mistake of putting it all into the newspaper: so I pick it up from there. I would say that I am Greek by origin, Rumanian by birth, Swedish by nationality, British by education, Monegasque by place of residence, and European by preference.
Lucienne: That's good as an extraordinary combination: You'll have to explain that ! Greek by origin ?
George S: My grandmother was Greek, from the Island of Rhodos, and she refused stubbornly to speak any other language, except Greek, all her life, though she was in the Danube Delta, where my grandfather, on my father's side, her husband, was a senior official of the European Commission of the Danube. The language at home was Greek, for my father and all his family. So, I was born in Rumania, and I remember quite well the atmosphere there before, just before, the Second World War in the Danube Delta, which I used to visit quite often as a small child.
Lucienne: So this is "Rumanian by Birth". How about "Swedish by nationality" ?
George S: Well, after Rumania came Sweden, for political reasons quite easy to understand, and I spent a lot of time there, first learning, then teaching. I think this is all I've done in Sweden: one stage, long stage, of learning, and another stage of teaching, probably equally long. And I did my university studies though in Britain, so I hold British degrees from several British universities, and as such, I would place my education under that language, or geographical area, or whatever, and of course in Monaco I take myself as a Monegasque by residence, not at all as a Monegasque by birth to be sure.
Lucienne: And European by preference is something that we will need quite a bit later, because this is inside your character, I think. I want to come back to growing up in Rumania, and some of the things that you mentioned in passing just a few minutes ago, I would like this time to play another piece of music, and this is your second choice. and This is what you already made reference to: this is a piece of music by Mozart, the Quintet for clarinet and chords by Mozart. Why this particular piece ?
George S: Everybody is fascinated with Mozart of course, but I am fascinated with the clarinet: I think that the clarinet is the instrument of the Twentieth Century par excellence, and Mozart saw the capabilities of the instrument a long time ago, and exploited them to the full. Moreover, this Quintet for Clarinet and Chords provides a certain, fairly sophisticated, introduction to the opera Cosi fan tute, which is so famous. So I thought of saving time by referring through a clarinet piece to a whole opera.
[Then, against the background of Music Extract:
(2)THE MOZART QUINTET for Clarinet and Chords.]
Lucienne: That was part of Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Chords the first movement, the Allegro, and it was chosen by George Sandulescu, my guest this Sunday afternoon, talking about his life, and playing some of his favourite pieces of music, and I'll continue talking to George in just a moment after the publicity break . . .
Lucienne: Greek, Rumanian, Swedish, British, really -- an international man, and also the director of the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco, and visiting professor. He has joined me to tell me about his life.
George, just before this piece of music by Mozart, you were saying that you were remembering the atmosphere in Rumania before the war. You must have been quite young then.
George S: Well, I was just under seven years old, I suppose, when the war started, and what I remember best is your birthday -- the First of September ! -- though years before you were born . . .
Lucienne: Some years yeah...
George S: It was the First of September 1939, and that is the day I remember best in my childhood. I remember the shore of the Black Sea, the sandy Beach, the Battleship and the background. . . The grown-ups around me were discussing, to judge by their faces, about highly serious matters.
Lucienne: So the memory of that day, one particular day, has really stayed in your mind.
George S: I think the first day of the war is clearer to me than any other day of the war, though I took from very early in life an interest in political events, and whatever was happening around me. So, I watched with fascination the German army marching in, and years afterwards I watched with equal fascination the German army marching out. In the meantime, I became, probably thanks to the war, a compulsive radio listener.
Lucienne: Ahhh ! How did that happen ?
George S: My father was a very good speaker of English, owing to his American Education, at Robert College in Constantinople -- nowadays Istanbul --, and he was a vital source of information, as the English language broadcasts were the only one which were not jammed by the German occupation army.
Lucienne: So you used to listen to these on short wave radio ?
George S: Yes, on short wave radio, of course. The BBC. And I used to listen at the same time with my father. Then, my hobby was to identify the various languages, for the BBC itself was transmitting in more than fifty languages at the time . . . Later, much later, I gave interviews in Bush House in London, and met the Supervisor of Foreign Language Broadcasts of the BBC World Service, who became a good friend of mine -- George L. Campbell: he could master SIXTY languages! I have this inclination myself, and, at the time, I could identify fifteen to twenty languages, just by the sound of them, without understanding a single word of what was being said.
Lucienne: But you knew where they came from ...
George S: I recognized the way certain sounds -- vowels or consonants -- were put together, and now I realize, much later on in life, that this led me to Finnegans Wake, because this is what Joyce's Finnegans Wake is all about: it is made up of different words from at least forty languages, all these languages acknowledged by Joyce.
Lucienne: Isn't that fascinating ! So at that age we are talking about, the age from seven to ten or twelve, you were listening to the radio, listening to several languages, what languages were you yourself speaking at that age ?
George S: Well, I was understanding some Greek, I was speaking Rumanian, I was using English with my father, and taking intensive courses in French at home. German and then Russian were also forced upon me by an authoritarian school system . . .
Lucienne: So, really, at that age you were really multilingual . . . That is fascinating ! It was a great start that, wasn't it ?
George S: The only thing I remember with pleasure at school was that I was taken to be the language man, so any language question was automatically referred to me. And I remember, as a teenage boy, I was very fond of a quotation from Bernard Shaw, because I realized that at school "my reputation grew with every failure". For, in language studies, it is the failure that counts more than the success: constant training being the ultimate secret . . .
Lucienne: We are going to talk a bit more about that, and about that constant in your life for there is a thread throughout your life, isn't there, this love of languages, but, in fact, we are going to play another piece of music at this stage. Now, this is the song Sentimental Journey, and it is in a version by Ella Fitzgerald. What does this mean to you ?
George S: This is one of the songs which was very popular at the time, in the war years, and soon afterwards. It was played by many radio stations, and I remember that, probably, it is the first text that I copied from the radio. I was listening to the song repeatedly, and was trying to take down the lines. Later on, I realized that my attraction for it lies in the title: for this title summarizes not only Joyce, but it happens to be a novel by Laurence Sterne -- an Eighteenth Century writer. So anything in life is in fact a SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, life itself is a "sentimental journey" as Ella Fitzgerald would put it.
[Then, against the background of Music Extract:
(3)The Song A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY ]
Lucienne: That was Ella Fitzgerald singing "A Sentimental Journey". It was chosen by my guest this Sunday afternoon -- George Sandulescu -- and I'll be back talking with George, after a few moments, after a publicity break . . .
Lucienne: I'm talking with George Sandulescu, a university professor, the director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. We are going to talk about both of these things a bit later. But we are following your life through to a steady point with you, George, after the war, this is when you went to Sweden, is that right ? How did that happen ?
George S: Yes. Well, Sweden was where some of my relatives were, and this was the beginning of my "Sentimental Journey" . . . So the song was quite appropriate too. I found, again, a fascination for the Swedish language, which is quite different from any other language, and Sweden too, as a European culture is quite non-central-European. I was interested in the schooling system, and I decided, at that time, that I would get involved in teaching, eventually. So, I soon realized that my strongest card was the range of languages that I could master. So I channelled my efforts in that direction. I could, I suppose, make a statement to the effect that I am a speaker of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, though I speak them all with the same Swedish pronunciation. All in Swedish, in a word.
Lucienne: The move from Rumania to Sweden. . . Do you remember the difference ? Do you remember the change ? What impact did that have on you ?
George S: The change that I remember best is the transition from a talkative culture, like a Latinate one, to a phlegmatic, or semi-silent culture, where words have different values, and were used far more sparingly. Interjections -- of assent, or dissent -- can replace quite a lot of other words . . . Sweden is a country, and was even at the time a country, where nothing happened quickly. (Except perhaps the assassination of Olof Palme . . . ) Whereas Rumania was a semi-oriental country, and still is. What Poincaré, the famous Frenchman, said about Bucharest, and Rumania, was that "Nous sommes ici aux portes de l'Orient, où tout est pris à la légère . . ." , a statement which, in my opinion, and now, I would apply to the whole of the Mediterranean -- east and west. But never to Sweden !
Lucienne: That is fascinating ! Another way of looking at this part of the world. It is quite different, isn't it ?
George S: The Mediterranean is the Gates of the Orient. In the same way in which the Danube Delta was, to me, the Gates to the . . . rest of the world. And I find perhaps a silly analogy between life in the Danube Delta, and life in Monaco: I find them both very very international . . . The multitude of languages, which is the multitude of cultures, and the multitude of different people harmoniously combined together is what make these free harbours so picturesque.
Lucienne: It looks as if you have come home again, haven't you ?
George S: Well, I would when I get back to Rhodos, the birthplace of my grandmother. That would be the full circle of the whole of Europe. By Land. Never by sea !
Lucienne: We are going to continue talking in just a few minutes, but we have to take a publicity break at this stage.
Lucienne: Good afternoon, this Sunday afternoon. George Sandulescu is a university professor, and is also the director of the Princess Grace Irish Library, based in Monaco. And we've been hearing, George, you've been talking about your life, about this extraordinarily international sort of life is the way I think to describe it that you've been leading ... We left you in Sweden, physically, . . . you said earlier that you went to Britain for your university education. Why did you decide to do that ?
George S: Well, partly because I had decided that I would use the English language as a language for written, and largely spoken, communication, and obviously the British university system was the best place to refine this medium, and the knowledge going with it, and for studying English literature, or English and Irish literature, what other place can one choose except the country of origin ?
Lucienne: So what did you actually study there ?
George S: I studied English literature and English language, becoming qualified to teach English at all levels. To teach the English language on the one hand, and to teach English literature of all periods, on the other hand.
Lucienne: At that time, because what happens usually with people, while they are at the university, they find an area that particularly fascinates them, they find an area of speciality, did that happen to you then ?
George S: Yes, it did. It was the time when I was reading a lot of Joyce, and I was fascinated by Joyce's statement which I consider true that "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake", and my innovation in teaching was, and is, to teach literature backwards ! It's far more successful than teaching literature chronologically. Thus I started with the Twentieth Century, and never got round to the Nineteenth ... except for examination obligations.
Lucienne: So when you say you taught English literature, where did you teach ? Did you teach in Britain, or did you come back to Europe ?
George S: Well, I taught in Sweden basically, after I finished studies at the University of Leeds. And then, later on, I went to Britain for spells of teaching, like the University of Essex, or London, and also to the United States, at the University of Austin, Texas. And of course in New England, various universities in New England, Massachussetts in particular.
Lucienne: And you managed to combine this fascination that you have for languages, which ties up language with literature in a particular way, haven't you ?
George S: Well, it has not been easy, because literature people frown on the language people, and language people do not take literature people with facility. But I was working on a beautiful quotation, or assumption, from Ezra Pound, which was in fact Ezra Pound's definition of poetry, which is "Poetry is language packed, or charged, with meaning to the utmost possible degree." If this is accepted, then there is no border, or no barrier, or no frontier between Language and Literature. Literature IS Language, and Language IS Literature.
Lucienne: You mentioned a couple of people, and you have quoted from a couple of people in the course of our talk so far today. Have you met any of the great literary people that you love and whose work you admire ?
George S: When I was preparing my Ph.D., I had the luck to meet Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf's husband, who was still around in a small flat, opposite Victoria Station in London. He had been a Deputy Governor of Ceylon in his early days. He received me with great kindness and patience, and we spent half a day together going through the family documents. Later on, I met people like Graham Greene in Antibes. And when I was at the University, John Braine, the author of Room at the Top, was still a Librarian at Leeds City Library. Also while in Leeds, the famous Dr Leavis from Cambridge was on the way to retiring in York, and he was calling often on us with fairly biting lectures. Lastly, or last but not least, were people like William Empson, who was a fashionable poet at the time, and head of the English Department at Sheffield. And also of course, in my Monaco days, since 1977, Anthony Burgess.
Lucienne: We'll talk about that in a while. We'll talk about your Monaco days in just a moment, but we've got to play another record at this stage, and this is an Irish singer called Maretta O'Hehir, with the song "My Singing Bird". Tell me about her, and about all this.
George S: Well, I was saying earlier on, quoting from Shaw, that "my reputation grows with every failure". I'm more aware in Irish Studies of what I have not succeeded in doing, rather than of what I have succeeded. One of the performers whom I have not so far succeeded to get over to Monaco is Maretta O'Hehir, and I'm playing this song in the hope that one day she will be here in Monaco with us performing this and other songs.
[Then, against the background of Music Extract:
(4)The Song "My Singing Bird".]
Lucienne: Maretta O'Hehir and the Song "My Singing Bird". That was chosen by my guest -- George Sandulescu --, and George will be back for the final five or so minutes of our chat this afternoon in just a moment, after a Publicity Break.
Lucienne: Now, a final reminder that I'm talking this afternoon with George Sandulescu, university professor, and we've heard about that, and director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. Now this is a very interesting thing. I think the first thing that I ever heard about you, George, was that you were director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. And somebody pointed out to me that you were Rumanian by birth. Now, as we have since discovered, you're not only Rumanian by birth, but also Greek by origin, Swedish by nationality, and British by education. How did you come to be running The Princess Grace Irish Library ? How did that happen ?
George S: I was interested in a literary trend called The Stream of Consciousness. And that's how I started on Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner, and of course, James Joyce. And it didn't take me a long time to realize that I couldn't handle all three in a mere two-hundred-page doctoral dissertation. So inevitably, I had to drop Virginia Woolf, though I was in Britain, and I decided to drop Faulkner as well, and concentrated on James Joyce only, his writings being ample material for more than one Ph.D. dissertation. And inevitably, in Monaco, knowing, or sharing with Anthony Burgess the same interests for this particular Irish writer, we gave a series of lectures, and Princess Grace came to one of them. And she was very much interested, so much interested that she stayed the whole afternoon, from three o'clock until just about midnight. And obviously, this was the beginning of my Irish connection in Monaco.
Lucienne: And who connected you with the Irish Library ?
George S: Well, Princess Grace, after her children were born, started collecting things Irish. And she was very attached to Irish music, and Irish books. She collected hundreds of Irish books, and upon her untimely death a decision was taken -- a wise decision -- by Prince Rainier to put together all she had collected in a place which, on a suggestion from Anthony Burgess, was made public. So everybody had access to Princess Grace's collections, and one could have events, like evening lectures, or annual international conferences, or music evenings around the topics that were of interest to herself. It is all published in a little book.
Lucienne: The other thing, of course, is that you've been doing a tremendous amount of work opening it up, organizing lectures, organizing conferences, having people come to talk. What do you think will be the future role of this Irish Library in this community ?
George S: I have been working together with the whole Board of Trustees of the Library doing projection studies until the year 2000. And I think the Library has an important function in the cultural life of the Principality, in promoting other cultures, in the first place the Irish culture, but also the cultures the Irish people went to over the centuries, that is, the United States, Australia, lots of other English-speaking areas in the world, even South Africa, so Irish in a sense is synonymous with English-speaking.(I was actually in the process of bringing in English by this secret door into this particular part of the Mediterranean . . .)
Lucienne: You are close to having an international vision of the world, aren't you ?
George S: It is being said more and more often, with various degrees of seriousness, that borders, and frontiers, are artificial. Having experienced the Iron Curtain at first hand, I can say that very forcefully ! But some of the barriers are disappearing sooner, some others will take longer to disappear. The interesting point is that Languages stay differently, so languages will be with us creating their own natural borders, which will not necessarily coincide with the national borders.
Lucienne: It is fascinating, is it not ? So much to talk about, but we have run out of time. But this last piece of music that you have asked us to play today certainly ties in with your life here today. It is a record that has been produced by the Princess Grace Irish Library, and an Irish singer called Robert White, accompanied by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic in a song called "MacNamara's Band".
George S: The important thing to say is that this is the very first record produced in the Princess Grace Irish Library, thanks to the efforts of Virginia Gallico, and I do hope that you will have the opportunity one day of asking her how this record was made, because she was the heart and soul of this particular operation. I can say that it is the first record I was ever involved with, and I would like to see a second one coming up in the Princess Grace Library. For the moment, this record is called "The Favourite Irish Songs of Princess Grace".
Lucienne: And "MacNamara's Band" ?
George S: "MacNamara's Band" is one of the most lively songs in this collection of twenty-two songs recorded by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic. I would play it with my best wishes to Dr MacNamara of the Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco.
Lucienne: George Sandulescu, thank you very much !
Then, against the background of Music Extract:
(5)THE SONG "MacNAMARA'S BAND"
Lucienne: The fabulous sound of "MacNamara's Band" ! And as George Sandulescu was telling us before we listened to that, this song was taken from a recording of Princess Grace's Favourite Songs, from that collection in the Irish Library, put together by Virginia Gallico, who I will talk to, I have in fact made arrangements to talk to Virginia some time in the future about that particular recording. And it is available in record shops right along the coast now. Well, thanks to George Sandulescu for joining me this Sunday afternoon to talk about his life, and to share some of his favourite pieces of music with us.
The time now on Riviera Report, RADIO RIVIERA, 104 and 106.5, is four minutes to one, and that means it is time for me to say "Good Bye". We have NEWS HEADLINES at exactly one o'clock.