After graduating from the Paris Conservatory in 1899, Enescu split his time between France and Romania and between performance and composition. While in Paris, he concentrated mostly on his performance and worked with such musicians as Cortot, Thibaud, and Casals. He also formed a trio with Casella and Fournier in 1902, and the Enescu Quartet was formed in 1904. He travelled through Europe as both a violinist and conductor and had the opportunity to conduct the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, among others. During this time, he also composed two of his most famous works, ones that would later haunt him, Romanian Rhapsody no. 1 (1901) and Romanian Rhapsody no. 2 (1902). He found that these highly successful works, based on Romanian folk music, defined and limited his career. He disliked always having to use existing folk music, as the only possibilities are “to rhapsodize it, with repetitions and juxtapositions.”
During the summers Enescu would retreat to the countryside of Romania to work on his compositions. While in Romania, he also became active in the music scene and enjoyed the privilege of the royal family’s patronage. In 1912, he also founded the Enescu Prize for Romanian composers. The onset of World War I led to Enescu staying in Romania. While there, he formed a symphony orchestra and the first national opera company of Romania. Their first production took place the same year, in 1921, of Wagner’s Lohengrin, which Enescu conducted.
Between the wars, Enescu worked on his great opera, Oedipe (1921-31), which he had conceived already in 1912, but orchestrated much later. The orchestration and revision were long-term processes which took place between his demanding concert tours. The opera is influenced by Wagner in its use of leitmotifs, at least 21 of which have been identified. However, due to the way Enescu uses the leitmotifs, it is possible for the listener to be unaware of them. He also frequently scores for solo instruments amid the orchestral texture.
In the 1920s, Enescu went to the USA, where he made several recordings as a violinist. While in America, he also had many opportunities to conduct the American orchestras. He was even considered as a replacement for Toscanini as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. The young and aspiring Yehudi Menuhin was inspired by Enescu and travelled to Europe in 1927 to study with him. Despite his hesitation to teach, Enescu’s teaching had a profound influence on Ferras, Gitlis, Grumiaux, and Haendel. He also gave masterclasses throughout Paris. After World War II, Enescu’s career as a teacher expanded and he received teaching positions at the Mannes School in New York and the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, along with several summer programs.