Tristan Tzara, whose real name was Sami Rosenstock, was born on April 4, 1896, in Moinesti, a small town in the province of Băcău, in northeastern Romania. His parents were Jewish, his father a prosperous merchant. Tzara first attended school in Moinesti, where Romanian was spoken, but later, when he was sent to Bucharest for his secondary education, he attended schools where instruction was also given in French. In addition to languages, Tzara studied mathematics and music. Following his graduation in 1913, he attended the University of Bucharest for a year, taking courses in mathematics and philosophy.
It was during this adolescent period, between 1911 and 1915, that all Tzara’s Romanian poems were written. His first published poems appeared in 1912 in Simbolul, a short-lived Symbolist review that he helped to edit. These first four poems were signed with the pseudonym “S. Samyro.” The subsequent poems in Romanian that Tzara published during this period were often signed simply “Tristan” or “Tzara,” and it was not until near the end of this period, in 1915, that the first Romanian poem signed “Tristan Tzara” appeared.
In the fall of 1915, Tzara went to Zurich, in neutral Switzerland, where he became involved with a group of writers and artists—including Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco, and Hans Arp—who were in the process of forming an artistic movement soon to be called “Dada.” This period, between Tzara’s arrival in Zurich in the fall of 1915 and February of 1916, was the germinating period of the Dada movement. The Dadaists’ first public announcement of the birth of a new movement in the arts took place at the Cabaret Voltaire on the evening of February 5, 1916—the occasion of the first of many such Dada soirees. These entertainments included presentations such as “simultaneous poems,” which confronted the audience with a chaotic barrage of words made incomprehensible by the din; recitations of “pure sound-poems,” often made up of African-sounding nonsense syllables and recited by a chorus of masked dancers; satirical plays which accused and insulted the audience; and, always, the ceaseless manifestos promoting the Dada revolt against conformity. Tzara’s work during this period was...
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