Sami Rosenstock Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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...

(The entire section is 929 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As a young man, Tristan Tzara (tsah-rah), known as Sami Rosenstock until he changed his name in 1915, studied math and philosophy at the University of Bucharest. He wrote poetry in Romanian during this time, but his literary career did not begin in earnest until after he moved to Switzerland during World War I, where he helped to create Dada, one of the twentieth century’s most revolutionary and influential, albeit short-lived, artistic movements.{$S[A]Rosenstock, Sami;Tzara, Tristan}

It must be said that “art” and “movement” are words that apply to Dada only in an ironic sense, because its members rejected everything that the word “art” had signified in European culture up to that point and were equally opposed to the idea of an organized, goal-oriented collective enterprise such as the word “movement” implies. Dada began in 1916 in Zurich, a city that hosted many Europeans who were seeking refuge from the violence and hopelessness of the war. The movement consisted of a small circle of young, primarily German-speaking artists and poets, who staged a series of events at a café called the Cabaret Voltaire. These events are now considered the precursors of more recent avant-garde experiments such as the theatrical, improvisational “happenings” of the 1960’s and the “performance art” of the 1980’s.

In part because much of his early work was performed in public, Tzara is considered to have made important contributions to the theater as well as to poetry. Tzara established himself as a creative force and theorist of Dada, and his first major published work, La Première aventure céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine (the first heavenly adventure of Mr. Antipyrine), is an illustration of some of the characteristics associated with the movement: provocation, iconoclasm, disregard for artistic convention, and spontaneity and openness toward new or previously unrecognized sources of inspiration. He pioneered the technique of “automatic writing,” or writing with as little conscious intellectual control as possible, borrowed...

(The entire section is 849 words.)