Tristan Tzara

John Florens | Jun 2, 2023

Table of Content


Tristan Tzara, whose real name was Samuel Rosenstock, born on April 16, 1896 in Moinești, Romania, and died on December 24, 1963 in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, was a Romanian- and French-speaking writer, poet, and essayist and one of the founders of the Dada movement, of which he would later become the leader.

Youth and adolescence in Bucharest

The Rosenstock family is one of the 800,000 Jewish people who were denied Romanian citizenship by the civil code in force at the time. Raised in a certain material ease thanks to his father who was an executive in an oil company, Samuel had an uneventful childhood and adolescence. He attended a course on French culture at a private institute, was introduced to literature at the Saint-Sava high school and enrolled in the scientific section for the school-leaving certificate at the Mihai-Viteazul high school. He is a good student and his teachers note his open-mindedness and his tireless intellectual curiosity.

Romanian literature at the beginning of the 20th century was strongly influenced by French symbolism. Alexandru Macedonski's magazine Literatorul, while offering poems by Charles Baudelaire, René Ghil, Maurice Maeterlinck or Stéphane Mallarmé, was nevertheless fighting against the Romantic tradition. With his high school classmate Marcel Janco, Samuel created his first magazine, Simbolul, in 1912, which transposed into Romanian the achievements of symbolism, particularly those of Maeterlinck, Laforgue and Verhaeren. He imagines himself as the "dark angel of triumphant symbolism". He publishes one of his first poems, Sur la rivière de la vie.

In 1915, he adopted the pseudonym Tristan Tzara: Tristan in reference to the hero of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde and Tzara because it is pronounced like the Romanian word ţara which means "land" or "country". The whole name reads like the Romanian "trist în ţara", "sad in the land"

Tristan Tzara does not hate "shocking the bourgeois". He published poems in various magazines such as Les Faubourgs, where he evokes the "devastating hurricane of madness", or Doute, which insists on the role of chance in poetic creation: "I took my old dream out of its box, like you take a hat

He was fascinated by the work of Arthur Rimbaud, and made Christian Morgenstern's Galgenlieder (The Gallows Songs) his bedside book, while the intellectual Bucharest resounded with the "bizarre pages" of a certain Urmuz (alias Demetru Demetrescu Buzau), of whom Eugene Ionesco would say that he was "a kind of Kafka, more mechanical, more grotesque, a precursor of the universal literary revolt, one of the prophets of the dislocation of the social forms of thought and language".

Having obtained his school-leaving certificate, Tzara enrolled at the University of Bucharest in mathematics and philosophy (September 1914). His friend Janco enrolled in polytechnics.

The provincial atmosphere of Bucharest bores Tzara who dreams of leaving. Against the advice of his father, but encouraged by Janco who urges him to join him in Zurich, he leaves Romania for Switzerland, a neutral country welcoming the youth of Europe refusing the war. He enrolled in a philosophy class at the university. But boredom overtook him again: "the feelings of well-being became rare and all pleasures were catalogued: excursions, cafés, friends..." It takes Janco's contagious enthusiasm to prevent him from returning to Bucharest.

Tzara met the German Hugo Ball accompanied by his wife Emmy Hennings, a dancer and singer. He presented himself as a professional revolutionary, a disciple of Mikhail Bakunin, having left Germany because of incitement to riot. Convinced that in Switzerland he would find some young people like him with the will to "enjoy their independence", Ball confided to Tzara his project to open a place where all the dissidences would gather. On February 2, 1916, a press release appeared in the Zurich press announcing the creation of a "center for artistic entertainment" that would be open to everyone except the "petty socialites of the avant-garde. The meeting place was a tavern on Spiegelstrasse, where daily evenings were scheduled.

On February 5, Ball, Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tzara and the painters Jean Arp, Janco and Sophie Taeuber open the Cabaret Voltaire in the Spiegelgasse and transform the place into a literary and artistic café, the walls of which are covered with paintings, creating an atmosphere that is both intimate and oppressive. It was an immediate success.

Tzara: "Every evening, we sing, we recite - the people - the greatest new art to the people - balalaika, Russian evening, French evening - unique edition characters appear recite or commit suicide, come and go, the joy of the people, cries; the cosmopolitan mixture of saying and BORDEL, the crystal and the biggest woman "under the bridges of Paris"."

Jean Arp: "Janco evoked and fixed Le Cabaret on the canvas of one of his paintings. In a colourful and overcrowded room, a few fantastic characters are standing on a platform, supposedly representing Tzara, Janco, Ball, Huelsenbeck, Hennings and yours truly. We are conducting a great sabbath. The people around us are shouting, laughing and gesticulating."

Hugo Ball: "We are so caught up in the expectations of the public that all our creative and intellectual forces are mobilized. As long as the whole city is not lifted by the rapture, Le Cabaret will not have achieved its goal."

He participated in the birth of the word "Dada" in Zurich and was the most active propagandist of the movement. Legend has it that Tzara and Huelsenbeck slipped a random piece of paper into a Larousse dictionary, which came across the word Dada, thus chosen as the name of the movement. Huelsenbeck, another founder of the Dada movement, claimed in 1922, in his history of Dada, that Tzara had never been a Dadaist (which can be explained by the rivalry that regularly opposed them), while some contemporary poets saw Tzara as the leader of the art nouveau.

A Dada gallery opens, where Tzara gives lectures on new art, especially abstract art. He also published four issues of the Dada magazine, which quickly gained an international audience.

He wrote the first "Dada" texts himself:


André Breton, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon are enchanted by Tzara's poems, which they read in Paris in the magazines SIC and Nord-Sud, but also in the Dada magazines. They entered into correspondence. In 1915, the painter Francis Picabia came to Switzerland to treat a nervous breakdown: he and Tzara became friends and also began a correspondence. During this stay, he also met Émile Malespine with whom he corresponded and Tzara participated in the writing of the Lyon review Manomètre. It was in 1920 that Tzara unexpectedly arrived in Paris, in Picabia's apartment, whose mistress had just given birth. Legend has it that Tzara calmed the newborn by making him repeat "Dada, dada, dada". According to other traditions, the term "dada" was found by chance in a dictionary in 1916 by the founders of the Zurich movement. André Breton and his two acolytes soon came to ring the bell at the house and were surprised to see, instead of the new Rimbaud they had expected, a frail little man still rolling r's, but they quickly got used to his sonorous and brilliant laughter.

Thereafter, they all embarked together on a wide variety of activities designed to shock the public and destroy the traditional structures of language. Tzara did not participate in the early years of Surrealism, remaining in the early years on his Dadaist achievements, but later joined the group.

Tristan Tzara was married to the Swedish artist and poet Greta Knutson (1899-1983) from 1925 to 1942. The couple had a son, Christophe, born on March 15, 1927.

Thereafter, Tzara tried for a long time to reconcile surrealism and communism (he even joined the Communist Party in 1936, before joining the Resistance during the Second World War).

It is from this period that dates his interest for the language of oc and, after the war, Tristan Tzara will participate at the sides of Jean Cassou and Max Rouquette in the foundation of the Institute of occitan studies

Tristan Tzara acquired French nationality on April 12, 1947.

He died on December 24, 1963 at his home in the 7th arrondissement of Paris and was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery (8th division).

Correspondence with André Breton and Francis Picabia 1919-1924, presented and edited by Henri Béhar, Paris, Gallimard, 2017.

From September 24, 2015 to January 17, 2016, the exhibition "Tristan Tzara, l'homme approximatif, poète, critique d'art, collectionneur" is held at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg , in partnership with the Jacques Doucet Literary Library. This exhibition is the first dedicated to the poet and organized in a French museum. It presents more than 450 works and rare documents on Tristan Tzara. The exhibition evokes the literary career of Tzara as well as "his companionship with Arp native of Strasbourg, but also Matisse, Picasso or Masson," explains the curator of the exhibition Serge Fauchereau. A catalog of the exhibition is published on this occasion.


  1. Tristan Tzara
  2. Tristan Tzara
  3. ^ Hentea, pp. 1–2
  4. ^ a b Cernat, p.108-109
  5. ^ a b c Cernat, p.109
  6. ^ Cernat, p.109-110
  7. François Buot, Tristan Tzara, Grasset, Paris, 2002, p. 15, 16, 17, 18.
  8. Henri Béhar, Introduction au recueil Dada est tatou. Tout est Dada', Flammarion, Paris, 1997, p. 6.
  9. Buot, op. cit., p. 20 à 22.
  10. ^ Cernat, s 35.
  11. ^ Livezeanu, s 241.
  12. ^ Marius Hentea (2014).
  13. ^ Tristan Tzara, SNAC, accesat în 9 octombrie 2017
  14. ^ Tristan Tzara, Internet Speculative Fiction Database, accesat în 9 octombrie 2017
  15. ^ The Fine Art Archive, accesat în 1 aprilie 2021
  16. ^ Journal officiel de la République française. Document administratif, 20 aprilie 1947

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?