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8.554480 - LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsodies, Vol. 1 (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 12)
English 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)

Complete Piano Music, Volume 12

Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 1 to 9

 

We are greatly indebted to Franz Liszt for having brought into music, to a degree unparalleled by any previous musician, the vitalized experience of an unending active life. There was not a throb his pulse had ever felt that does not somewhere or other find expression in his music.

-Ernest Newman (1868-1959)

 

Liszt conceived the Hungarian Rhapsodies as a kind of collective national epic. He composed the first in 1846 at the age of 35, and his last in 1885 at the age of 74. Most of his Hungarian Rhapsodies are in the sectional slow-fast form of the gypsy dance known as the csardas. The Hungarian Rhapsodies remain undisputedly popular today after almost one hundred and fifty years. In them, however, we find the same contradictions in origin and purpose, the same contrast between serious musicianship and virtuoso exhibitionism, which made Liszt himself so fascinating. There is no doubt that Liszt was devoted to his country, but he was a Hungarian more by enthusiasm than through upbringing or ethnic heritage. He could barely speak the language, for Hungarian came third to German and French at home. He left his native province at the age of nine for the more cosmopolitan cities of Vienna and Paris. When he returned some two decades later he was an international hero in need of a national identity, to be achieved through the special musical language of the Hungarian Rhapsodies.

 

In order to collect gypsy tunes and absorb the strong flavour of their rhythms, the slow pride of the lassan and the wild frenzy of the friss, Liszt visited gypsy encampments. His first fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies were published by 1854 (the remaining five were to come in his last years), after the earlier publication of his Magyar Dallok (Hungarian National Melodies). Liszt also published in 1859 his own controversial study of Hungarian gypsy music, Des Bohemiens et de leur musique en Hongrie (The Gypsies and their Music in Hungaly). Later research has shown that Liszt was wrong about the gypsy origins of Hungarian music. Half a century later Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly collected thousands of genuine Magyar folk-tunes and showed that the gypsy contribution was a style of playing, a process of inflection and instrumental arrangement rather than anything original in form, making use of folk elements and popular art-songs. Hungarian gypsy music, as it is now called, was, nevertheless, the glory of the nation and Liszt's compositions did much to spread its fame. Although what he wrote may have lacked ethnomusicological authenticity, his free-ranging fantasies and the use in the title of the word 'rhapsody' were strokes of genius. In the Hungarian Rhapsodies, Liszt did much more than use the so-called csardas. He miraculously recreated on the piano the characteristics of a gypsy band, with its solo violin and the compellingly soft, percussive effect of the cimbalom, the Hungarian zither.

 

[1] Hungarian Rhapsody No.1 in E major

(composed 1846; published 1851; dedicated to Ede Zerdahelyi, pianist and pupil of Liszt)

Stately, grand and rhetorical, the first rhapsody makes use of three Hungarian songs with many pianistic elaborations and harmonic changes. The first of these,

Kocsmcirosne, bolt ide az iccebe, was also adapted by another Hungarian composer,

Ferenc Erkel.

 

[2] Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C sharp minor

(composed 1847; published 1851; dedicated to the patriot and statesman Count Laszlo Teleky, a friend of Liszt)

The second rhapsody is the best known of the twenty. It begins grandly and heroically. Liszt re-creates on the piano at one point the sound of the cimbalom, at others suggesting the brilliant, impetuous gypsy violin. Liszt wrote of his choice of title:

      By the word Rhapsody the intention has been to designate the fantastically    epic element which we deem this music to contain... The qualification Hungarian which we have applied to these Rhapsodies is due to our feeling     that it would not have been just to separate in the future what has never     been separated in the past... The nomad Zygani, though straggling to    diverse countries and cultivating their music elsewhere, never gave it a value equal to that which it attained upon Hungarian soil.

 

[3] Hungarian Rhapsody No.3 in B flat major

(published 1853; dedicated to the amateur composer Count Leo Festetics)

The third rhapsody is among the shortest, containing one of the earliest known combinations of a major and minor third in one triad. The pianist Ernest Hutcheson suggests that this mixed harmony should not be surprising, since it occurs in the overtones of any well-tuned bell and was later used freely by Busoni and Messiaen, among others. The andante section Liszt had published previously as the eleventh piece in his Magyar Dallok.

 

[4] Hungarian Rhapsody No.4 in E flat major

(published 1853; dedicated to Count Kolzmer Esterholzy)

Liszt chose themes based on music by Antal Gybrgy Csermolk, a gifted Hungarian composer of chamber music, for the fourth of the series, one of the few which begins and ends in the same key, and also one of those in which the customary lassan is replaced by a more academically traditional slow movement. Liszt's ability to give the piano an orchestral sound is revealed in this rhapsody, with its rich chords, dazzling runs and leaping patterns which cover the entire keyboard range.

 

[5] Hungarian Rhapsody No.5 in E minor

(published 1853; dedicated to Countess Szid6nia Revicsky)

According to musicologists, the fifth rhapsody is a free arrangement of a Hungarian dance by Jozsef Kossovits (who was active around 1800) heard by itself, this "Heroic" Elegy (Heroide-elegiaque is the printed subtitle) is unlike the other rhapsodies. Themes recalling Chopin's Funeral March (trio) and the "Revolutionary' Etude suggest that the subject of this elegy was actually Liszt's beloved friend, who died in 1849.

 

[6] Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 in D flat major

(published 1853; dedicated to Count Antal Apponyi)

The sixth rhapsody is a masterful arrangement of four Hungarian songs popular in

Liszt's time and opens with a march-like Tempo giusto in D flat, proceeding through a short and sprightly Presto to a brilliant octave development. The traditional gypsy text of the moving lassan translates roughly as follows. "My father is dead, my mother is dead, and I have no brothers and sisters, and all the money that I have left will just buy a rope to hang myself with." Once again, a number of these themes appeared also in Liszt's Magyar Dallok.

 

[7] Hungarian Rhapsody No.7 in D minor

(published 1853; dedicated to Baron Ferenc Orczy)

The suggestion that the seventh rhapsody should be played in "a defiant, melancholy gypsy style" is ample clue to its character. It consists of an improvisatory slow introduction followed by a main section consisting of four folk-like themes and a recapitulation. The friss theme is a particularly beguiling one, worked up in Liszt's typically virtuosic style.

 

[8] Hungarian Rhapsody No.8 in F sharp minor

(published 1853; dedicated to Baron Antal Augusz)

The eighth of the set is full of lavish ornamentation and effects simulating the cimbalom. This rhapsody is the final work in the first book of published rhapsodies and reverts to the mood and pattern of the very popular second of the series, with comparable slow and fast elements leading to a final climax. It uses the Hungarian folk-song Kaka toven kolt a ruca and a melody by Mark Rozsavolgyi. Sometimes called Capriccio, the principal allegro motif of this rhapsody was used also by Liszt in his symphonic poem Hungaria (1856).

 

[9] Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 in E flat major

(second version; published 1853; dedicated to H. W. Ernst)

Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814-1865), to whom Liszt dedicated the ninth rhapsody, was one of the foremost violinists of his time, and himself the composer of a famous series of Hungarian Airs. Hence, in this Pester Karneval (Carnival at Pesth) Liszt created one of his longest and most brilliant rhapsodies. It is a wonderful kaleidoscope of Hungarian dance melodies and a work of enormous technical difficulties and extensive musical content, especially in the elaborate finale, using the folk-song Mikor en meg legeny voltam, which in itself is as long as other single rhapsodies.

 

Victor and Marina A. Ledin, @ 1999, Encore Consultants.

 

 


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