About this Recording
8.550327 - RHAPSODY

George Enescu (1881 - 1955)
Rhapsody Rumanian Rhapsody Op. 11, No.1
Rumanian Rhapsody Op. 11, No.2

Antonin Dvořák (1841 - 1904)
Slavonic Rhapsody Op. 45, No.3
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) Hungarian Rhapsody, No.2 (No.12)

Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
Spanish Rhapsody

In ancient Greece, The source of the word, a rhapsody was part of an episodic poem, chanted by the rhapsodist, one section stitched, as it were, to the next. The early nineteenth century found a new use for the word. In Prague the Bohemian composer Vaclav Tomasek plundered the vocabulary of classical Greece for his piano Eclogues, Dithyrambs and a series of fifteen Rhapsodies. The last term, at least, caught on, and the century saw a continuing use of the word to describe composition in free form, often highly dramatic and equally often turning to national themes.

Franz Liszt added particularly to the rhapsodic repertoire with his nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies. Misunderstanding the nature of the music he imitated and transformed, he considered his Rhapsodies an embodiment of gypsy music, untrammelled by the trappings of the conventional world. It took the twentieth century Hungarian composer and enthusiastic folk-music collector Bela Barlók to draw attention to Liszt's mistake, What passed in Hungary for gypsy music was largely written by those of a more privileged class, but played by the gypsies to entertain their betters. So-called Hungarian gypsy music was, in fact, popular art music, but none the less Hungarian for that. The most popular of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, No.2 in the orchestral arrangements the composer made with the aid of Franz Doppler, and No.12 in the set of 19 for piano, was composed in 1853 and dedicated to the young virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, who that year had brought Brahms to visit him. It is based on earlier versions made by Liszt in the 1840s, evidence of the composer's growing loyalty to a country that he had left in childhood, and the language of which he had never learned. With the growing success of Hungarian nationalism within the Habsburg Empire, Liszt was to become something of a national hero, a position that the popular Rhapsodies did much to justify.

For Liszt and for many of his contemporaries in Paris the words gypsy and Bohemian were synonymous. Antonín Dvořák was no gypsy, but of sound Bohemian village stock, the son of a butcher-cum-innkeeper. In spite of early difficulties, he succeeded in making his way in Prague, where he worked for a number of years as an orchestral viola-player, before turning primarily to composition as a means of earning a living. In this latter course he had the encouragement of Brahms, whose own piano duet Hungarian Dances led to Dvořák's equally successful Slavonic Dances. The three Slavonic Rhapsodies were written in the same year as the first series of dances, 1878. The third of the set opens with a passage for the harp, the prelude to some bardic song, followed by the woodwind, deployed with the composer's usual skill. The violins enter with a flourish and the drama intensifies, before the appearance of a winning dance-tune. There is an interlude, during which solo violin and flute lead back to the dance once more. After further moments of brief repose, the music whirls to an end that brings its own surprise.

George Enescu, during his long residence in Paris better known as Georges Enesco, was among the leading violinists of the twentieth century. His own interests, nevertheless, centred rather on composition, drawing frequent inspiration from his native country, Rumania, with which he preserved strong connections. His two Rumanian Rhapsodies, Opus 11, completed in 1901, have continued to enjoy wide popularity. They make relatively few demands on the listener and rely heavily on loosely connected episodes based on Rumanian folk-songs and folk-dances. The first Rhapsody uses three well known folk-songs, while the second is based on a Moldavian ballad, an important element in the folk-music of the country, a form in which events from the heroic past are imaginatively related.

The French composer Maurice Ravel inherited from his mother, of Basque origin, a strong interest in Spain, tempered by the precision inherited from his father, a Swiss-born engineer. Spanish influence appeared in the first of his two operas, L'heure espagnole, in the piano piece, published in 1905 as part of Miroirs, Alborada dei gracioso, in the famous Habanera and indeed in the very choice of title for the enormously popular Pavane pour une infante defunte. Later in life the ballet tour de force Bolero provided an opportunity for orchestral virtuosity with a Spanish flavour, and one of his last compositions was the setting of three Don Quixote songs for a film in which Shalyapin was to star. The Rapsodie espagnole was completed in 1908 and consists of four movements, the evocative Prelude a la nuit, Malagueña, Habanera, based on the earlier work for piano, and Feria. It is the first major orchestral work of the composer, a demonstration of his originality and of his gifts as an orchestrator. The music moves from the stillness of night to two characteristic Spanish dances and a final Spanish fiesta.

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