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ClassicsOnline Home » LISZT: 6 Hungarian Rhapsodies, S359/R441
Although Hungarian by birth, it was only later in his career that Franz Liszt came to be regarded as a Hungarian national hero. His fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, piano pieces in Hungarian gypsy style, won wide popularity, and six of these were later orchestrated, with the help of flautist and conductor Franz Doppler, to whom Liszt himself gave full credit for the work. The six orchestrations are, themselves, lively instrumental pieces, performed on this recording by the Weimar orchestra that Liszt himself once directed.
By David Denton
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsodies for Orchestra
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to go to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire, as a foreigner. Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.
The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt's relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, appointed Kapellmeister Extraordinary and turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions. It was not until 1859 that he resigned his position, disappointed by public reaction to the new music.
Liszt remained in Weimar until 1861, when, at the age of fifty, he moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband's music.
It was not until 1839 that Liszt returned to Hungary, where, amid the prevailing mood of nationalism, he was hailed as a champion of national identity. He had been absent from the country for some sixteen years, but now was able to explore an element of Hungarian life that had long fascinated him. Entertained at a gypsy encampment, he found inspiration in gypsy music-making and in a way of life that seemed to reflect his own desire for freedom from the shackles of convention. He transcribed some of the music he heard, drawing on this for his own inspiration. Later musicians, notably Bartók and Kodály, drew attention to the confusion in the minds of Liszt and his contemporaries on the matter of gypsy music. Bartók, who had undertaken a careful study of Hungarian folkmusic, was to point out that the music played by gypsy bands was in general derived from works composed by Hungarian gentlemen and was in fact popular art-music rather than primitive folk-music, however abandoned the style of performance. The gypsies, in fact, had taken melodies where they found them, transforming them by their own style of performance.
Between 1839 and 1847 Liszt wrote a series of piano pieces under the title Magyar dallok – Ungarische National-melodien (Hungarian Themes and Rhapsodies). These were at the heart of the fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, the first written in 1846 and the rest in 1847, and published in the early 1850s. To these Liszt later added four more, two written in 1882 and two in 1885. Six of the Hungarian Rhapsodies were orchestrated by or with the help of the flautist, conductor and composer Franz Doppler, who had met Liszt in Weimar in 1854, when Doppler and his brother had appeared at a court concert, during the course of a concert tour. The Dopplers had settled in Pest, Franz Doppler as principal flautist in the German Theatre and then, from 1841 to 1858, at the Hungarian National Theatre, thereafter serving as flautist and ballet conductor in Vienna. The extent of Doppler's work on the Rhapsodies is not clear, but in Liszt's will of 1860 he insists that the Hungarian Rhapsodies for full orchestra must be described as orchestrated by F. Doppler and revised by F. Liszt, adding his compliment to Doppler on the work undertaken.
The general form of the Rhapsodies is that absorbed by the gypsies from the Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance), the slow introductory section, the lassu, leading to a rapid friss. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1 in F minor (No. 14), originally dedicated to Liszt's son-in-law Hans von Bülow, starts with a funeral march, going on to the Hungarian song 'Magasan repül a daru', further developed in an Allegro eroico section. It ends with a Vivace passage that uses the Koltó csárdás. The work formed the basis of Liszt's Hungarian Fantasia.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in D minor, originally in C sharp minor, and perhaps the best known, was dedicated to the Hungarian politician Count László Teleky. The ominous Lento a capriccio opening leads to an expressive lassu. The return of the opening and a violin cadenza is followed by the lively and familiar friss, relaxing before the energetic conclusion.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3 in D major (No. 6 in D flat major), dedicated to Count Anton Apponyi, is marked Tempo giusto, and makes use of four popular Hungarian songs. A flourish leads to a Presto, followed by a lassu, its pessimism in a traditional text of despair replaced by the lively friss that succeeds it.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4 in D minor (No. 12 in C sharp minor), was dedicated to the Hungarian-born violinist Joseph Joachim, who led the Weimar orchestra from 1850 to 1852, but was later estranged from Liszt, towards whom his attitude had always been ambivalent. An ominous introduction, marked Mesto, leads to a passage for solo violin, to be followed by an Allegro zingarese, attributed to the gypsy violinist János Bihari, whose virtuoso performances Liszt had heard in Vienna in 1822. All ends in a happy final Presto.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in E minor, Héroïde élégiaque, originally dedicated to Countess Sidonie Reviczky, is said to be an arrangement of a Hungarian dance by József Kossovits. The funereal mood, with its suggested muffled drum-beats, is lightened by the contrasting lyrical passages of the dance.
The last of the orchestrated set, the extended Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 in D major (No. 9 in E flat major), dedicated originally to the violinist Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, is a work of overt nationalism, bearing the title Pester Karneval (Carnival in Pest). It offers a series of dance tunes, with a folk-song elaborated in the final section.
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LISZT: 6 Hungarian Rhapsodies, S359/R441