Recorded on 05/08/2005, uploaded on 03/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Two successive visits to Hungary during 1839-40 inspired the nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies of Franz Liszt. The composer had been absent from his homeland for over a decade and the visits motivated him to immortalize his country and heritage in music. During these two visits, he transcribed melodies he heard performed by roaming gypsy bands. Liszt believed these to be authentic Hungarian folk music. However, most of them were actually the inventions of contemporary Hungarian composers whose fame had spread into the popular scene. Nevertheless, Liszt composed his Rhapsodies and published fifteen of them between 1851 and 1853. The remaining four followed decades later in 1882-86. Several became quite popular with audiences and later appeared in altered forms. Six of the Rhapsodies were arranged by Franz Doppler for orchestra while Liszt transcribed the same six, as well as three others, for piano duet. Two were arranged by the composer himself for violin, cello and piano.
The thirteenth Hungary Rhapsody, in A minor, is one of the least performed of the nineteen, appearing occasionally on recital programs and only in recordings of the complete set. This is to be regretted, however, as it is probably one of the most musically rewarding. No doubt Liszt’s flashy virtuosic writing is present, as in the other Rhapsodies, yet here it is more suitably balanced by his handling of thematic material which goes beyond mere variations for the purpose of showmanship. The Rhapsody begins with a melancholy (malinconico) theme announced in the rich middle register of the piano. Though mournful, it only partially disguises an inherent passionate fire that comes more to the fore as the piece progresses. The melody is treated in a rhapsodic fashion, ornamented with brilliant figurations, and establishes motifs that will return later. This introductory passage is followed by a longer section in A major. While affecting no change in tempo, it nevertheless imparts a livelier, if not expectant, mood to the music. The forlorn motif of the introduction, however, at times briefly interrupts this otherwise generally optimistic section. Following a quite close in A major, the third section begins at a Vivace tempo with a fiery tune in A minor. The melody of this section, however, succumbs to Liszt’s virtuosic showmanship. Nevertheless it builds with impetuous energy, eventually reaching the Presto assai coda, and concludes bombastically in A major. Joseph DuBose
The Hungarian rhapsodies were inspired by an old tradition called the verbunkos, or recruiting dance, performed in the early 19th century by soldiers who used a kind of dance competition invigorated by the free flow of alcoholic beverages to induce young Hungarian men to enlist in the imperial army. The verbunkos usually appeared in two major sections, the first slow, with a very marked dotted rhythm, the second fast, often getting faster and wilder as it progressed. During the 19th century, Hungarian composers took this pattern for a song type called the czardas, which remained popular for decades in operetta. Liszt's Thirteenth Rhapsody follows this basic slow-fast pattern, but with the usual pauses for virtuosic cadenzas, like the gypsy fiddlers, or for decorative repeated notes, like the hammering of the cimbalom. Lucille Chung
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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