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Hungarian Rhapsody Program Notes

Although Franz Liszt (1811-1886) grew up speaking German rather than Hungarian and actually lived relatively little of his life in his native land, he always remained intensely proud of his Hungarian heritage. Among the many colorful stories about him are the accounts of his playing in public while dressed in native folk costume.

Amidst the rise of Hungarian nationalism, leading to the Hungarian revolution of 1848 Liszt took on the role of Hungary’s most prominent citizen. Liszt fell easily into his role as symbol of Hungarian independence. Liszt had a strong interest in Hungarian folk music and absorbed its influences in some of his own music. The best known of his folk inspired works are the 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies.

Liszt incorporated the ‘gypsy” or Roma style into his music after visiting an encampment and listening carefully to the best “gypsy” musicians. It is a distinctive style with its wildly passionate and exotic in character (heightened by use of the so-called “gypsy scale” which contains 2 striking intervals known to music theory students as “augmented 2nds).

The Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C minor is the best known of the set, and like many of the others, has been arranged for orchestra. To achieve its folk flavor, the Rhapsody is set in the form of a czárdás, a Hungarian dance that is traditionally laid out in two sections, one slow and one fast. The opening, sets a proudly ponderous tone filled with theatrically melancholy emotion. This section is punctuated by several spectacularly virtuosic clarinet solos, meant to sound as though improvised. The fast section known as the Friska (literally “fresh” in Hungarian), begins with the tinkling imitation of the cimbalom.

-- Daniel Maki (edited)

The unconventionally constructed 2nd Piano Concerto was premiered at Weimar Germany in 1857. Liszt’s pupil Hans von Bronsart, the dedicatee of the work, served as soloist and the composer himself conducted. The piece itself had already lived a rather long life. Liszt began work on it back in 1839 and put it on the shelf in 1840. He would not address it again for another ten years, after which he began a process of periodic revision that didn’t end until 1861, four years after the first performance. It is interesting that the composer himself called the work a “Symphonic Concerto” in his manuscripts, indicating that he envisioned from the start a piece that would be different from the typical concerto structure of his time. Like his 1st Concerto, the 2nd progresses from movement to movement without pause and, in fact, doesn’t have movements at all in the traditional sense but rather a series of contrasting “sections” that treat the opening theme to several interesting transformations. It was a compositional technique that Liszt was fond of throughout his career. Unlike its older sibling, the 2nd Concerto is, to the extent that any work by Liszt can be called so, almost subtle. Both concerti are flashy and difficult, filled with pianistic pyrotechnics but No. 1 seems designed only to dazzle. It is music that, according to essayist Michael Steinberg, is fit for an “expert keyboard athlete” while No. 2 is for “poets only.”

--Utah Symphony

Zoltán Kodály, 1882 -1967 is one of Hungary’s most esteemed composers and educators. At the age of 15 he entered the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest and graduating with a teaching diploma in 1905. He then began a lifelong project of collecting, categorizing, and analyzing Hungarian folk tunes. Today, Kodály is recognized as one of the first people to delve into the field of ethnomusicology. In 1907 at age 23, Kodály, was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. Kodály's opera Háry János was first performed on October 16, 1926 in Budapest. It is a comedic Hungarian folk opera based on the comic epic The Veteran by Janos Garay.In the Opera’s preface, Kodály explained:

Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier, who day after day sits in the tavern, spinning yarns about his heroic exploits and being a real peasant, the stories produced by his fantastic imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naïveté, of comic humour and pathos… .That his stories are not true is irrelevant, for they are the fruit of a lively imagination, seeking to create, for himself and for others, a beautiful dream world.

From this four act opera, Kodály extracted the orchestral highlights of the Háry János Suite. It premiered in December 1927 in New York City. The suite consists of six parts. Movements 1, 3 and 5 are largely atmospheric, while Nos. 2, 4 and 6 are based mainly on scenes from the opera.

Prelude: the Fairy Tale Begins

The suite starts with an orchestral imitation of a sneeze. This comes from the old Hungarian belief that a story told after a sneeze is always true. Following the sneeze, the basses and celli emit slow, almost somber tones, finally emerging into a sad melodic theme. This movement provides almost a dreamlike setting for the following movements.

Viennese Musical Clock

The Viennese Musical Clock begins with Háry János at the Austrian Emperor’s court, where he hears the clocks strike at midday. Snare drum and chimes start this movement in imitation of the Emperor’s clock. A light, chipper, yet almost regal melody follows, that, much like the first movement, meanders throughout the orchestra. Needless to say, plenty of percussion is used in this movement!


Song starts with a solo viola, joined presently by the cimbalom. The music has a light and airy feel and much of the music from this movement is supplied primarily from the Hungarian folk song “This Side the Tisza, Beyond the Danube.”

The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon

The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon is both humorous and satirical. It is a parody on France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise, an example of the European march, and tells the story of how Háry János singlehandedly defeats Napoleon and his men. Brass is extremely prevalent in this movement so be sure to listen for the fanfares as well as the glissandi written for both trombone and tuba.


Intermezzo is a Verbunkos, an 18th-century Hungarian military recruiting dance. The movement’s primary theme is from a piano method written by Istvan Gati in 1802. The cimbalom adds to and complements this movement creating a folksy and atmospheric aura.

Entrance of the Emperor and His Court

Entrance of the Emperor and His Court depicts the Imperial court as seen through the eyes of a peasant. Starting off the movement, the woodwinds mimic the high-pitched banter of the courtiers. Kodaly implements the entire orchestra at once in this movement creating a contrast to the minimal instrumentation commonly heard in the previous movements and we will once again hear the Marseillaise parody from the fourth movement.

--The Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra

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