Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (Liszt)

Program note

Tubas being played
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
arr. Jeff Luke

With its brooding fanfare of an opening and escalating dance-like energy, Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is brilliantly suited to brass ensemble.

By far the most popular in Liszt’s set of 19 Hungarian rhapsodies for solo piano, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 was written in 1851 (he composed all 19 between 1846 and 1853) and it was orchestrated shortly after that by Liszt’s colleague Franz Doppler.

In the Hungarian rhapsodies, the pianist and composer celebrated the music of his homeland, then under the control of the Austrian Empire – part of a growing trend of national pride expressed in music across the continent in the nineteenth century. Born in Hungary, Liszt grew up speaking German and while he lived and toured in cities across Europe throughout his career – his family moved to Vienna when he was a child – he was passionate about Hungarian music and culture. Liszt made his first trip back to Hungary since his childhood in 1839, collecting the Magyar and Romani folk melodies that became the inspiration for his rhapsodies.

The lively Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is inspired by the csárdás, a Hungarian folk dance that takes its name from an old Hungarian term for a roadside tavern. The form was popular with bands in Hungary and surrounding countries. The dance is typically made up of two contrasting sections – the first section, the lassú, begins slowly, building up to the wild friss.

While the work is an expression of national pride, it’s also a showpiece for the performer. Liszt was a virtuoso pianist – he gave his first public appearance at the age of nine – and in his early career he made a living by touring and performing. In this brass arrangement the piano’s thundering bass line becomes a driving oom-pah from the tuba while the flourishing piano passages become a virtuosic showpiece for brass.

© Angus McPherson, 2022

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