Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C# Minor, S. 359

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        Liszt was Hungarian, although he never spoke the language, his family having been assimilated Germans.   He was greatly influenced by the gypsy music of his homeland, even playing recitals as a young man in native costume.   He was, of course, one of the greatest piano virtuosos who ever lived, and his music for the piano is central to its literature.   While the intellectual level of his music varies greatly, it has always been immensely popular.   He wrote a series of “Hungarian Rhapsodies” for solo piano, nineteen in all, but number two has enjoyed the greatest reputation.  It was composed in 1847, and its smashing success led soon to its orchestration.   The enormous appeal of its soulful slow section, followed by the scintillating virtuosity of the driving concluding section, is apparently eternal.  The slow section and following fast section--lassú and friss, respectively, in Hungarian—are standard elements in the Hungarian verbunkos and czárdás dances.  While many (including Liszt, himself) think of much of this music as being Gypsy in origin, it is in point of fact, as much Magyar as it is Gypsy.

        The orchestrations of six of the rhapsodies for piano were executed by a flutist active in Austria and Hungary in the late 1850s, Franz Doppler.  Liszt later revised these works, but insisted that Doppler be given much of the credit for their success.  And successful they have been; the piano versions lived a long life as practically “test pieces” for gifted pianists, and almost every virtuoso of times past included them on programs to wow audiences.   In more modern times, Rhapsody No. 2 especially has played a part in the cartoon world of Walt Disney, Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Warner Brothers, and Hanna/Barbera—just to name the familiar ones.  I suppose one shouldn’t forget the Marx Brothers, either.   In any case, the music is wonderfully tuneful and entertaining, and sounds just as great played by the orchestra as it does upon the piano.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan