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Franz Liszt (b Raiding, 22 October 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist, and teacher.

 


One of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music, Liszt belonged to the boldest of innovators. His compositions are adorned with slides and appoggiaturas, sighs and rubatos, and exclamations in recitative style. His technique of modulation and use of chromaticism were progressive developments of the era, and he was incredibly successful in enriching Western piano music with the rhythmic and tonal elements of gypsy music.

Regarded as the unrivalled master of virtuoso piano playing, Liszt used his captivating concert personality and sensational technique to introduce and spread knowledge of other composers’ music through his own transcriptions. He was one of the most significant piano teachers the world has ever known; inventing the concept of masterclass, which has now dominated instrumental teaching. Liszt was also an excellent conductor and possessed extraordinary musical intuition.

In November 1839, Franz Liszt made his way from Vienna back to Hungary where he given the royal treatment. Everywhere he went, he was greeted with the phrase ‘Eljen! Liszt Ferenc’ (Hail! Franz Liszt). During this time, Hungary was locked in a struggle for independence from Austria; thus Liszt’s patriotic gestures of donning national costume and playing his arrangement of the Rákóczy March – a melody which was at that time banned by the Austrian authorities, was met with gratuity. On 4 January 1840, Liszt was presented with a ceremonial sword of honour on behalf of the nation in a moving ceremony at the National Theatre.

Since his childhood, Liszt has not had the opportunity to return to his native land; as a result, he spent much of his time in Hungary renewing his contact with gypsy and Hungarian folk music. After listening to a number of the best gypsy bands, Liszt was inspired to compose a series of solo piano pieces called Magyar dallok (‘Hungarian National Melodies’), which were later revised and published under the title ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies’. The second out of nineteen rhapsodies has gained the most prominence, its themes serving as the basis of several popular songs and used extensively in animated cartoons such as The Cat Concerto from Tom & Jerry, which in 1946 won the Academy Award for Short Subjects, Cartoon. For audiences from Hog Kong, the melody of the slow beginning section may remind them of background music from old Black and White HK films.

Composed in 1847 and dedicated to Count László Teleky, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 S.244/2 was first published as a piano solo in 1851 by Senff and Ricordi. Its immediate success and popularity on the concert stage soon led to an orchestrated version, arranged by the composer in collaboration with Franz Doppler, and published by Schuberth. In addition to the orchestral version, the composer arranged a piano duet version in 1874, published by Schuberth the following year.

Like many of the other Hungarian Rhapsodies, the composition is set in two distinct parts. Beginning with a slow and improvisational introduction (Lassan), it is followed by a fast, fun, and catchy section (Friska) similar to that of a csárdás, a Hungarian folk dance. What’s most unusual in this rhapsody is the composer's invitation for the performer to improvise an original cadenza. Marc-André Hamelin, French Canadian composer and pianist, has performed one of the more noteworthy examples of such a cadenza. In 1953, Vladimir Horowitz, Russian-American pianist and composer, recorded his own transcription of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 during his 25th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, and he stated it was the most difficult of his transcriptions. Notable orchestral version of this rhapsody was recorded in April 1967 by Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Herbert von Karajan.

 

 

By Samantha Chang & Simon Leung

 

 

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