The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hungarian style known as verbunkos, born of military recruiting music and closely associated with the virtuosity of Hungarian gypsy bands, is on display in Die drei Zigeuner
, complete with bokázó figures (clicking of heels), hallgató (free melodies without words), garlands of triplet rhythms, the so-called ‘gypsy scale’, and alternating slow and lively tempi. No wonder Liszt was drawn to this poem: its poet, Nikolaus Lenau (born Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau in what was then Hungary and is now part of Romania) created three musician-personæ whose instruments—fiddle, pipes and cimbalom—Liszt mimics brilliantly in the piano. In a letter to Carolyne on 27 May 1860, Liszt wrote: ‘In addition, the whim suddenly took me, without rhyme or reason, to set Lenau’s Zigeuner—and at the piano I quickly found the whole outline’; he finished it on 17 June.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2012