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Hyperion Records

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Harvesters on their way Home (1881) by Lajos Deak Ebner (1850-1934)
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67418/9
Recording details: December 1998
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: September 1999
Total duration: 147 minutes 16 seconds

'He homes in on the Hungarian melodies and evocations and locates the love and pride that Liszt lavished on them' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This splendid set represents a high artistic peak within Leslie Howard's distinguished survey' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

Hungarian Rhapsodies, S244
circa 1847 to 1885; Nos 1 to 15 published 1853; Nos 16 and 17 1882; Nos 18 and 19 1885

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
As we have seen (in the Magyar dalok & Magyar rapszódiák, Vol. 29, and the Ungarischer Romanzero, Vol. 52), Liszt made some effort to collect folk material himself. He was also a lifelong admirer of the music of the gypsies, many of whose improvisations were based on composed (and often published) melodies. Liszt’s decision not to distinguish between Hungarian folk music and popular compositions employed by gypsy musicians may not be in line with the spirit of twentieth-century ethnomusicology, but his efforts to promote all the music familiar to him from the land of his birth were as noble as they were honest. Whilst Liszt’s book Les bohémiens et leur musique en Hongrie was somewhat tarnished by the editorial additions of the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, even there he makes a brave attempt to account for the fascination of this music, partly folk-inspired, partly professionally composed, and partly the momentary inspiration of its performers. That book was intended as a preface (!) to the Hungarian Rhapsodies.

There is some very fine literature about the origin of many of the themes employed in the Rhapsodies, but the subject is far too complex to reduce in any meaningful way for inclusion in this introduction. It is gratefully acknowledged the information provided below owes much to Zoltán Gárdony’s excellent article A Chronology of Ferenc Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies (published in English in the 1995 Liszt Society Journal) and to David Clegg’s subsequent Observations on that article (in the 1996 Journal). It should also be borne in mind that some of the themes might well be Liszt’s own, written in the style of melodies which he had heard.

Liszt may have turned his back upon his earlier piano works in the Hungarian style (as can be seen from his annotations in the Thematic Catalogue of his works) but he certainly used much material from the first cycle of Hungarian Songs and Rhapsodies (see Vol. 29) in the Rapsodies hongroises III–XV. (In Volume 29 there is a table listing the thematic connections between the various works.) But the first and second Rapsodies are quite new. All the works bear dedications to important Hungarians of the day (Szerdahelyi, Teleki, Festetics, Kázmér Esterházy, Mme Reviczky, Apponyi, Orczy, Augusz, Egressy), or to musicians with Hungarian interests (Joachim, Ernst, von Bülow). The later works express an even stronger affinity with Hungary: Rhapsodies XVI–XVIII are entirely original compositions in the Hungarian manner, whilst XIX returns to the methods employed in the earlier works, this time citing the origin of the themes. The last four Rhapsodies were all published in Hungary, generally with Hungarian and German titles, and with Liszt’s name in his now-preferred Hungarian style: Liszt Ferenc. Extraordinarily, there are still some modern editions of the Rhapsodies that simply omit the last four (although Peters Edition has recently added them in exchange for the inappropriately included Rapsodie espagnole that originally ended the second volume). As we have previously remarked, Liszt deliberately employed Roman numerals to distinguish this set from the earlier publication, where Arabic numerals were used.

In the present recording, the main texts of the pieces are presented. Various earlier versions and alternative readings will be found in Volume 56. But since Liszt wrote two cadenzas for the second Rhapsody, one of them is included here. The pieces themselves probably need very little introduction: many of them adopt the pattern of the slow first section (lassú) and second fast section (friss) familiar from so much improvised Hungarian music, and yet the variety of expression is astonishing. In the introduction to the volumes of the Rhapsodies in the Neue Liszt-Ausgabe, the editors Zoltán Gárdonyi and Istvan Szelényi make the following important observations: ‘It is not merely for reasons of authenticity that the present new edition is intended to put an end to the various and often completely contradictory interpretations of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. To this day these works are principally but erroneously looked upon as more or less trivial products of keyboard literature for the very reason that they use folklore themes and employ them in the style of popular gypsy bands. We have here the reason for the general inaccuracy in performance and the tendency to indulge in vivid though rough showmanship. It is high time that Liszt’s Hungarian folklore studies were placed before interpreters in all their variety and their idiomatic richness. It should be pointed out that in performance, despite all the virtuosity they demand, mere technical bravura should never predominate. If the Hungarian Rhapsodies—apart from the Héroïde élégiaque—have no programme that can be formulated in words, we must not overlook the poetic basis of both their content and their expression.’

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1999

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