In 1840, and again in 1846, Liszt travelled within Hungary, listening to the music of the gypsy bands and notating many of their themes. Some of these themes were compositions by minor composers of the day, who deliberately produced short pieces for the bands’ use; others were actually Hungarian folksongs. The distinction was as blurred for Liszt as it remains to present-day players in Hungarian orchestras of traditional instruments. By 1848, Liszt had composed twenty-two piano pieces based on such themes, and eighteen of them were published in the 1840s under the title Magyar Dalok – Ungarische National-Melodien and Ungarische Rhapsodien – Magyar Rapszódiák – Rapsodies hongroises (‘Hungarian Songs and Rhapsodies’, usually referred to by their Hungarian title to avoid confusion). By 1851, Liszt had embarked upon a new series of fifteen works, to which four more were later added: the famous Rapsodies hongroises (Hungarian Rhapsodies). Numbers III-XV of the second set were entirely constructed from material from the first set. In between, Liszt embarked on a project that he left unfinished: the production of a series of works of moderate difficulty derived from the Magyar Dalok and Magyar Rapszódiák, under the title Zigeuner-Epos (‘Epic story of the gypsies’).
from notes by Leslie Howard © 2002