The history of the Ungarische Zigeunerweisen (Konzert im ungarischen Styl)
is clouded with uncertainties. What is indubitably true is that, in 1892, at Sophie Menter’s request, Tchaikovsky prepared a score for piano and orchestra from material which she provided. Equally true is that the publication of that score was not seen through the press by Tchaikovsky, who died the following year, and that the published score and parts require a good deal of common-sense correction. What Tchaikovsky worked from has not been preserved, but it seems to have been some kind of short score. The question is: did Sophie Menter (a very famous pianist in her day, and a composer of salon trifles) compose the work, did Liszt write it, or did Menter take something to Liszt which he then got into shape for her in the period of exactly two days in which he is known to have worked at Menter’s castle—Schloss Itter—in 1885? Göllerich mentions the piece in his diary and suggests that Liszt would have had trouble completing it (failing eyesight and poor health being likely primary reasons; not wishing to write a virtuoso piece in a style which he had long abandoned no doubt being another). Liszt’s letter to Menter dated 3 August 1885 tells her that the ‘Sophie Menter Concerto’ is begun and that he would complete it at Schloss Itter. At this remove we cannot establish whether the work referred to as a Concerto in the Hungarian Style
equates with the present piece, but on balance it seems very likely. It has to be said at the outset that the musical substance of the piece is not particularly Lisztian, but if Menter really collected the themes (which are unknown in Liszt’s works, although they are similar in style to melodies found in some of the Hungarian Rhapsodies or the Ungarischer Romanzero
) and Liszt just helped over two days to arrange the short score, then his possible collaboration may be conceded. What appears exceedingly unlikely, although it is a theory that has been advanced anent this work, is that Liszt instructed Menter to take the piece to her friend Tchaikovsky for orchestration without mentioning Liszt’s name, since Tchaikovsky did not admire Liszt, especially since the publication of the transcription of the Polonaise
from Eugene Onegin
, and that Liszt’s composership of the work be hidden behind Menter’s name. This is just preposterous: Tchaikovsky orchestrated Liszt’s song Der König in Thule
without demur, and he also orchestrated Liszt’s version of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus
for his Mozartiana
suite when he could just as easily have used the original. And if he referred to Liszt in his diary as ‘the old Jesuit’ then at the least it is a lesser insult than that volume reserves for many of Tchaikovsky’s other colleagues (such as Brahms, for example: ‘a giftless bastard’!). In any event, this piece is missing from any other recorded accounts of Tchaikovky’s concertante works, and ought to be heard for that reason alone. We cannot say whether Tchaikovsky played any part in the actual composition, but towards the coda there is a harmonic sequence very familiar from Tchaikovsky’s concertos. Let us hope that our bets are hedged correctly and that Liszt had something to do with the piano figuration, especially in the earlier part of the piece.
The structure of the piece is straightforward enough, and is clearly inspired by works such as the Hungarian Fantasy. The work begins with a theme from the orchestra that will not return, and a piano cadenza, full of imitation of the cimbalom, leading to the Andante—a soulful theme expounded in arpeggiated chords. There follows an Allegro variation and another cadenza, leading to a new theme marked Allegretto, given first by the piano and then joined boisterously by the orchestra. The Andante theme is recalled in the ensuing cadenza and a new theme is presented in the slow Andante (really an Adagio) which follows. One more reminiscence of the Andante theme leads to a variation on the Allegretto, with the piano playing in constant demisemiquaver octaves. Another short cadenza introduces a new theme in the horns, but it is shortlived and we find ourselves very soon in the coda, which is generated from a faster version of the Andante theme.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998