The Hungarian-born composer and pianist Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale, rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression. These elements would eventually play a significant role in Liszt’s compositions. Although this prolific composer’s works are highly varied in style, a relatively large part of his output is nationalistic in character, the Hungarian Rhapsodies being an ideal example.
Composed in 1847 and dedicated to Count László Teleki, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 was first published as a piano solo in 1851. Its immediate success and popularity on the concert stage soon led to an orchestrated version.
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, S.244/2, is the second in a set of 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies by composer Franz Liszt, and is by far the most famous of the set.
The piece consists of two distinct sections:
The first is the lassan, with its brief but dramatic introduction. Although beginning on the C-sharp major triad, C-sharp minor is soon established as the home key. From this point on, the composer modulates freely, particularly to the tonic major and the relative major. The mood of the lassan is generally dark and melancholic, although it contains some playful and capricious moments.
The second section is the friska. It opens quietly in the key of F-sharp minor, but on its dominant chord, C sharp major, recalling a theme from the lassan. The alternating dominant and tonic harmonies quickly increase in volume, the tempo gaining momentum as the Friska’s main theme (in F sharp major) is approached. At this point, the Friska begins its journey of ever-increasing energy, still underpinned by alternating tonic and dominant harmonies. Modulations are limited almost exclusively to the dominant (C sharp major) and the lowered mediant (A major). Before the final whirlwind of sound, a moment of calm prevails in the key of F sharp minor, recalling another of the lassan’s themes, and is followed by the instruction, Cadenza ad lib. Finally, in the key of F-sharp major, there is a crescendo of prestissimo octaves, which ascend and then descend to cover almost the entire range of the keyboard and bringing the Rhapsody to a conclusion.