The Clinton Symphony will be performing the Brahms Hungarian Dances 5 and 6 side by side with students from Sterling High School on their Autumn Concert, Unbridled Brilliance, on September 22. The following are program notes from William Driver about the Dances.
Hungarian Dances 5 and 6
Hungarian Dances is a set of 21 dances arranged by Johannes Brahms from Hungarian folk sources and originally scored for piano four hands (two pianists, one piano) and later orchestrated by Brahms and a few friends, including Antonin Dvorak. No opus number is assigned to the work because Brahms considered himself the arranger rather than the composer, and thus would take no credit for the pieces. However, three of the compositions are believed to be original with Brahms – numbers 11, 14, and 16.
The inspiration for Dances grew out of Brahms study of folk music and encouraged by his early relationship with Hungarian-born violinist Ede Reményi. Brahms had met Reményi when he was 17 and three years later he served as piano accompanist to Reményi during an extensive tour of European cities. After the publication of the Dances, Reményi accused Brahms of adapting tunes of his for use in the Dances.
Brahms actually claimed only to have arranged pre-existing melodies when he finally came around to publishing them…Friends remembered his flashing eyes when Brahms played his dances, the rhythm darting and halting, his hands all over the keyboard at once.
The Dances were published in four sets, two in 1869 and two in 1880. They were an immediate success and were widely performed in public recitals and home entertainment. Immediate also was the demand for orchestral versions of the individual pieces, which were dutifully forthcoming from Brahms and his composer friends.
Interestingly, one of the better-known Hungarian Dances includes No. 5, based on the Csárdás Bártfai emlék” (Memories of Bártfa) by Hungarian composer Béla Kéler, which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.
The earliest known recording of any movement of Hungarian Dances is a version of Hungarian Dances No. 1, from 1890, played by Brahms himself, and, recorded by Theo Wangemann, an assistant to Thomas Edison.
The following dialogue can be heard in the recording as an introduction:
Theo Wangemann: “Dezember 1889.” (December 1889)
Johannes Brahms: “Im Haus von Herrn Doktor Fellinger bei Herrn Doktor Brahms, Johannes Brahms.” (In the house of Dr. Fellinger with Dr. Brahms, Johannes Brahms)