Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
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. Few other piano solos have achieved such widespread popularity, offering the pianist the opportunity to reveal exceptional skill as a virtuoso, while providing the listener with an immediate and irresistible musical appeal.
In both the original piano solo form and in the orchestrated version this composition has enjoyed widespread use in animated cartoons. Its themes have also served as the basis of several popular songs.
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 by Senff and Ricordi. Its immediate success and popularity on the concert stage soon led to an orchestrated version, arranged by the composer in collaboration with Franz Doppler, and published by Schuberth. In addition to the orchestral version, the composer arranged a piano duet version in 1874, published by Schuberth the following year.
By the late 19th century and early 20th century, the excruciating technical challenges of the piano solo version led to its acceptance as the "unofficial standard" by which every notable pianist would "prove his salt", usually as a smashing finale. It had become an expected staple of virtually every performance of the greatest pianists of the time. Offering an outstanding contrast to the serious and dramatic lassan, the following friska holds enormous appeal for audiences, with its simple alternating tonic and dominant harmonization, its energetic, toe-tapping rhythms, and breath-taking "pianistics".
Most unusual in this composition is the composer's invitation for the performer to improvise an original cadenza, although most pianists choose to decline the invitation. In 1997 Marc-André Hamelin performed a cadenza that has since become famous for its originality, musicality and playfulness, and Sergei Rachmaninoff also wrote a famous cadenza for his interpretation. Other pianists have arranged their own versions of the Rhapsody with changes beyond that of simply adding a cadenza, most notably Vladimir Horowitz in 1953.
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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 and pianistic bravura, 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.
Liszt planned his choice of keys in a remarkably symmetrical fashion. Although the lassan's principal key is C sharp minor (with the appropriate key signature used throughout) the work opens on the tonic major chord, C sharp major. However, by bar 6, the minor tonality is established. This device provides a contrast which intensifies the generally dark and sombre character of the lassan. This procedure is directly reversed in the Friska. Although the principal key of the Friska is F sharp major, Liszt chooses to begin in the tonic minor key, F sharp minor, which is sustained until bar 51. For practical reasons of notation (i.e., the prolongation of the tonic minor key), Liszt chooses the key signature of F sharp minor, until the arrival of the main theme in F sharp Major. This time, the use of the more serious minor tonality is used as a contrast to the arrival of the playful and jubilant main theme of the Friska.
In popular culture
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor is also well-known due to its frequent use in animated cartoons.
The first such appearance was as part of a piano solo by Mickey Mouse in The Opry House in 1929 where he has to deal with an animated piano intent upon making life difficult for him.
In the Krazy Kat short Bars and Stripes (1931), the song is used during the scenes where a large pack of animated musical instruments joined to take down Krazy after he and they had a serious fallout.
Another notable early appearance is in the Max Fleischer cartoon A Car-Tune Portrait, featuring a lion attempting to conduct an orchestra of animals playing a variety of instruments. As the music progresses, the orchestra falls into disarray (to the conductor's despair) and eventually ends with all the animal musicians attacking one another. The rhapsody made another early appearance, as one of several classical pieces, in Disney's Farmyard Symphony.
It became a permanent part of cartoon history with its use in Friz Freleng's Rhapsody in Rivets, where the construction of a skyscraper is synchronized to the rhapsody. Freleng used the piece in several other Warner Brothers cartoons, most notably Rhapsody Rabbit, which featured Bugs Bunny as a concert pianist playing the solo piano version. This film was clearly inspired by its first use in 1929 because many of the gags are similar. However, controversy followed this short's release. Within weeks, MGM released William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's Tom and Jerry short, The Cat Concerto, which won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. The short featured an almost identical plot, and the same Hungarian Rhapsody, being played by Tom the cat this time. Freleng was convinced that MGM stole the idea from him, and Hanna and Barbera were just as convinced that they were the victims of plagiarism.
Freleng continued to use the piece, though, featuring it in Back Alley Oproar and in an animated sequence for the Doris Day movie My Dream Is Yours. UPA would use the piece in the Oscar nominated The Fox and the Crow film The Magic Fluke in 1949. Disney would later use the piece again in 1969's It's Tough to Be a Bird. In the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, director Robert Zemeckis pays tribute to "Number 2"'s cartoon heritage by using the piece for the "dueling pianos" scene featuring Daffy Duck and Donald Duck. In the same fashion, themes from this piece are interwoven throughout the score for the Disneyland attraction Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. Warner Brothers also used it in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode C Flat or B Sharp?, in which Buster Bunny, Plucky Duck and Hamton must take the piano that is on top of the Acme Looniversity's main tower to the concert room, following the orders of Yosemite Sam. The soundtrack of this episode is a shorter version of the composition, and no lines are spoken.
Finally, it was used again in Wakko's Wish as the tune of The Wishing Star, as a cast ensemble piece where the Warners sing about the wishing star and how they were off to find it. As the rest of the town finds out that the star will grant a wish to whoever finds it first, everyone sets out on the quest.
The rhapsody was also used several times in the movies of the Marx Brothers. In A Day at the Races and A Night in Casablanca, Chico Marx plays it as an introduction to his main number on the piano with an orchestral accompaniment; in Races it is played with a full orchestra with Harpo conducting comically; in Casablanca, it is played with a smaller jazz orchestra, and opens Chico's 'classical number—the second movement from the Beer Barrel Polka'. Later on, Harpo plays the rhapsody as his harp solo.
In 1949, Stephen Weiss and Bernie Baum composed "Music! Music! Music!". By 1950 it became a "number one hit". Its bridge (lyrics: "Closer, my dear come closer! The sweetest part of any melody..."), melodically and harmonically, is a direct plagiarism of the second theme from the Friska of the Rhapsody.
In 1979, Victor Borge played the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 on The Muppet Show with Rowlf the Dog. He also played a duo version with Şahan Arzruni, in which they played on the same piano, and changed the parts to make it fun to the viewers.
The final scenes of the 1982 cult film documentary The Atomic Cafe feature the rhapsody as the accompaniment to a nuclear war.
The "Hungarian Rhapsody" No. 2 was also the basis for a popular song, "Ebony Rhapsody" by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, introduced in the 1934 film Murder at the Vanities. In the film, it was played by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, who also recorded it. This swing version of the rhapsody was a major influence on several aspiring arrangers, including Billy Strayhorn (who later became Duke Ellington's composing partner) and Billy May (who later recorded "Ebony Rhapsody" with Nat King Cole).
The "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" is also included in the soundtrack of the 1996 film Shine by Australian director Scott Hicks, where it is being performed by Geoffrey Rush himself. The film relates the life of pianist David Helfgott.
With a different set of lyrics, "Hungarian Rhapsody" became the Capitol children's record "Daffy Duck's Rhapsody", sung by Mel Blanc in his Daffy Duck persona, and still another cartoon connection for the rhapsody.
In one of the earliest examples of a baseball relief pitcher coming out to signature music, St. Louis Cardinals organist Ernie Hays played "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" when pitcher Al Hrabosky (nicknamed "The Mad Hungarian") warmed up before his appearances in the 1970s.
The piece also makes an appearance in Project Gotham Racing 4.
A short part of the Hungarian Rhapsody featured in the 2010 The Simpsons episode "Judge Me Tender".
Tom Lehrer quotes part of the Friska in "Lobachevsky": "And then I write... when he finds out I publish first."
- Eric Blom ed.: "Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians"", 5th edition; St. Martin's Press, New York, 1954; Library of Congress Catalog Number 54-11819
- James Friskin and Irwin Freundlich: "Music for the Piano", Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1973; ISBN 0-486-22918-1
- John Gillespie: "Five Centuries of Keyboard Music", Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1972; ISBN 0-486-22855-X
- Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free sheet music from Cantorion.org
- Hungarian Rhapsody #2, Lassan & Friska CC-licensed free recording from archive.org