The first version of this march-song was probably created around 1730 by one or more anonymous composers, although tradition says that it was the favourite march of Francis Rákóczi II. That early version, the Rákóczi-nóta (Rákóczi Song), was a lament complaining about the misfortune of the Magyars and the Habsburg oppression. The song called back Francis Rákóczi II to save his people. It was very popular in the 18th century but in the 19th century the more refined Rákóczi March became prevalent.
The Rákóczi-nóta was one of the most interesting[according to whom?] pieces of Kuruc poetry. It soon became a folksong with more than 20 versions and was sung even after the 1848 revolution. It gave inspiration to the poets Sándor Petőfi, Ferenc Kölcsey and Kálmán Thaly.
The "Rákóczi March" was played by Gypsy violinist János Bihari between 1809-20. Hector Berlioz included the music in his composition "La Damnation de Faust" in 1846, and Franz Liszt wrote a number of arrangements, including his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, based on the theme. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz composed a variation on the "Rákóczi March" with elements of both the Liszt and Berlioz versions. This piece greatly expands on the bravura and flash of the Liszt composition.
The lyrics of the march were written at the end of the 19th century and are of poor poetical quality. Today the tune is always played without the lyrics. The Berlioz version has become a popular folk-music selection in Hungary, especially for weddings.
The march gave its name to a 1933 Austro-Hungarian feature film - Rakoczy-Marsch - starring Gustav Fröhlich (who also directed), Camilla Horn, Leopold Kramer and others. Today the Rákóczi March is mostly played at state and military celebrations.
- Rakoczy March (Liszt, Franz): Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 (Liszt, Franz): Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
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