Ungarische Zigeunerweisen

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Ungarische Zigeunerweisen (Konzert im ungarischen Styl), Hungarian Gypsy Melodies (Concerto in the Hungarian Style), is a single-movement work for piano and orchestra of about 17 minutes' duration by Sophie Menter (a renowned pianist in her day, Franz Liszt's favourite female student, and a composer of salon trifles). The work was written in 1885 (with possible help from Liszt), was orchestrated by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892, and first performed by Menter (with Tchaikovsky conducting) in 1893.

The work is listed in Liszt's catalogue as S.714 (recently renumbered as S.126a) on account of his possible involvement. It is not known whether Tchaikovsky played any part in the actual composition, but towards the coda there is a harmonic sequence very familiar from Tchaikovsky's concertos.


The history of the work is clouded with uncertainties. What is known is that Tchaikovsky, while staying with Menter in Austria (from 22 September 1892 [O.S. 10 September] to 2 October 1892 [O.S. 20 September]) at Menter's request prepared a score for piano and orchestra from material which she provided. The score was signed by Tchaikovsky on 2 October 1892 [O.S. 20 September] at Menter's castle Itter Castle. Tchaikovsky conducted Menter in the premiere of the work in Odessa on 4 February 1893 [O.S. 23 January]. However the publication of that score was not seen through the press by Tchaikovsky (who died ten months later), and the published score and parts require a good deal of common-sense correction.[citation needed]

What Tchaikovsky worked from has not been preserved, but it seems to have been some kind of short score. The uncertainty is whether Sophie Menter composed the work, or whether Liszt did, or whether Menter took 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 in 1885). August Göllerich mentions the work 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 it cannot be established whether the work (referred to as a Concerto in the Hungarian Style) is the present piece, but it seems very likely.

Unlikely theory[edit]

One theory that has been advanced is that Liszt instructed Menter to take the piece to her friend Tchaikovsky for orchestration, but not to mention his (Liszt's) name so that Liszt's composership of the work could be hidden from Tchaikovsky (who did not especially admire Liszt). Tchaikovsky once wrote "[Liszt's] music leaves me completely cold", and he was not pleased with Liszt's piano transcription of his Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin.[1] But when one considers that Tchaikovsky had orchestrated Liszt's song Der König in Thule in 1874; and the year after Liszt's death he chose to orchestrate Liszt's version of Mozart's Ave verum corpus (as part of his Orchestral Suite No. 4, "Mozartiana", 1887), although he could just as easily have used Mozart's original, it is clear that his dislike of Liszt was not all-encompassing. His reference to Liszt in his diary as "the old Jesuit" is positively friendly compared to the vituperation he reserved for many of his other contemporaries. (For example, he referred to Brahms as "a giftless bastard" ... "full of pretensions but without any real depths", ... "detestable... so pitiful and insignificant." And of Wagner, he wrote: "Before, music strove to delight people; now they are tormented and exhausted.")

While this theory is considered exceedingly unlikely by some, it is not so considered by Janina Fialkowska, the pianist who premiered Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1990. She says she was told by Roch Serra (who was told by the Liszt scholar Professor Milstein, who was told by Vera Timanova, who was told by Sophie Menter herself), that Liszt was indeed the composer of the piece, but he did not want Tchaikovsky to be aware of this.[1]


The musical substance of the piece is not particularly Lisztian. Its overt "virtuoso" style is one which Liszt had abandoned decades previously. Further, the piano part overuses certain unsubtle effects which do not bear comparison with Liszt's piano writing ostensibly in a similar vein. 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 Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies or the Ungarischer Romanzero) and if Liszt helped to arrange the short score, then his possible collaboration may be conceded.


The structure of the work is straightforward, and is clearly inspired by Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy. The work begins with a theme from the orchestra (which does not return), and a piano cadenza imitating the cimbalom. This leads to an 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 following slow Andante (really an Adagio). A further reminiscence of the Andante 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 short-lived, and the coda very soon comes, generated from a faster version of the Andante.

Place in the repertoire[edit]

The piece is effective without laying claim to any special importance, but - considering the probable assistance of Liszt and the certain participation of Tchaikovsky - is an interesting footnote among the works for piano and orchestra of the time.


See also[edit]