BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1-21 (Budapest Symphony Orchestra/ Istvan Bogar/ Jenõ Simon) (Naxos: 8.550110)
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Johannes Brahms (1822 - 1897)
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in North Germany, and his ambition formany years was to return to his native city to occupy some substantial positionin the musical establishment. His childhood had been spent in poverty, and itwas natural that he should wish to be seen to have succeeded in the eyes of hisfellow-citizens. This particular triumph, however, eluded him, and he wasfinally to settle in Vienna, where he became a dominant figure in the musicallife of the imperial capital.
Hamburg is, of course, a world away from Hungary, which formed part of theHapsburg Empire. In 1850, however, Brahms met the Hungarian violinist Remenyi,who introduced him to something to the music of Hungary, and particularly to themusic of the Hungarian gypsies. Brahms and Remenyi toured together in 1853, butthe latter, with an eye to his career, was disappointed by the reaction ofBrahms to the great Hungarian composer Liszt, who held court in Weimar and hadbeen gracious enough to receive them. The two parted company, and Brahms tookadvantage of an invitation from another Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, whowas to continue as a friend and mentor for years.
Brahms continued to show an interest in Hungarian gypsy music, failing, byand large, to distinguish the gypsy from the Magyar. His fascination was shownas early as 1853, the year of his meeting with Robert Schumann, when he wrote aset of variations on a Hungarian theme. His Violin Concerto has a Hungariangypsy turn to its Finale, and he was to set, in 1887, a series of translationsfrom Hungarian in his Gypsy Songs for vocal quartet and piano. The most popularof all works that he wrote in Hungarian style, however, were the HungarianDances, composed originally for piano duet, and appearing in four sets, thefirst two issued in 1869 and the second pair in 1880.
The Hungarian Dances were to win immediate popularity. The piano duet was, inany case, a form much in use, providing a useful element in domesticentertainment, as well as serving a more professional purpose as a means ofperforming transcribed orchestra works. The Hungarian Dances were subject to thecontrary process, and Brahms himself orchestrated the first, third and tenth in1885. The Czech composer Antonin Dvořak,to whom Brahms had given early encouragement, orchestrated the last five, anddid the same for his own piano duet Slavonic Dances. Other arrangements fororchestra were made by the Russo-German composer Paul Juon, the Swedishconductor Hallen, the bandmaster Parlow and others.
The dances themselves make use of gypsy melodies, although there are threeoriginal compositions by Brahms, Nos. 11, 14 and 16. In general the later setsissued in 1880 have about them more of Brahms than of Hungary, and, perhaps as aconsequence, were to prove slightly less popular. Within the prevailing idiomthe dances have considerable variety and marked rhythmic interest. It seems thatWagner had the Hungarian Dances partly in his mind when he wrote with his usualacerbity "I know famous composers that you can meet at concert masquerades,one day in the guise of a ballad singer, the next in Handel's Hallelujah wig,another time as a Jewish csardas player, and then again as genuine symphonistsdressed up as number ten". The general public, on the other hand, hasalways taken kindly to the csardas, which, with the similar verbunkos(recruiting dance) were the principal dance melodies that Brahms borrowed.
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, part of the Hungarian Television andBroadcasting Organisation, was established after the Second World War and underits Principal Conductor Gyorgy Lehel has won some distinction. Through itsfrequent broadcasts and its recordings it has become widely known, and its tourshave taken it to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe as well as to theUnited States of America and Canada. The orchestra has worked with some of themost distinguished conductors and soloists of our time.
Istvan Bogar was born in Budapest in 1937 and graduated from the Ferenc LisztAcademyas a composer in 1963, after earlier instrumental studies. In 1968 hebecame deputy editor-in-chief of Editio Musica Budapest and in 1972 he wasappointed to the position of dramaturge for the National Philharmonic. Since1976 he has been musical secretary to the Hungarian State Orchestra, under JanosFerencsik, and since 1983 director of the music ensembles of the HungarianRadio.
In addition to his varied work in musical administration, Bogar has won areputation as a composer and as a conductor, often of his own compositions. Hehas appeared in. recent years with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and theBudapest Strauss Orchestra, touring Switzerland and France with successfulprogrammes devoted to the work of Johann Strauss. This has resulted ininvitations from Italy, Belgium and England for further tours.