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.
Composed in 1847 and dedicated to Count Laszlo Teleky, 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. A noteworthy example of such a cadenza is heard in the performance of Marc-André Hamelin. 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.
Eventually the piano solo version of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 had run its course with audiences. However, it retains the dubious honor of being perhaps the most over-played composition in the entire piano concert repertoire. Nonetheless, the original piano solo remains an exciting musical experience for pianist and audience alike.
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 sombre, although marked by playful and capricious contrasts.
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 outburst of 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, an overwhelming crescendo of prestissimo octaves, ascending then descending almost the entire range of the keyboard, brings the Rhapsody to an impressive 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.
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.
Another notable early appearance was 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 Bill Hanna and Joe 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. 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. 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.
The 1982 cult film documentary The Atomic Cafe features, in its final minutes, chilling scenes using the rhapsody as the accompaniment to a nuclear war.
The "Hungarian Rhapsody" #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).
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") would warm up before his appearances in the 1970s.
The piece also makes an appearance in Project Gotham Racing 4.
DiscsEtc: Silvertoned pianistics - Shelley/ Bamert/ BBC Philarmonic Dohnanyi Piano Concerto no 1 chandos telstar Rossini Arias decca
Feb 03, 2002; Heard blind, you'd be hard pushed to identify the composer of this piano concerto. A slight twang in Dohnanyi's woodwind writing...