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FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C minor (1847)

Orch. by Karl Müller-Berghaus 

Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai


Composed in 1847, Franz Liszt's Second Rhapsody prefaced political turmoil in the Kingdom of Hungary. A year later, the new Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph I, halted Hungarian progress toward a democratic parliament, leading to the 1848 Hungarian Revolution and the War of Independence. The rebellion nearly crushed the Habsburg dynasty but ultimately failed with a kiss. Kissing the hand of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, the Austrian Emperor's gesture ensured Russian military aid, defeating the revolution.


In the Kingdom of Hawai'i, 1847 marked the completion of Washington Place. Designed by Isaac Hart, the mansion became the home of Lydia Kamakaʻeha Pākī (Liliʻuokalani) and her husband, John Owen Dominis, in 1862. Originally constructed as the personal residence for Captain John Dominis (John Owen's father), the Captain never lived to make it his home; he and his ship were lost at sea. Following the Captain's disappearance, his widow, Mary Dominis, began renting rooms. Among the first lodgers was Anthony Ten Eyck, the U.S. Commissioner, who established the U.S. Legation in-house. In the Captain's memory, Eyck named the mansion after President George Washington, and by royal decree, Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) commanded the name remain for all time.



Only a handful of classical performers demand the attention of the modern pop star. However, the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt, with his devilish virtuosity and handsome appearance, fueled a 19th-century fan frenzy (Liszt fever). A prolific composer, Liszt's catalog of works number over 700. Among those works are the 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, channeling the sights and sounds of his native Hungary. All were composed as electrifying solo piano showpieces, with the composer and others spawning various chamber and orchestrated arrangements. 


Beyond the Music: In 1847, the future bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band, Heinrich Wilhelm Berger (1844-1929), was just three years old. Prussian-born, Berger would serve in Austria during wartime, later becoming bandmaster for Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm I. Following Austria's defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 formed a new empire, Austria-Hungary. Of the greatest musicians in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Berger's contributions to Hawaiʻi's musical culture are Lisztian in scope, earning him the title "Father of Hawaiian Music."



Rhapsodies offer the composer a flowing canvas to paint an episodic story. Found in various genres, from classical (Enescu's Romanian Rhapsodies), jazz (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), and rock (Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody), the one-movement structure stitches together a sonic quilt of shifting moods, characters, and color changes, channeling the spirit and spontaneity of improvisation. Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody of 1847 opens with a molasses-rich melody, a slow Lassan of the Csárdás, and ends with a foot-stomping Friska. The most popular and recognizable of the collection, the Second Rhapsody's legacy is perpetuated as the soundtrack for animated properties, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Mickey Mouse.  


Beyond the Music: Bandmaster Henri Berger's contributions to Hawaiian music included combining German, Austrian, and Hawaiian musical styles, ingredients that can be heard in Liszt's Rhapsody, which channels Hungarian music through a Romantic and Germanic orchestral lens. For example, the heavy thumping bass of the Rhapsody's Friska section (about seven minutes in) recalls the accompaniment style similar to Berger's arrangement of Joseph Kapeau Aeʻa's "Hilo March" and to John Philip Sousa's "The Washington Post March," a style still used in Hawaiian music today as the pizzicato bass line.


The Honolulu Symphony first performed the work in 1929. The 11-minute score orchestrated by Karl Müller-Berghaus, calls for two piccolos, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, snare drum, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, harp, and strings.

Franz Liszt was born in Doborján, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire, on October 22, 1811, and died in Bayreuth, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire, on July 31, 1886. 

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