(b. 7 May 1833 in Hamburg, d. 3 April 1897 in Vienna)
orchestrated by Antonín Dvořák
(1841 – 1904)
No.17 in F sharp minor. Andantino, p.5
No.18 in D major. Molto vivace, p.25
No. 19 in B minor. Allegretto, p.40
No. 20 in E minor. Poco allegretto, p.53
No. 21 in E minor. Vivace, p.66
Johannes Brahms’s Hungarian Dances WoO 1 [Werke ohne Opuszahl = Works without opus number]1 are undoubtedly among his best known and most popular works. Of the altogether 21 dances ten appeared in 1869 and the remaining eleven in 1880. Thus these Hungarian Dances came into being just at the time when Brahms had finally settled in Vienna.
The musical material is formed out of many Czardas melodies, taken from Hungarian folk music. For this reason Brahms himself regarded himself not as the composer of the dances but merely their arranger.1 In the first edition he expressed this clearly: on the title page it reads “Hungarian Dances for four hands at the piano, set by Johannes Brahms.” 2 A further indication that Brahms had no wish to lay claim to the role of creator, and wanted to emphasis their folkloric origin is revealed by the fact that he provided no opus number for the Hungarian Dances, which applies equally to his arrangements of German folk songs. 3 As far as the sources of the folkloric melodies employed is concerned, in 1997 János Bereczky produced a comprehensive survey of a number of themes whose origin has not yet been researched. 4
The particular popularity of the Hungarian Dances is further reflected in the multitude of arrangements for assorted instrumental settings. Thus arrangements exist by numerous contemporaries such as Albert Parlow or Joseph Joachim. There are also orchestral arrangements by Brahms himself for Dances nos. 1, 3 and 10, which his publisher Fritz Simrock more or less insisted on and which demanded a good deal of effort from him.5 Thus Brahms complains in a letter to Simrock: “ These cursed arrangements! I set them for four hands, if I’d wanted them as orchestral pieces they would have been different!” 6
Although Brahms made heavy weather of the orchestral arrangements of the Hungarian Dances and expressed a certain scepticism, these arrangements added a profitable dimension to the Dances. The broader spectrum of musical colours that an orchestra can offer gives access to considerable potential for musical expressiveness and variety in the Hungarian Dances compared with the original piano versions. This is just as true of Brahms’s own orchestrations as it is of the arrangements by his contemporaries. The pieces, originally destined for salon performance, thereby acquired their assured place in the concert hall and in the symphony orchestra’s repertoire.
One of these numerous arrangements consists in the orchestration of the last five Dances of the cycle by the Bohemian composer Antonin Dvořák, who had a friendly relationship with Brahms. The friendship between the two composers began in 1877 when Brahms took on the role of mentor to the still unknown Dvořák.7 In fact Brahms’s intervention was the deciding factor in the award of the Vienna Education Ministry Scholarship to Dvořák.8 In conversation with the publisher Fritz Simrock Brahms made a recommendation in Dvořák’s favour: “…Dvořák has written all sorts of things, operas (Bohemian ones), symphonies, quartets, piano pieces. At any rate he is a very talented man. And impoverished! Do bear that in mind!”9
The result of the support of Brahms, an already established composer in the musical world, was to provide the eight years younger Dvořák with a leap from the Bohemian backwaters into the great world stage of music. Dvořák remains today among the great composers of musical history.
Read full preface > HERE