Work: Hungarian Dances (21) for Orchestra, WoO 1
About This Work
Brahms originally published his Hungarian Dances as two batches of piano duets in 1869 (numbers 1-10) and 1880 (the remainder). They were quite successful at the time, but they've become best known in their later orchestral guises. Just how firmly
Brahms' name can be attached to this music is a matter of some small argument. Brahms himself dressed only numbers 1, 3, and 10 in orchestral garb, and he refused to take credit for the melodies in the keyboard versions; he referred to them merely as arrangements. Yet the resulting dances are fairly far removed from their original Magyar folk and Gypsy forms -- Brahms didn't quite understand the difference between the two -- and tend to be more elegant and well crafted than the more commercial café-style music that most strongly influenced Brahms here. Numbers 11, 14, and 16 seem to be wholly original pieces.
Almost all the pieces depend on sudden contrasts between restraint and explosive energy, but the two original groups of pieces (actually, each group consists of two sets of dances) have rather distinct characters. The first ten dances are, in general, the more lively, while the final 11 tend to emphasize the melancholy aspects of Hungarian music.
The three dances Brahms orchestrated are, like the composer's other works, reluctant to indulge in splashy effects. The five orchestrated by Antonin Dvorák -- numbers 17 through 21 -- though lying in the "melancholy" half of the dances, share the instrumental exuberance of the Czech composer's Slavonic Dances, especially the way Dvorák often sends the violins into their high register.
Bandmaster Albert Parlow orchestrated numbers 11 through 16; these versions depend on a lush but not heavy string sound, with woodwinds and brass used for accents with a Brahmsian restraint. The remainder fell to several different hands. Martin Schmeling orchestrated numbers 5 -- the most popular of all -- through 7, making more liberal use of triangle and cymbals than the other orchestrators. Hans Gál, remembered for his editions of Brahms' piano scores, orchestrated numbers 8 and 9 with a good ear for woodwinds. The series is completed by Swedish conductor Johan Andreas Hallén's treatment of the second dance, and Russo-German composer Paul Juon's orchestration of the fourth.
-- James Reel, All Music Guide
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