violin online logo
Romantic Unit 1: Early ViolinUnit 2: Baroque Musical Period Unit 3: Classical Musical Period Unit 4: Romantic Musical Period Unit 5: 20th Century Musical PeriodUnit 6: Non Traditional



Hungarian Dance No. 5
JPG file
Fig. 4.2 Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a German composer and used Hungarian folk tunes as the inspiration for his Hungarian Dances. He came from a family of musicians and began studying music at an early age, first with his father and later with teachers such as Eduard Marxsen, a prominent Hamburg pianist and composer. Brahms began his career as a musician when he was employed as a pianist to play popular music in local theaters and at eating and entertainment houses for the working class called Schänken. He also supplemented his income by composing arrangements for ensembles such as brass bands. These activities caused Brahms to become extremely interested in folk music, and he began compiling collections of European folksongs. His interest in folk music continued throughout his life, and one area of folk music which particularly fascinated Brahms, was the Hungarian style of gypsy music called style hongrois [1].

In 1853, Brahms went on a concert tour as an accompanist for the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi. Through connections he made on tour, he met notable musicians such as Franz Liszt, the prominent violinist Joseph Joachim, and Robert and Clara Schumann. Robert Schumann invited Brahms to move to his home to study music with him, and while there, Brahms developed a close friendship with the Schumann family. When Robert Schumann was hospitalized for mental illness, Brahms stayed to assist the family, and eventually fell in love with Robert's wife, Clara. Clara was fourteen years older than Brahms, and was a gifted musician too (she was a brilliant pianist and a fine composer). When Robert died, leaving Clara free to marry, Brahms moved away, possibly frightened by the thought of losing his freedom (Clara was the mother of seven children). Although Brahms never married, he continued to express his love for Clara and her children throughout his life.

Although Brahms had been playing his piano arrangements of Hungarian folk tunes for friends for many years, he finally arranged them for publication and published two sets of 21 Hungarian Dances (ten in 1869 and another 11 in 1880). The lively rhythm and pleasing melody of his Hungarian Dances made them very popular, particularly with amateur musicians who enjoyed playing music in their homes, and his first arrangements were scored for four hands at one piano (two pianists, using the same piano-a popular medium for home musicians).  Brahms later arranged ten of these dances for solo piano and his violinist friend Joseph Joaquim arranged all 21 for violin and piano, but some of the most frequently performed versions of his Hungarian Dances are orchestral arrangements by Brahms and other composers. [2]

Brahms made it clear that he regarded his Hungarian Dances not as original works, but as arrangements of existing melodies – what he thought were Hungarian folk tunes (out of the 21 dances, nos. 11, 14, and 16 appear to be the only original melodies composed by Brahms). For this reason, he intentionally did not assign them opus numbers, and when Brahms submitted his Hungarian Dances to his publisher, he attached the following message: “I offer them as genuine gypsy children which I did not beget, but merely brought up with bread and milk.”

Despite Brahms’ efforts to clarify that he was the transcriber, not the author of the melodies he used in his Hungarian Dances, there still was controversy regarding the origin of the folk tunes. In 1879, Brahms’ former friend, the violinist Ede Reményi, claimed he was the actual composer of some of the melodies Brahms used in his Hungarian Dances and accused Brahms of plagiarizing the melodies by not identifying their sources.[3] Although Remenyi’s claims were largely discredited, Brahms did discover that some of the melodies he’d used weren’t folk tunes but were instead, melodies composed by local composers. For example, Hungarian Dance No. 5 appears to uses the Csárdás melody composed by the Hungarian composer Béla Kéler: "Bártfai emlék” (Brahms thought the csárdás tune he used was a traditional folk melody), and the melody used in the Vivace section towards the end of Hungarian Dance No. 5 came from a Hungarian folk song called “Uczu Bizon Megéreit a Káka" (No. 8 of "Fifty Original Folk & Hungarian Songs" collected by Ignácz Bognár in 1858). The source material for the melodies used by Brahms’ in his Hungarian Dances is still a matter of debate amongst music scholars, with some saying it could have been Reményi, not Kéler who was the source for the first melodic section of Hungarian Dance No. 5.[4][5]

TECHNIQUE TIPS: This arrangement of Hungarian Dance No. 5 features tempo changes such as rubato and ritardando (abbreviated as rit.). Rubato is an Italian term that means means "robbed," and it refers to a temporary robbing of time by either slowing or speeding the tempo or rhythmic value of notes in a passage of music. Ritardando means to gradually become slower and slower. This piece is a dance, and the dots over some of the notes indicate that a spicatto bow stroke should be used. Spicatto is an off-the-string, controlled bouncing bow stroke that produces a crisp sound and very short notes. Other bowing indications include the tenuto sign, a line drawn over or under the note: _ to indicate the note should be played sustained or broadly, and held for its whole value.

This piece also has sections with repeat signs, a first and second ending, and the sign D.C. al Coda (D.C. is an abbreviation for "da capo", and means "from the beginning," and coda means "tail," and refers to a concluding section of a piece). A double bar with two dots is a repeat marking, and indicates the music in between the repeat signs should be repeated. First and second endings should be played as follows: play the first ending the first time through the music, and then return to the beginning of the piece. When playing through the music for a second time, the first ending should be skipped over, and the second ending should be played. Towards the end of the piece, in measure 50, there is a repeat sign and a D.C. al Coda marking with the added notation, 2x. This means the D.C. al Coda marking should not be followed until you are playing through the music for the second time (after you've repeated the section). This should be played as follows: when you reach the repeat sign in measure 50, return to the repeat marking in measure 43, and repeat the section. When you reach the D.C. al Coda marking in measure 50 for the second time, go back to the beginning of the piece, play to the Coda sign: coda, then jump to the Coda section at the end to finish the piece (beginning in measure 51). A triple stop, a chord using three strings, is found in the last measure of this arrangement. To play the triple stop, play the bottom two notes as a chord first, then the top two notes as a chord. If this is too difficult, simply play the top note of the chord.