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Liszt's Transcultural Modernism and the Hungarian-Gypsy Tradition

Liszt's Transcultural Modernism and the Hungarian-Gypsy Tradition

Shay Loya
Volume: 87
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Liszt's Transcultural Modernism and the Hungarian-Gypsy Tradition
    Book Description:

    Some of Franz Liszt's most renowned pieces - most famously his Hungarian Rhapsodies - are written in a nineteenth-century Hungarian style known as ‘verbunkos’. Closely associated with the virtuosic playing tradition of the Hungarian-Gypsy band, the meaning and uses of this style in Liszt's music have been widely taken for granted and presented as straightforward. Taking a novel transcultural approach to nineteenth-century modernism, Shay Loya presents a series of critiques and sensitive music analyses that demonstrate how the ‘verbunkos’ idiom, rich and artful in itself, interacted in myriad ways with Liszt's multiple cultural identities, compositional techniques, and modernist aesthetics. Even supposedly familiar works such as the Rhapsodies emerge in a new light, and more startlingly, we find out how the idiom inhabits and shapes works that bear no outward marks of nationality or ethnicity. Particularly surprising is its role in the famously enigmatic compositions of Liszt's old age, such as ‘Nuages gris’ and ‘Bagatelle sans tonalité’. Shay Loya teaches at the University of Durham and is a board member of the Society for Music Analysis (UK).

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-784-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Shay Loya
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Notes to the Reader
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Liszt’s enthusiasm for and lifetime investment in the Hungarian-Gypsy tradition, often known by scholars today as verbunkos,¹ cannot easily be reconciled with his image as a modernist. His patriotic motivation is well understood: he wanted to help create distinctive Hungarian art music. But less certain is the relationship of the Hungarian-Gypsy tradition to his modernism. Was this traditional music helpful to or counterproductive for his progressive ideas and techniques? An even more basic problem is that even when a piece of music communicates both Hungarian nationalism and modernism, those may well be judged to be coincidental categories: nationalism relates to...

  8. Chapter One Transcultural Modernism
    (pp. 17-57)

    The term “Hungarian-Gypsy tradition” in art music implies many things, including folklorism, nationalism, exoticism, or a special virtuoso style of playing that alludes to Gypsy-band performance practices. Modernism would not be the first association that comes to mind, not even in relation to a composer such as Franz Liszt. The idea of modernism—or, in its more militant conceptualization, the avant-garde—suggests an extreme form of artistic elitism, perhaps even an alienation from the masses, and involves a rejection of any artistic or cultural thinking that relies on instant recognition, reproducibility, and commodification. If Liszt’s Hungarian-Gypsy style (or rather his...

  9. Chapter Two Verbunkos
    (pp. 58-85)

    Following in the footsteps of past collectors of folk music, Liszt decided sometime in 1847 that the new cycle of Hungarian Rhapsodies he was planning would need an explanatory note or short essay describing its provenance and character, as well as the advantages of his own approach to its arrangement for piano.¹ The essay grew into a lengthy book that was published only in 1859, long after the final version of the Rhapsodies (1851–53). Entitled Des Bohémiens et de leur musique en Hongrie, it created a huge controversy in Hungary about the claim that the country’s folk music was...

  10. Chapter Three Identity, Nationalism, and Modernism
    (pp. 86-117)

    The close relationship between nationalism and folklorism in literature, music, and the arts constituted a natural and self-explanatory symbiosis until the first half of the twentieth century, and it still does in the popular imagination to this day. The premise is simple: the spirit of any given nation is expressed by its common language and unique folklore. Such ideologies famously drove James McPherson (1736–96) and Thomas Chatterton (1752–70) to forge ancient poetry skillfully.¹ The reception of Ossianic poetry—really McPherson’s, ascribed to a fictional third-century Gaelic bard—in Western European literary and artistic circles reinforced the idea of...

  11. Chapter Four Modernism and Authenticity
    (pp. 118-153)

    The loaded term “genuine folk song” is a familiar one in the area of Hungarian folk music. It was inherited from Béla Bartók (1881–1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967), who successfully argued that what had hitherto been considered Hungarian folk music—that is, verbunkos-type music—was in fact a recent and much perverted imitation of older and more authentic peasant folk songs. Bartók and Kodály spearheaded a new school of composition whose grand project was to shape a new musical identity for Hungary by accepting the musical culture of the peasantry, sidelining or outright rejecting nationalistic urban genres, establishing...

  12. Chapter Five Listening to Transcultural Tonal Practices
    (pp. 154-190)

    How deeply did the verbunkos idiom penetrate compositional ideas, processes, and structures in Liszt’s works? This chapter will look more closely at the ramifications of tonal transculturation from a music-theoretical point of view, beginning with a general examination of the concept and history of tonality and ending with analyses of two Hungarian Rhapsodies, Nos. 3 and 6, that test this concept from a transcultural perspective. The focus on music from the Hungarian Rhapsodies will offer some continuity from chapter 4, and it will help us in the next chapters to interpret transcultural influence in non-Hungarian works and in works from...

  13. Chapter Six The Verbunkos Idiom in the Music of the Future
    (pp. 191-224)

    To what extent did the verbunkos idiom inflect and possibly even transform non-Hungarian modernist works by Liszt? This chapter will largely grapple with this question. To answer it in a way that might also serve reception studies, we will focus only on works that were widely acknowledged as part of Zukunftsmusik (Music of the Future), the Neudeutsche Schule (New German School), or the progressive movement or party in Germany during Liszt’s lifetime. In such works, we might expect to encounter the verbunkos idiom either in concrete or, more likely, in abstract form. In the latter case, both identification of the...

  14. Chapter Seven Idiomatic Lateness
    (pp. 225-252)

    The reception of the last phase of Liszt’s creativity (ca. 1869–86, symbolically beginning with the final years divided between Budapest, Weimar, and Rome) has been determined by two powerful discourses: the progress from tonality to atonality and the idea of a late style. The idea that the verbunkos idiom played a significant role in these discourses has been lent some credibility in Hungarian musicology, as discussed in chapter 4, but not so much elsewhere. Part of the problem may well be a basic incompatibility between a discourse of national style and one that looks abstractedly at how pitches cohere...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 253-312)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-330)
  17. Index
    (pp. 331-342)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 343-343)