Hungarian Dance No. 5 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Brahms as young man toured as pianist with a Hungarian violinist. This is where he became acquainted with this style of music. These Hungarian Dances are a mixture of original and borrowed folk melodies. They are originally for Piano 4 hands. Meaning two people at one keyboard. With the arrival of the industrial revolution and the rising middle class, many European homes had pianos. Much of the great chamber music by the likes of Schubert and Beethoven was written for family musical gatherings in their homes for amateurs to play. The most popular way to hear the latest music in the home was Piano 4 hands. Much of the popular opera and concert music was arranged for piano this way. Brahms encouraged his good friend Dvorak to write 4 hand piano music because it was a good -. These are known as the Slavonic Dances.
This is the Victorian era, think the movie or book “Room with A View”.
“Piano four hands represented a safe space in which touching and nearness were permitted or even desired – something that was unusual at the time,” said Adrian Daub, associate professor of German studies at Stanford.
Composers and arrangers could write music to encourage some physical intimacy. Imagine sharing a piano bench with someone you might be attracted to but maybe do not know too well as of yet.
This music has many tempo and mood changes
Notturno, Anton Dvorak (1841-1904)
Notturno is originally a movement from Dvorak’s string quintet for, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass. Dvorak re-arranged this piece for string orchestra. There are two important compositional devices used here that are common in much music but most often in romantic period music. One, the pedal point note and the other the heartbeat effect. In this piece shortly after a lyrical cello-bass opening the cellos play a long low F# which is the dominant keynote in the key of B minor. This long pedal tone along with the lub-dub heartbeat effect of pizzicatos from the Double Basses created a tension in which the violins and violas swirl and soar above. About halfway through the music, the cellos are released from their pedal note and now have a melodic dialogue with the first violins. At this point, the basses become more regular and consistent in the heartbeat. The second violins and violas join the basses in this rhythmic motive. The mood has shifted.
Like great fiction or any great story, music can have many climaxes and false climaxes. In the last few measures of the music, we get a return to something heard earlier, a reminder of the past and a then a moment when basses finally get a solo melodic moment. The tension is released and the music ends slowly and very softly.
Rumanian Folk Dances, Bela Bartok arr. Wilner (1881-1945)
Bartok is considered to be one of these most important composers of the of the 20th century. He was a Hungarian born, pianist, composer, educator and ethnomusicologist. Bartok studied folk music in eastern Europe he recorded and transcribed the melodies. These folk dances are from this part of his life. These melodies and scale forms are not really part of western music, meaning not Bach, Mozart etc. These melodies are more middle eastern. Romania was part Ottoman Turk empire for many years.
There are 7 dances, but they all run together.
Here are the English titles;
- Stick Dance
- Cloth or Sash Dance
- In one spot
- Horn Dance
- Fast dance
- Faster dance
There are many versions of this music. The Bartok original is for string orchestra with few added winds. The Hungarian conductor George Solti was a student of Bartok and he conducted and recorded this version.
Orchestra Suite No. 2, J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
It is unclear when Bach wrote this work some research says 1720 others 1730. It was originally in A minor and then re-worked for the flute and put in B minor. A suite is a musical form that is a set of dance music with an opening overture or prelude. The French language was the in thing at the time so the titles are usually in French, for example, Sarabande and Bourree. This music was for a Leipzig audience.
The beginning movement is in French Overture Style. The form starts with a slow section of dotted rhythms (long and short notes) then a faster middle section with a fugue and then concluding with a return to a similar slow section. The rest of the piece is six dance movements.
Neue Pizzicato-Polka, Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899)
The Neue Pizzicato-Polka was first performed in1893 in Vienne as part of an operetta called “Furstin Ninetta”. It was danced by a children’s ballet, received great applause and was the climax of the performance. It was written for strings and Glockenspiel (small chimes).