Friday, September 20, 2013

Liszt - Csárdás Macabre

The csárdás is a traditional Hungarian folk dance, the name of which derives from the Hungarian word for tavern. The beginnings of the dance can be traced back to the 18th century in Hungary and was used as a recruiting device for the Hungarian army. The Romani people (formerly called gypsies) popularized the dance in Hungary and neighboring countries. It is a dance that is varied in tempo, from slow to fast. Liszt made wide use of the csárdás in his Hungarian Rhapsodies, as did other composers. But it is Liszt who used it most often in his compositions, no doubt because of his Hungarian heritage.

The Csárdás Macabre was composed towards the end of Liszt's life, a time in which he suffered health problems both physical and mental. The music he composed in his last years saw a change in style from his earlier music. Gone is the brilliant virtuosity, glitter and complexity. His music became leaner in texture, and tonally ambiguous.  

Csárdás Macabre begins with an introduction that is in ostensibly in D minor , but has no sharps or flats in the key signature (Dorian mode?) .This segues into the first theme that is in parallel fifths and that revolves around the fifth of F-sharp and C-sharp in chromatic fashion. The key signature changes to one flat  (D minor officially?), rambles on, and the key signature once again changes to no sharps or flats as the transition to the second theme begins. The key signature changes again to one flat (F major) as the second theme begins. The second theme runs into a section marked dolce amoroso (sweetly and tenderly) that  leads into a development section where both themes are varied. There is a recapitulation of the two themes after which there is another development section. The piece winds up with a coda that ends up in D major, again ostensibly. 

The tonal scheme of this piece can be bewildering. D minor, F, G-flat, D, E-flat, and add some ancient modes to the mix. No wonder it took so long for late pieces such as this to get performed. Wagner himself thought that Liszt's mind was deteriorating with age. 

Liszt's late music is brimming with things foreign to even the most forward-thinking composers of his time. Polytonality, atonality, the use of exotic scales, bitonality and other methods and techniques make Liszt one of the most innovative composers in the history of Western music.

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