Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, S.244/2, is the second in a set of 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies by composer Franz Liszt, and is by far the most famous of the set. Few other piano solos have achieved such widespread popularity, offering the pianist the opportunity to reveal exceptional skill as a virtuoso, while providing the listener with an immediate and irresistible musical appeal.

In both the original piano solo form and in the orchestrated version this composition has enjoyed widespread use in animated cartoons. Its themes have also served as the basis of several popular songs.

The Hungarian-born composer and pianist Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale, rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression. These elements would eventually play a significant role in Liszt's compositions. Although this prolific composer's works are highly varied in style, a relatively large part of his output is nationalistic in character, the Hungarian Rhapsodies being an ideal example.

Composed in 1847 and dedicated to Count László Teleki, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 was first published as a piano solo in 1851 by Senff and Ricordi. Its immediate success and popularity on the concert stage soon led to an orchestrated version, arranged by the composer in collaboration with Franz Doppler, and published by Schuberth. In addition to the orchestral version, the composer arranged a piano duet version in 1874, published by Schuberth the following year.

By the late 19th century and early 20th century, the excruciating technical challenges of the piano solo version led to its acceptance as the "unofficial standard" by which every notable pianist would "prove his salt", usually as a smashing finale. It had become an expected staple of virtually every performance of the greatest pianists of the time. Offering an outstanding contrast to the serious and dramatic lassan, the following friska holds enormous appeal for audiences, with its simple alternating tonic and dominant harmonization, its energetic, toe-tapping rhythms, and breath-taking "pianistics".

The piece consists of two distinct sections.

The first is the lassan, with its brief but dramatic introduction. Although beginning on the C-sharp major triad, C-sharp minor is soon established as the home key. From this point on, the composer modulates freely, particularly to the tonic major and the relative major. The mood of the lassan is generally dark and melancholic, although it contains some playful and capricious moments.

The second section is the friska. It opens quietly in the key of F-sharp minor, but on its dominant chord, C sharp major, recalling a theme from the lassan. The alternating dominant and tonic harmonies quickly increase in volume, the tempo gaining momentum as the Friska's main theme (in F sharp major) is approached. At this point, the Friska begins its journey of ever-increasing energy and pianistic bravura, still underpinned by alternating tonic and dominant harmonies. Modulations are limited almost exclusively to the dominant (C sharp major) and the lowered mediant (A major). Before the final whirlwind of sound, a moment of calm prevails in the key of F sharp minor, recalling another of the lassan's themes, and is followed by the instruction, Cadenza ad lib. Finally, in the key of F-sharp major, there is a crescendo of prestissimo octaves, which ascend and then descend to cover almost the entire range of the keyboard and bringing the Rhapsody to a conclusion.

Liszt planned his choice of keys in a remarkably symmetrical fashion. Although the lassan's principal key is C sharp minor (with the appropriate key signature used throughout) the work opens on the tonic major chord, C sharp major. However, by bar 6, the minor tonality is established. This device provides a contrast which intensifies the generally dark and sombre character of the lassan. This procedure is directly reversed in the Friska. Although the principal key of the Friska is F sharp major, Liszt chooses to begin in the tonic minor key, F sharp minor, which is sustained until bar 51. For practical reasons of notation (i.e., the prolongation of the tonic minor key), Liszt chooses the key signature of F sharp minor, until the arrival of the main theme in F sharp Major. This time, the use of the more serious minor tonality is used as a contrast to the arrival of the playful and jubilant main theme of the Friska.

Most unusual in this composition is the composer's invitation for the performer to improvise an original cadenza, although most pianists choose to decline the invitation. In 1997 Marc-André Hamelin performed a cadenza that has since become famous for its originality, musicality and playfulness, and Sergei Rachmaninoff also wrote a famous cadenza for his interpretation. Other pianists have arranged their own versions of the Rhapsody with changes beyond that of simply adding a cadenza, most notably Vladimir Horowitz in 1953. (Wikipedia)

Please take note that I did NOT make the MIDI file.