A Transcultural Approach to The Verbunkos Idiom in The Music of Liszt

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Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a cosmopolitan European composer and piano virtuoso of the Romantic era. Although it was his place of birth, Liszt spent most of his formative years away from Hungary, though he returned to his homeland many times over the course of his life. Liszt’s allegiance to Hungary can be found in many of his compositions through the Hungarian-Gypsy folk idiom verbunkos; however, most analyses of his “Hungarian” music are oversimplified and exoticist because of a nationalist perspective. Shay Loya, a contemporary Lisztian scholar, asserts that focusing on Liszt’s “Hungarian” works from a purely nationalistic perspective “obscures the real extent of the verbunkos idiom in Liszt’s compositions as well as the complex interaction of that idiom with other topics and styles, and ultimately with other expressions of identity.” With this in consideration, I intend to use a transcultural approach to analyze the influence of verbunkos idiom in the music of Franz Liszt. Liszt incorporated the verbunkos idiom into “Hungarian” works, along with works that were not nationally allied, to further both Romantic and Modernist ideals in his music.

Verbunkos appeared in Hungary around 1760 as accompaniment to recruiting ceremonies. The exact sources of this tradition were not documented, although Levantine, Balkan, Slavic and Gypsy elements, among others, are detectable. Features of this style include, but are not limited to; Lassan-Friss (Slow-Fast) pairing or acceleration, circular repetitions, chordal modality, progressive tonality, tonic ambivalence, ostinato, polymodality and, most prominently, the use of verbunkos, or “Gypsy”, scales. Loya refers to verbunkos as a transcultural phenomenon; it has been adapted by...

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...nalist ties and works independent of this national category. The latter is extremely important in this discourse because it exposes the extent to which the verbunkos idiom, consciously or not, influenced Liszt’s compositions.

Works Cited

Bellman, Jonathan. The Style Hongrois in the Music of Western Europe. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993.

Berg, Wolfgang. Exploring transculturalism a biographical approach. 1. ed. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 2010.

Dobszay, László. A History of Hungarian Music. Budapest: Corvina, 1993.

Hamilton, Kenneth. The Cambridge Companion to Liszt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Loya, Shay. Liszt's Transcultural Modernism and the Hungarian-Gypsy Tradition. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2011.

Szabolcsi, Bence, Gyorgy Kroo. A Concise History of Hungarian Music. Budapest: Barrie and Rockliff, 1964.
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