Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2


A painting of composer Franz Lizst

hungarian rhapsody no. 2 in c Sharp minor, 1847-51

Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 is a nine-minute one-movement seductive piece, that swirls between dark heavy melodies and light twinkling notes. It’s fast moving and probably quite complicated to play as many of Liszt’s pieces are, but it brings alive something of the free spirit in me. I can’t help swaying along in time with it.

Watch Valentina Lisitsa play this piece

Hungarian-born Liszt wrote 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies (12 between 1847-51 and the rest 30 years later). They’re heavily influenced by Hungarian Gypsy music, and it’s easy to hear. There’s a definite hint of accordion-style melodies that evoke the images of bright colours and dancing. But there’s a light, laughter-like component to this piece as well. It feels like fun, like running about as a kid, running everywhere without thinking about it as exercise. And laughing too, laughing so hard there were tears.


I was surprised when I first listened to this piece how familiar it was. But I probably shouldn’t have been. There’s a rumour in my family that we’re descended from a gypsy princess, so perhaps there are some ancestral genes at work here. But more likely it’s because it was used extensively in cartoons.


Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and many others all had episodes featuring Hungarian Rhapsody No2. They’re all rather wonderful and a beautiful representation of the merging of art forms that are accessible to everyone, regardless of age. Watching them they still made me smile, Bugs Bunny probably the most, but then he always was my favourite.


retro television set with legsThis piece now also makes me think of a lounge room from my childhood with vivid busy wallpaper. Me, small and light limbed kneeling on the threadbare carpet in front of a giant television with legs in the frosty early morning. The cat fighting with me for space in front of the heater and a bowl of cornflakes and tinned pineapple crackling on the floor in front of me.


I love that something created purely for entertainment at the time, like those cartoons, incorporated this magnificent piece of music, written by a man who was himself seductively entertaining to all those who saw him.

Liszt wrote Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 around the time of La Campanella, when he’d ended his rock star style touring and settled down to write some serious music. But you can still hear the theatricality in this piece, you can imagine him playing it live, his long hair dancing along with his hands as they moved rapidly up and down the piano.

painting, Liszt at the piano surrounded by admirers

The dramatic is everywhere in Liszt’s life, not just his music. His personal life too was full of affairs with married women, elopement, estrangement, flirtations with religion and the untimely early death of two of his three children (the third in a mirror of her father’s life had an affair with a married-Wagner, and later ended up marrying him herself). And so I think in all of his music, as with any art, bits of his passionate nature seep from his life into ours and we get a little glorious glimpse of a man from 200 years ago.

Rabbit Rhapsody

Cat Concerto

Rhapsody of Rivets

**images Queen Mary of Romania, painting – Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano by Josef Danhauser


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