Virtuoso Hungarian Dance No. 5

(Based on Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5")

by Anderson & Roe


Johannes Brahms developed a fascination with folk music during his youth; in fact, one of his early collaborators was the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, who introduced Brahms to the sounds of so-called "gypsy" music. This exposure led to the creation of 21 virtuosic dances designed to titillate audiences with their exotic flair. Originally composed for four hands at one piano—as party music, essentially—they were so beloved by listeners and players alike that they have been transcribed across the instrumental spectrum and still remain among his most popular compositions. 

From an ethnomusicological standpoint Brahms wasn’t entirely literal in translating Hungarian folk music; rather, he filtered the flavor of gypsy (i.e. Romani) music through his formal Germanic lens, offering his audiences a taste of something tantalizingly foreign: a musical “paper tiger” of sorts.

In contemporary culture, these dances have lost the frisson of the unknown, so we’ve aimed to reclaim their exotic allure by virtually rewriting the score. We rework the original themes by integrating our multicultural 21st-century sensibilities with a liberal dose of characteristics found in traditional gypsy music: the Hungarian Minor scale (also known as the gypsy minor scale), ample ornamentation, mercurial shifts in tempo and mood, and an improvisational spirit. In a similar fashion, Ravel incorporated many of these themes in his perennially popular ode to Gypsy music, his Tzigane for violin and piano; we’ve lovingly appropriated hints of Ravel's showpiece into our own bedazzled reimagining of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. Most significantly, we’ve amped up the level of virtuosity (hence the title) as a nod to the provocative intention and impact of the original. 

— Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe