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A Transcultural Approach To The Verbunkos Idiom In The Music Of Liszt

868 words - 3 pages

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 several music cultures, evolved next to several music cultures, and has had a palpable influence on European art music. Transculturalism is an attempt to “transcend the limitations of static and binary conceptions of identity and nationality.” It is a postmodern term used to describe the complex interactions that bind cultures as opposed to a view of culture that is based upon distinct, separable cultures. As verbunkos, like most musical styles, is a transcultural phenomenon, it is thus imperative that a transcultural approach is used when analyzing this idiom.
Liszt himself is a prime example of a transcultural composer. Born in Hungary, raised in France and settled in both Germany and Rome, Liszt’s music reflects his diverse and multinational past. As an outspoken advocate for progress, Liszt was associated with the Zukunftsmusik movement in Germany, and allied himself with such composers as Wagner and Berlioz. However, the modernist music movement that Liszt was associated with in the latter half of his life seems fundamentally incompatible with...

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