In the 18th century, there was a distinct “French” style of dance music while the “Italian” style dominated vocal music and opera; in essence the music of that age was an international, cosmopolitan language. But just as a new concept of “nationalism” in language, culture, and politics came to the fore in the 19th century, so did the radical new idea that each nation should develop its own, distinct, “national” style of music.
On today’s date in 1840, a dramatic manifestation of this new trend occurred in the city of Pest. The Hungarian-born piano virtuoso and composer, Franz Liszt, had just returned in triumph to his native land for a gala concert at the old Hungarian National Theatre. After the performance, several Hungarian aristocrats, decked out in lavish native costumes, presented Liszt with a bejeweled “Sword of Honor,” and delivered a brief speech in Hungarian praising him as an artist and patriot.
For his part, Liszt delivered an impassioned speech calling for Hungarian cultural and political independence. The patriotic audience went berserk with joy. Liszt and the Hungarian nobles were escorted from the Theater through the chilly winter night at the head of a torchlight procession of some 5000 people.
It’s one of those nice, ironic touches of history, however, that Liszt, the standard bearer for the Hungarian national music, didn’t really speak Hungarian very well, and, for the record, delivered HIS impassioned, patriotic address in French.
Music Played in Today's Program
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2Valentina Lisitsa, pianoAudiofon 72055