Brahms – Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G-minor

by Max Derrickson

Johannes Brahms
(Born in Hamburg in 1833; died in Vienna in 1897)

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G-minor
By the middle of the 19th Century, and increasingly up until World War I, scores of Hungarian immigrants and refugees from throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire flooded into Austria – mostly to Vienna, but everywhere in between, too, including Brahms’s hometown of Hamburg.  Although many of them were of Roma descent (the preferred name for “gypsy”), Austrians referred to most of the “travelers” from the south, whether they were gypsy or not, as “gypsies.”  These waves of immigrants [. . .] in the streets and taverns throughout Austria’s larger cities.

As a young musician at the beginning of his musical career, Brahms usually had to teach lessons and play light piano music at taverns to make money.  He would also accompany theatre troupes at the local houses, and occasionally get hired as an accompanist for a touring musician, [. . .] .  It would be his great fortune one evening to meet one of Hungary’s great touring violinists, Eduard Reményi.  Reményi (1828-1898) was renowned [. . .] Brahms learned gypsy music in the intimate musical company of the greatest gypsy violinist.  Serendipitously on the tour he also met the virtuoso violinist, Josef Joachim, [. . .].

Forever after cherishing gypsy music, Brahms would often entertain his friends at home for hours on end [. . .].  He was eventually persuaded to arrange them for publication, and in 1869 he published two sets of Hungarian Dances for two pianos, 21 pieces in all.  In an era before movie theaters, radios, or television, [. . .]  they proved exceedingly lucrative for Brahms.  Arrangements for all sorts of different instruments were in demand, and soon Brahms arranged Numbers 1, 3 and 10 for orchestra, with huge success.

To this day, however, Hungarian Dance No. 5 is probably the most beloved of his Dances.  And rightly so, with its enchanting first theme in a minor key, evoking the swagger and gravitas of a “mustachioed” lover, [. . .].  The quick changes in  [. . .].  Oddly, the first orchestration of No. 5 was not done by Brahms but by Martin Schmeling (1864—1943, but often misattributed to Albert Parlow, died 1888) [. . .].   And so it is that this Schmeling orchestration of Brahms’s transformation of gypsy music has become one of the most treasured pieces in Western music.