The Viennese Dance Series for Chamber Ensembles
Elsö Magyar Társas Táncz
Six Ballroom Dances for String Quartet
Márk Rózsavölgyi (1789-1848) was born in the Hungarian town of Balassagyamat, then part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. He is believed to have studied violin and composition in Vienna and Prague. He lived most of his life in Hungary and is generally considered the most important Hungarian composer before the advent of Kodaly and Bartok. He devoted himself to taking Hungarian folk dances and melodies and putting them into the setting of classic music, writing chamber music, orchestral compositions, piano music and concertos.
His Elsö Magyar Társas Táncz generally translated as First Hungarian Round Dance consists of six ballroom dances which were composed in 1842, a time at which the Hungarian nation had awoken and was striving for independence from the Austrian or Habsburg Empire. Only six years later in 1848, Hungary rose in revolution and nearly did achieve its independence. Rózsavölgyi, of Jewish descent (his original name was Rosenthal) was very sensitive to the political developments of the time. Hungarians were creating Hungarian literature, drama and music. Whereas German was the so-called official language imposed upon them, the Hungarians sought to develop their own language and culture. The 1840’s was the height of the ballroom craze and the dances of Johann Strauss Sr and Jr as well as those of Josef Lanner were not only wildly popular in Vienna but also in Budapest. But Hungarian newspapers bemoaned the fact that Hungarians were dancing to Austrian music. Surprisingly, it became an issue of national importance. Rózsavölgyi saw which way the wind was blowing, and moved to fill this void. All of the six dances contain typical Hungarian rhythms, but the melodies were Rózsavölgyi’s.
The titles of the six short movements reveal that their purpose was to serve as ballroom dances. The dances are titled Andálgo (strolling tempo), Lelkes (lively) Toborzö Verbunkos (a slow, solemn recruitment dance which originated in the 18th century, Ömlendezö (Enthusiastically), Három a tancz (literally dance for 3 people) is a csardas, a dance form Rózsavölgyi is often credited with having created two decades before and perhaps the most popular of all Hungarian dance forms and lastly Kézfogó (Partners hand in hand).
Although Rózsavölgyi wrote in most every genre, today he is only remembered for his highly appealing dances which clearly filled the need for a national style of dancing. The Elsö Magyar Társas Táncz were originally composed simultaneously in two versions, one for a small string ensemble of perhaps 10-15 players and the other for piano. Our edition is based on the 1857 edition for piano published by Rózsavölgyi & Company, the famous music firm founded by the composer’s son Gyula.