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Faculty of Music


Shay Loya
City University of London

Hybrid Topics and Allusions in Liszt’s Csárdás macabre

Renowned for its prophetic modernism and iconic parallel fifths, Liszt’s Csárdás macabre (1881–82) has largely remained an unanalysed musical curiosity, with few exceptions (Baker, 2005, and Loya 2006 and 2011). As a response to Saint-Saëns’s more famous Danse macabre (1874), this work surpasses the latter in its extreme aesthetic of balletic diablerie and the mixing of high and low culture, most notably Gypsy-band harmonic practices and modernist sonorities, csárdás and sonata form.

This paper, however, will specifically focus on the hybridity of Liszt’s topics and allusions. The aforementioned parallel fifths are a good point of entry into this discussion: is their grainy sound a cipher for a tombstone (Albright, 2000), a distorted imitation of Gregorian chant, or a sarcastic parody of a Gypsy-band bass? Does it lampoon music academicism, as Liszt’s pupil János Végh believed (1929)? Is the opening passage alluding to slow sonata introductions or a slow csárdás section? Perhaps it is more specifically a strange allusion to the opening of the Danse macabre, or maybe all of the above? But if all meanings are possible, in what sense do, or can, they coexist for listeners? A further consideration of topics in relation to form will reveal this combative dance to be haunted by an unlikely pair of ghosts, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the nationalistic
Rákóczi-Marsch. The broader allusion to the usual Romantic narrative of struggle-to-redemption sets up this very narrative to fail, more in the manner of a wry, rude joke than a tragedy.

The Colloquium series is the main opportunity for members of the Faculty of Music, researchers from other departments, and the general public to come together and hear papers on all aspects of music research, given by distinguished speakers from the UK and abroad. Colloquia are held on Wednesday evenings in the Recital Room of the Faculty of Music, West Road. Admission is free and all are welcome. Please arrive at 4.50pm for a 5.00pm start. Papers are followed by a discussion and a drinks reception with the speaker.

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 - 17:00 to 19:00
Event location: 
5.00pm, Lecture Room 2, Facuty of Music