The Hungarian uprising of 1848 resulted in a wave of emigration through the port of Hamburg as thousands made their way to the USA. The travellers brought with them their gypsy music – music which evidently made a lifelong impression on Brahms, not least in his Hungarian Dances which very effectively evoke the warm blood of Hungarian gypsy music.
In all Brahms wrote 21 dances of which only three are entirely original compositions: the rest are based mostly on Hungarian themes. No. 5, probably the most celebrated of the set, is based on a csárdás by the Hungarian composer Kéler Béla,which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong. The Dances proved to be immensely popular and commercially successful and, no doubt, strongly influenced Brahms’ protégé Antonín Dvorák’s similarly profitable Slavonic Dances. Musicologists also suggest that Brahms’ dances were influential in the development of the syncopated ragtime style of composers such as Scott Joplin.
Brahms’ original scoring for piano four hands was later orchestrated by composer Martin Schmeling. Here Brahms’ music has been arranged for wind quintet.