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Submitted by Marcin Bąk on Fri, 03/20/2020 - 08:00
History of csárdás


The history csárdás, a dance which without doubt is one of Hungary's national symbols, can be traced back to verbunkos, its protoplast (sometimes referred to as hongroise after the French). Its name comes from the German word Werbung which means enlistment. This is no accident, as this 18th century dance was part of the imperial army recruitment process held in rural areas. There are numerous accounts of the popularity of verbunkos in literature from that period. József Gvadányi in his work “The Journey to Buda of a Village Notary” from 1790 described a situation where an officer meeting a group of gypsy musicians going to Buda stopped them and ordered them to play verbunkos (and then he started dancing himself). The most famous composer of this dance was János Bihari, who lived between 1764 and 1827 and was also famous as a violin virtuoso. The fact that he played at the Austrian court during the Congress of Vienna stands testament to his reputation. The creator of the Hungarian national opera Ferenc Erkel, famous for his outstanding operatic works such as Hunyadi László, István király, Bátori Mária, Bánk bán or István király and the composer of music for the Hungarian anthem was another important figure in the development of verbunkos. This dance featured a lot in 19th century chamber music - it was used, among others, by Franz Schubert in his String Quintet in C major Op. 163 composed in 1828. Béla Bartók, probably the most famous Hungarian composer, wrote Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano in 1938 and comprising three movements, including the verbunkos. Although some people sometimes refer to the verbunkos as a gypsy dance, it is undoubtedly Hungarian, and only the music accompanying it was performed in a way characteristic for musicians of Romani origin. It was used as part of military recruitment until 1849.

Some elements of the verbunkos.

The history of verbunkos' successor - csárdás (from csárdás - tavern, inn) dates back to the 1830s. During this period it began to replace verbunkos as the main Hungarian national dance, popular among all classes – also among the aristocracy as a form of an idealised peasant dance. As was the case with the punctuated rhythm of its predecessor, the csárdás was divided into two contrasting parts - slow lassú in 4/4 and fast friss in 2/4. There are also other tempo variations such as sűrű, ritka and szökős. It is danced by couples formed by a man and a woman. The women wear traditional, multi-layered wide skirts, usually red, which makes a distinctive shape during the dance. As is the case with the waltz and polka, it is the man who leads, but the csárdás has a much richer repertoire of dance steps. In the faster part, partners often split up (dobás) to dance separately – then the men perform spectacular dance sequences of complex pirouettes and clapping, slapping their hands on shoes which are also used to tap (csapásolás).

The Cleveland Hungarian Scouts Folk Ensemble performs the csárdás. The dance proper begins in minute 4 of the film.

            The origins and development of csárdás as a musical dance form are closely linked to the figure of Márk Rózsavölgyi (born Mordechai Rosenthal), a Hungarian composer and violinist of Jewish origin who, in addition to composing over a hundred verbunkos-style pieces, also composed many a csárdás. His work was an important inspiration for Ferenc Liszt when composing the famous Hungarian Rhapsodies (Liszt used in Rhapsody No. 8 the key of F sharp minor and 12 C sharp minor melodies by "Father Csárdás" as Márk Rózsavölgyi is called by some for his contribution to the development of this dance). The last Rhapsody No. 19 in D minor is based on the Csárdás nobles by the Hungarian pianist and composer Kornél Ábrányi, a private friend of Ferenc Liszt.

Serkentõ csárdás composed by Mark Rozsavolgyi, performed by the Festetics String Quartet.

Since its inception, the csárdás has undergone significant musical evolution and has been repeatedly used by outstanding composers. Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dances (Ungarische Tänze) are based on Hungarian folk melodies, and only three of all twenty-one are entirely Brahms' own compositions (namely: No. 11 in D minor: Poco andante, No. 14 in D minor: Un poco andante and No. 16 in F minor: Con moto). The most famous, No. 5 in G minor, was based entirely on the "Bártfai emlék" (Memories from Bártfa) csárdás by the outstanding Hungarian composer of dance music Béla Kéler. Brahms was accused of plagiarism as the aforementioned composition was practically identical to the aforementioned csárdás. In his defence the German composer argued that he wrongly considered the work to be a traditional Hungarian folk song. Was he telling the truth? We will probably never find out.

The „Bártfai emlék” csárdás by Béli Kéler. Part of the work which is the source of the above mentioned controversy about plagiarism starts in the second minute of the recording.

Johann Strauss II, the Viennese "Waltz King", also used the csárdás during his extremely prolific and long career as a composer. Csárdás Op. 441 (Csárdás aus der Ballettmusik der Oper "Ritter Pásmán") is the most famous fragment of his only opera, Ritter Pázmán (Knight Pázmán), published in 1892 and based on a poem by János Arany of the same title. It was performed many times during New Year's Concerts in Vienna (last time in 2019 under the baton of Christian Thielemann).

Csárdás from the Knight Pázmán Op. 441 opera performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and Carlos Kleiber, New Year's Concert in Vienna (1989).

The list of compositions by the leading representative of the Strauss Dynasty also covers the early stage of his career, the Pesther Op. 23 csárdás and the famous Klänge der Heimat from the second act of his most popular operetta, the Die Fledermaus. This piece, a soprano aria, has gained great popularity and is probably the most famous csárdás when it comes to vocal and instrumental music.

Klänge der Heimat csárdás from the second act of the operetta The Revenge of the Bat performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and Andrea Rost under the baton of Zubin Mehta (1999)

 In the second half of the nineteenth century, this dance began to be used in ballet, mainly as the Danse de caractère, a characteristic dance (a stylized version of a traditional folk or national dance). It was first used by the French opera and ballet composer Léo Delibes in Act I of the famous Coppélia ballet composed in 1870. The Rajmonda Op. 57 by the Russian Aleksander Glazunov, which appeared a quarter of a century later is another notable example. In the third act of the piece, during the wedding of Knight Jean de Brienne and the aristocrat Rajmonda held at the court of King Andrew II of Hungary, all those present at the ceremony (dressed in Hungarian folk costumes) perform various dances in Hungarian style, including the csárdás.

The csárdás part of the Coppélia Léo Delibes ballet performed by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by János Ferencsik

However, the most popular and at the same time the most recognizable csárdás in history is not the one composed by Hungarians or Austrians, but by the Italian Vittorio Monti in 1904. This undoubtedly virtuoso work (the work has numerous changes of tempo and key), initially composed for violin, mandolin and piano, has been arranged in dozens of different ways, including for orchestra, solo piano and even ukulele, and has been used in many films and television series (including the very popular Peaky Blinders). Through csárdás, the name Monti became known to every amateur of classical music and more, despite the fact that the rest of his compositional output has been practically forgotten.

Vittorio Monti's csárdás splendidly performed by the London Concertante.     


Banyay, I. K., The History of Hungarian Music, 1942

-  Hooker. L. M., Redefining Hungarian Music from Liszt to Bartók. Oxford University Press 2013

-  Pesovár, E., Typen und Entstehung des Csárdás "Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae" T. 29, 1987

-  Fügedi J., and Vavrinez A., Old Hungarian Dance Style – The Ugrós Anthology, L’Harmattan Kiadó, MTA Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont Zenetudományi Intézet, Budapest 2013

Crittenden, C., Johann Strauss and Vienna: Operetta and the Politics of Popular Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2006

- Wechsberg, J., Królowie walca: życie, czasy i muzyka Straussów, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw 1999

- Bellman, J., "Verbunkos". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London 2001,_WoO_1_(Brahms,_Johannes),_Vittorio)




Adam Bielecki