Eastern Exoticism in Western Music: An Examination of Uyghur Folk Songs’ Influence in Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder Op. 103


Zigeunerlieder op.103, a song cycle, based on Hugo Conrat’s German adaptation of Hungarian folk songs, was written by German composer Johannes Brahms. Brahms was an accompanist of Hungarian-born violinist Eduard Hoffmann in 1853. He assisted Hoffmann in a concert tour where he learned Hungarian gypsy music. This experience was a significant influence on Brahms’s own compositional style. In the Asian continent, Uygur folk song is a popular music genre from the western minority region of China. Dancing with singing is a music custom in the region. Using musicological examples, this dissertation will demonstrate that Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder op.103 may have been indirectly influenced by Uygur folk song through Brahms’s exposure to this music in Hungary. The elements found within Brahms’s Zigeunerlieder showcase the dichotomy of rhythm, harmony, and melody of the Eastern and Western cultures. First, Uygur employed the use of dance rhythm in its folk songs. Brahms also showed strong Hungarian dance rhythm throughout the Gypsy song cycle. All songs in this document are in 2/4. Second, Uygur folk songs displayed a tuneful vocal melody and supportive piano part. The piano imitates traditional Uyghur instruments, which increases the exotic flavor of the songs. Brahms also applied this idea in his work by incorporating imitations of gypsy instruments. Third, Mandarin words typically stress the first syllable, which influenced the Uyghur folk songs to begin with the downbeat, as does Hungarian and German. This syllabic stress influenced the strong downbeats of Zigeunerlieder. I draw from both Chinese and English sources throughout this paper to reveal how Hungarian music affected Zigeunerlieder op.103. Also, after reviewing works of literature and Uyghur folk song research and examining the similarities between Hungarian folk song and Chinese folk song, I have collected these elements to prove the relationship between Hungarian folk music and Uyghur folk song, focusing on how Hungarian elements relate to the German song cycle. By investigating Uyghurs’ culture and knowledge of the folk music, this informed me how to interpret the Brahms’ song cycle. Brahms broadens the colors of the Uyghur folk music characters by incorporating Hungarian folk music. The use of dance rhythm and folk narration in the composition, along with the language adaptation, lend exotic tension to Zigeunerlieder op.103.

Uyghur Folk Music, Hungarian Folk Music, Zigeunerlieder op.103, Musical Exoticism