Johannes Brahms
Hungarian Dances (1, 5, 7, 8 and 9) : for trombone and piano

Arranged by James Miller

Vancouver, BC, , Canada
Publisher: Cherry Classics Music
Date of Publication: 2017


In 1869 Johannes Brahms presented a collection of 21 Hungarian Dances for piano four-hands to his publisher Simrock. He asked that they be published without opus number because most of the dances were arrangements of folk melodies he had collected through the years. It seems many of these melodies came from the Roma people (gypsies), a group whose music Brahms held with great fascination. They were met with abundant enthusiasm by the music buying public and Brahms prepared the first ten for solo piano and later orchestrated several for full orchestra. Over the years these dances have been arranged for many different instruments and groups of instruments. James Miller has taken five of these dances and transcribed them for trombone and piano.


Dance No.1 (3:35) is one of the more familiar. In G minor, it begins with a rustic melody that leads into a frenetic dance, characterized by rapid 16th note motion. The section that follows is characterized by the stereotypical rubato of this genre, but also has arpeggiated 16th note figures that require extreme agility. The rustic melody returns and the dance closes in a rush of 16th notes.

Dance No.5 (2:45) is without a doubt the best known. It has been transcribed numerous times in various instrumentations. Many brass players will have heard versions by the Empire Brass and the Canadian Brass. Miller sets this in F minor—a half-step lower than the original. The dramatic flair of this dance features register changes and sudden tempo changes that require a stellar technique yet allow each performer to put his own stamp on its interpretation.

Dance No.7 (2:15) is a playful Allegretto in C major. Miller’s setting features wide leaps, and register extremes, GG to e2. An Allegro subito surprises in the middle of the dance and once again requires extremely fast and agile technique.

Dance No.8 in A minor (2:30) is a technical tour de force. Marked Presto, it is in a dance form with brief repeated sections. 16th note passages can be played as fast as the performer is able. As in the previous movement, wide leaps and register extremes add to the challenge.

Dance No.9 in D minor (1:50), down from the original E minor, is the shortest. The opening theme, marked Allegro non troppo, is reminiscent of Beethoven’s Turkish Rondo. A lyrical contrasting section and a slower Meno mosso pave the way for the return of the Allegro—ridiculously fast as you might expect.

Miller’s transcriptions are for the advanced player. The Dances are enjoyable and engaging, and genuinely difficult. Performing the collection in its entirety will be an extremely challenging recital endeavor. While the individual dances are not long, there are few moments for rest. Taken separately any one of them could serve as a recital encore. The Hungarian Dances were popular in Brahms’ day, and they readily resonate with audiences today. These transcriptions add value to the rapidly expanding repertoire for the trombone.

Reviewer: Paul Overly
Review Published January 31, 2019