Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Hunnenschlacht (Liszt)
The "Hunnenschlacht" ("The Battle of the Huns") was suggested by Kaulbach's cartoon representing the legend of the battle in mid-air between the spirits of the Huns and of the Romans who had fallen before the walls of their city. The music depicts the war of races and the final triumph of the Christian faith. The opening Allegro begins with the low rumbling of kettle drums, and an ascending motive in the minor scale. The cellos start, and are soon reinforced by the other strings in unison. The diminished seventh chord is extensively employed in the brasses and further on in the double basses. At a Più mosso allegro energico assai, these chords in a somewhat altered form are made the chief motive for the first part. After a repetition of the opening theme, the cellos and bassoons give out the war cry, piano, as if in the far distance, to the low rumbling of the drums. The time then changes, and a new rhythmic motive enters, closing with a short figure in the violins which enhances the wild character of the music. During the fray the trombones give out the strains of the chorale, representing the Christian warriors. The war cry motive resounds in all the wind instruments, while the other themes to which we have drawn attention, in succession or used jointly, keep up the turmoil. Only twice appears a new feature in a succession of scale runs, fortissimo, in unison in the strings. The peculiar rhythm lends itself well to the increasing stormy character. The fortissomos grow into double fortissimos, the Agitato into a Furioso, until all the forces are engaged, and enter with the whole weight of the orchestra on an Andante, the chord being held by the higher instruments, while the basses of strings and brasses repeat the war cry double fortissimo. They cease abruptly, and the organ takes up the old hymn ("Crux fidelis, inter omnes").
The strains of the chorale, which sound as if from afar, are interrupted by the overwhelming fanfare opening the Andante, until the "Crux fidelis" claims its right, and a very beautiful scoring of the fine old melody, set off by solo figures for the violin, oboe, and flute, leads to a peaceful and restful mood. Then final Allegro grows gradually into the hymn of triumph. The war cry resounds only mezzo forte, and in stately, solemn tempo the chorale increases in breadth of instrumentation. The stretto opens a long crescendo, and the organ finally joins the orchestral forces, dominating the grand close with long-held chords, while the orchestra accents only with abrupt chords the pompous triumphal march of the victorious legions.