The Project

ZRI stands for ‘Zum Roten Igel’ – the ‘Red Hedgehog Tavern’ – a 19th century Viennese hub of socialising, beer-drinking, and of music. Both Brahms and Schubert went there to hear gypsy musicians play, and their influence found its way into their writing, most closely in the Brahms Clarinet Quintet and the Schubert C Major Quintet. The band ZRI have re-scored both master works to bring them into a folk and gypsy soundworld, interweaving Klezmer and gypsy melodies into the original fabric of the score.

youngbrahms2 Hedgehog








ZRI present Schubert’s String Quintet in C, reimagined to sound as radical as when it was first written. Bursting with gypsy and Hungarian themes, it is here rescored to include clarinet, santouri (cymbalom) and accordion and interleaved with traditional tunes. ZRI stands for ‘Zum Roten Igel’, the name of the major concert venue in Vienna in Schubert’s time but also of the tavern just behind it where bands played and composers caroused into the night; at one point Schubert even lived next door. His fluid embrace of folk tradition in this much-loved work is brought out in this exciting version, reflecting the daring and profound qualities of the piece itself.


The connections between Schubert and gypsy music may not always be clear to audiences now, but they were strongly felt in his own time. The Hungarian elements in the String Quintet and parts of the Winterreise have been noted ever since they were written; Schubert also wrote a Divertissement à l’Hongroise and there is a catalogue of other works that seem to reflect this style. His first devotees understood this and there is even a romanticised nineteenth-century picture of him sitting and writing out the music of gypsies in the countryside.



The term Zigeuner (‘Gypsy’) meant many things in nineteenth-century Vienna. In music, it seemed to denote a professional class as much as an ethnic identity. ‘Gypsy’ bands commonly included Jews, Greeks and Russians as well as Hungarian Roma. Mark Rozsavögli, whose melodies were incorporated into Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies’, was actually Mordchele Rosenthal and his ‘Gypsy’ orchestra was entirely Jewish; similarly the early recordings by ‘Belf’s Romanian Orchestra’ preserve a predominantly Jewish repertory. Ironically, Wagner was quite perceptive when he dismissed Brahms as a ‘jüdischen Czardas Aufspieler’.

Instrumental bands like these played whatever music their audiences wanted to hear, even American popular hits towards the end of Brahms’s life. What they were famous for was their energy, or as Liszt put it, “the reveries, effusions and exaltations of this wild music”. Brahms’s friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg praises his Hungarian Dances because they are a “medley of twirls and grace-notes, this jingling, whistling, gurgling clatter… you raise it to its highest level, without diminishing its primitive wildness and vigour”.

The dances here come from a variety of sources. Many have specific regional associations and are still living traditions today. ‘Korund’ and ‘Kolomeyke’ are both fast circle dances, the first  named after a town in Russia, the second from Kolomyia in Ukraine. The name ‘Hora’ ultimately derives from the Greek choros and having been long established all over Eastern Europe can now mean any number of dance rhythms. ‘Der Gasn Nign’ means ‘the street tune’ and is one of many pieces with the same title in the early klezmer repertory, while ‘Goldene Chasene’ means ‘Golden Wedding’ – in the sense of splendour, rather than age.