Bartók wrote his two Rhapsodies during the Summer of 1928. The Second Rhapsody was first performed by its dedicatee, Zoltán Székely, in Amsterdam on November 19th, 1928. The First Rhapsody was premièred a year later. As he was earning his money mainly as a pianist at the time, Bartók was keen to have new material to perform. Later, he also created a version of the First Rhapsody for cello and piano, and then orchestrated both works; it was the only time he used the traditional Hungarian instrument, the cimbalom, in one of his scores.
He employs the Hungarian Rhapsody format beloved of Franz Liszt, based on the Verbunkos or recruiting dance. It opens with a Lassú, or slow section, and then moves on to the second, lively Friss section. His own researches into the folk music of central Europe were of immense value in choosing material for the two works. The Second Rhapsody employs Romanian, Hungarian and Ruthenian (Slovakian speaking people from the Balkans) material. It is launched with a wistful melody and the Lassú is a gentle fantasy. The Friss has strong rhythmic beats, with sudden accelerations and plenty of opportunities for the violin to demonstrate its virtuosity in a spirited coda.