Friday, April 15, 2016

Waltzes for Piano

No. 219 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s Blog and Podcast considers the waltz, not necessarily the dance but rather the music, as performed on the piano.

Much can be said about the waltz. Consider:

Waltz: from the old German word walzen to roll, turn, or to glide.
Waltz: to move or glide in a lively or conspicuous manner (to advance easily and successfully).
Waltz: a ballroom dance in 3/4 time with strong accent on the first beat and a basic pattern of step-step-close.

As early as the seventeenth century, waltzes were played in the ballrooms of the Hapsburg court. The weller, or turning dances, were danced by peasants of Bavaria, Tyrol, and Styria even before that time. Many of the familiar waltz tunes can be traced back to simple peasant yodeling melodies.
During the middle of the eighteenth century, the allemande form of the waltz was very popular in France. Originally danced as one of the figures in the contredanse, with arms intertwining at shoulder level, it soon became an independent dance and the close-hold was introduced. By the end of the eighteenth century, this old Austrian peasant dance had been accepted by high society, and three-quarter rhythm was here to stay.

As a dance that requires closeness one can only imagine that some would find it, well, scandalous. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A blistering editorial in The Times a few days later stated:

"We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last ... it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion." (Source: The Times of London, 16th July 1816)

Today, we view the Waltz as a display of elegance, leaving, shall we say, more overt displays of sensuality to other forms of ballroom dancing…
Classical composers traditionally supplied music for dancing when required, and Franz Schubert's waltzes (including the Valses Sentimentales and Valses Nobles) were written for household dancing, without any pretense at being art music. However, Frédéric Chopin's surviving 18 waltzes (five he wrote as a child), along with his mazurkas and polonaises, were clearly not intended for dance. They marked the adoption of the waltz and other dance forms as serious composition genres. Other notable contributions to the waltz genre in classical music include 16 by Johannes Brahms (originally for piano duet), and Maurice Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales for piano.
Today’s podcast proposes a number of piano waltzes, from the Romantic era all the way to recent times. The times change, yet the time signature doesn’t and this short sampling of waltzes highlights moments of musical character and ingenuity. Whether they are from the pen of great pianist-composers (Chopin, Debussy and Rubenstein) or that of a master of song like Billy Joel, you never get tired of listening to these lilting melodies!

I think you will love this music too.

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