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8.553337 - Great Waltzes

Great Waltzes

Great Waltzes


In common with many other dances in their day, the waltz too was considered by some to be dangerous both for health and for morals. Derived from the German dance, the popular Deutsche, which had made its way from village to ball-room by the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the waltz itself, under that name, was popular enough by the turn of the century. Medicalobjections arose because of the speed of execution of this whirling dance, while moral objections arose from the close proximity of the partners as they danced. Others found the new dance a beneficial form of exercise and claimed that its practice was completely innocent.


The waltz is, of course, closely associated with Vienna and with the so-called Waltz King Johann Strauss, who, like his father before him, was a leading composer of the dance and a leading performer of the music with his dance- orchestra. Johann Strauss the elder established his own orchestra in 1825, the year of his son Johann's birth, but planned a different future for his three sons, who all turned eventually to music and the dance-orchestra in spite of their father's intentions. The Emperor Waltz takes its name from the meeting of the German and Austrian Emperors, and could therefore be taken as a compliment to either. The still more famous Blue Danube was written for the Vienna Men's Choir and was originally a choral waltz, with words suggesting the romance of the River Danube, which is never as blue as it is made out to be.


The French composer Hector Berlioz had turned to the waltz long before the younger Strauss had taken up music as a profession. In his Symphonie fantastique of 1830, a work written with a strong autobiographical element after his rejection by his mistress, includes a dance scene, prelude to a pastoral idyll and a scene of tragedy, the execution of the artist and a nightmare witches' sabbath.

Tchaikovsky, who once danced a mock-ballet with Camille Saint-Saens, created sets of superb dances in his three ballets, and the form of the waltz also found a place in his concert works, even in a symphony. The Sleeping Beauty Waltz is taken from the ballet of that name, on the traditional story, while the Waltz of the Flowers is taken from Nutcracker , a ballet based on a Hoffmann story , in which, in a dream, a Nutcracker Prince takes little Clara to the Land of Sweets, a dentist's nightmare but a chance for ballet divertissements of the most varied kind. The second movement of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings is a magnificent example of the waltz in a more extended musical form.


The Viennese tradition of the waltz had its light-hearted French counterpart in Waldteufel, born Emile Levy in Strasbourg in 1837. He came to occupy a position similar to that of Strauss in Vienna as director of music for the court balls under the patronage of the Empress Eugenie, until the revolution after the defeat of the Franco-Prussian war. His career was resumed largely through the patronage of the Prince of Wales. His famous Skaters' Waltz (Les patineurs) belongs to this later period of his life.


In Vienna the waltz was sustained by the successors of Strauss, among them the Hungarian band-master Franz Lehilr, composer of The Merry Widow and of a continuing series of popular operettas and dances that include Gold and Silver. Further afield Juventino Rosas, an Otomi Indian, made his own South American bow to the form with Sobre las olas, a sequence then often attributed to Strauss himself, while the Romanian Josif Ivanovici is now remembered above all for his Valurile Duntfrii (Donauwe/1en or Waves of the Danube).


Aram Khachaturian, a Soviet composer of Armenian extraction, might seem immediately more at home with sabre-dances than waltzes. His waltz from incidental music for Lermontov's Masquerade, written in 1941, has come to enjoy a similar degree of popularity.


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