About this Recording
8.573552 - LANNER, J.: Viennese Dances (Orchestre Régional de Cannes, Dörner)
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Joseph Lanner (1801–43)
Viennese Dances


Joseph Lanner, inventor of the formal Viennese waltz, was born in Vienna on 12th April 1801. At the age of 12 he joined the orchestra of Michael Pamer, but at 17 decided to form his own ensemble to play in coffee houses and restaurants, later with the assistance of Johann Strauss I (the father of Johann Strauss II), who then left to make his own career. After the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), the waltz became symbolic for the Viennese, representing an escape from a political system of repressive reaction. Lanner and Strauss were able to enlarge their orchestras of 20 to 30 players, and the waltz began to take on its mature form. Tunes were expanded and shaped into a more integrated set, the whole being given unity by an introductory section and a coda, recapitulating the main themes. Each composition carried a picturesque or topical title, often reflected in the mood of the introduction. During the 1830s waltz mania spread around Europe. But Lanner seldom left Vienna: he became music director at the Redoutensäle in 1829 and then bandmaster of the Second Vienna Militia Regiment. His career ended on Good Friday 1843 when he died, aged only 42. Lanner’s work of some 207 pieces evinces a lyrical, poetical style.

[1] Tarantel-Galopp, Op. 125

The galopade formed the boisterous climax to Viennese balls in the first half of the 19th century. There was a considerable polemic against these “immoral” dances, but an enthusiastic demand for them from the dance-frenzied youth who rebelled against the bourgeois smugness of the age. This work was played at the Carnival of 1838. It contains one of Lanner’s most amusing musical tricks. The main motifs of the work are borrowed from a march written for the Second Viennese Citizens’ Regiment. The music is played twice as fast in galop tempo, and especially in the coda, as if the musicians had succumbed to the fatal frenzied delirium of the tarantula’s legendary bite.

[2] Hexentanz Waltz, Op. 203

This was premièred in February 1843 in Dommayer’s Casino. It is one of the composer’s most mature works, with harmonies and tonal effects unprecedented at the time in a formal waltz. It relates to the mummery of Carnival, and has a startlingly programmatic introduction. Bold brass fanfares lead into spooky “witches’ music”, chromatic and violent, with surging strings and much percussion, including the tam-tam. The Ballet of the Nuns in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (1831) and the sorceress’s music in Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer’s La Sylphide (1832) provided examples of this type of writing. There are some ten waltz sequences or “chains” (Walzerketten), beginning with an atmospheric minor-key theme, followed by a bold trumpet solo. Serene strings initiate a theme in the major, and a characteristic pattern of lyrical high treble melodies alternating with brassy contributions, and some bold, startling drum rolls. The piece returns to the evocation of the spooky Geistermusik in the finale.

[3] Elisens und Katinkens Vereinigung, Op. 56, No. 2

The feast days of St Elizabeth (19th November) (d. 1231, daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, wife of Ludwig IV of Thuringia, famed for her compassion) and St Catherine (25th November) (d. 307, early Christian martyr in Alexandria, patron of wheelwrights) were celebrated as popular festivals in Catholic Austria. St Catherine’s Day was much loved as the last feast before the more penitential Advent. On 21st November 1831 a big party in the Stadtsaal Neuer Markt unified the two celebrations, and Lanner wrote a work for this occasion, with the same theme treated first as galop and then as a “regdowak”, the whole framed by a fanfare. The stately fanfare, for trumpets and timpani, serves as a rondo theme, binding the whole together, and becoming more emphatic on each occasion. St Elizabeth is represented by a very elegant and delicate two-part galop, and St Catherine by the Slavonic dance, in fact a very gracious waltz, also in two parts. The concluding recurrence of the fanfare is very full and splendid.

[4] Hofball-Tänze, Op. 161

More stately in mood are these dances of 1840, written for one of the first Court Balls at which Lanner presided as music director. A processional 4/4 introduction creates an appropriate air of formality. The opening melody of the waltz-chain is smooth and lyrical, with long descending notes in the second half creating a sense of symmetry. The following melodies unfold in serene detachment, with occasional little orchestral surges providing moments of propelling energy. The fourth segment is characterized by songlike lower strings and answering treble effects. Brass figures initiate a stronger, more magisterial theme before forces are summoned up for the recapitulation of the opening waltz, marked by a flurried passage with skips in the melody. Trumpets announce the last surprise: a slightly plangent theme that dominates the coda.

[5] Huldigungsmarsch, Anh. 54

Lanner wrote few marches. This work was first performed in the Apollosaal on 19th January 1836, during a Huldigungsfest, a festival paying homage to the newly crowned Emperor Ferdinand (1793–1875, reg. 1835–48). A strong fanfare passage summons attention, and leads directly into a slightly lilting melody, characterized by woodwind turns and rising triplet skirls, providing an upwards pull, generating an (unintentionally?) jocular forward progression, up and down. The fanfare introduces a more equable second subject, a longer, smoother melodic line. The trio is even more reflective, before the fanfare initiates the recapitulation of the opening themes.

[6] Neujahrs-Galopp, Op. 61b

This galop was performed at the New Year celebrations of 1833 at the Hotel “Zum römischen Kaiser”, and became one of the composer’s most popular works. The fleet melody is propelled along by a series of dotted figures and echo effects. The finale uses both accelerando and crescendo and suddenly introduces a surprise melody in the coda, borne along by bouncing figures in the strings.

[7] Mitternachts Waltz, Op. 8

This early work, written for the farewell benefit of Michael Pamer on 19th October 1826, represents the ancient original form of the waltz, without the introduction and coda that were first inserted by Carl Maria von Weber in his celebrated piano piece Aufforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance) (1819). The individual sequences reveal the influence of Schubert, and use the relaxed folksy style of the Ländler. The whole piece has a chamber texture, with a bright tone sustained by the strings. There are occasional woodwind contributions, especially from the clarinet, with the piccolo adding some refreshing high doubling towards the end. The brass contribution is limited to unobtrusive harmonies, the trumpet making some occasional entries. The introduction of the midnight chimes has a programmatic effect: it not only announces the end of the ball, but also relates to the tradition of the Grandfather Dance that would have been played in many German events at this point (famously used in Schumann’s Papillons, 1829–31, and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, 1892). The gesture marks the farewell to the “grandfather” of the waltz form, Pamer himself. The chimes also refer to the 19th-century requirement that all doors should be closed after midnight. Anyone coming home late had to knock to wake up the guardian, who would open the door, a service for which one paid a fee. Lanner alludes to this practice at the end of the coda: the orchestra plays pianissimo, and only the violas and timpani “knock” at the door with three harsh chords.

[8] Hans-Jörgel-Polka, Op. 194

The polka, a comfortable dance in 2/4 for couples, originating in Bohemian folk music in the early 19th century, became one of the mainstays of 19th-century social life. This polka was first performed on 13th June 1842, at the tavern “Zu den Sieben Churfürsten”, one of Lanner’s best known works. The main theme has a somewhat ambling, amiable character, in a gently restrained bourgeois mode. Woodwinds and timpani are prominent in the second episode. The title alludes to the character in an epistolary serial much read in Vienna at the time, Die Komischen Briefe des Hans Jörgels von Gumpoldskirchen. The firstperson commentary was humorous, but sometimes also critical of daily life in the capital. The literary allusion is rather in the manner of Schumann, who had dedicated one of his most beautiful piano collections, Kreisleriana (1838), to the eccentric Kapellmeister Kreisler, drawn from the Romantic stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann.

[9] Steyrische Tänze, Op. 165

These dances were written as part of the divertissement Die Macht der Kunst created by the danseur Étienne Leblond. After the première (Kärntnerthor-Theater, 22nd January 1841), the Wiener Zeitung reported that the dancers, Demoiselles Sassi and Bertin and Herr Alexander, performed to extraordinary approval. These dances reflect something of Lanner’s nature, a delicate intimacy, sometimes even an almost elegiac disposition. If the rhythms are part of the popular regional culture of Styria, the tunes are typically Viennese: pretty, distinct melodies. The form is a rondo, a recurring motif opening each segment, and with strong internal cadences, in the style of the slow country Ländler, usually played by a string ensemble. The second subject is bright and perky, with other segments displaying a question-and-answer interplay, an uplift in emotional appeal, with dotted figurations, and melancholic phrases in the lower strings. Woodwind, brass and timpani are integrated into the general harmony. The second subject was used by Stravinsky in his ballet Petrushka (1911), where it appears as a trumpet solo.

[10] Die Schönbrunner, Op. 200

One of his last works, first performed on 13th October 1842 in the Bierhalle in Fünfhaus, is Joseph Lanner’s tribute to the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, built by the Empress Maria Theresa, which stood across from his performance headquarters, Casino Dommayer. The waltz was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, and Lanner is said to have been called to repeat the whole 21 times before leaving the podium for the last time in his career. Its ingratiating principal melody was also introduced by Stravinsky into Petrushka. The mood is poised and sophisticated, with the linked sequences generating a special atmosphere of rapture and yearning. It opens with a modified fanfare, alternating between the brass and woodwinds, immediately transposing into the melancholic first theme, characterized by a hesitant opening figure on syncopated strings and woodwind that develops its own momentum, leading to a small climax. It is succeeded by the calm second theme, distinctly elegiac in tone, that moves without a break into a melody of reiterated notes at various pitches, rising and falling in measured steps. This effortlessly evolves into a happier but still hesitant episode, with serene strings playing over arpeggios, and transmutes into a theme of long notes over a busy, bustling accompaniment that induces an effect of perpetuum mobile (not lost on Johann Strauss II in his Op. 257, 1862). Long sforzando chords at intermittent intervals and upward rushing strings serve as powerpoints for a staccato motif with strong fermate that gives way to a delicate melodic symmetry of rising-and-falling dotted notes. Reiterated figures introduce a series of developed reminiscences, culminating in a variation of the first idea, and ending in a brief silence. A recapitulation of the perpetuum mobile sees an interchange of woodwind and strings, an accelerando passage followed by rallentando. A truncated recall of the opening themes flows into the brief coda.

Lanner imparts to this dance form a type of poetry and grace, whose organic structure and related tonalities serve to link the diverse sections. Still lacking is the amplitude of the mature waltzes of Johann Strauss II; Lanner nonetheless showed himself master of an authentic and growing personal inspiration, with an effortless adaptation and expansion of theme and form to shape a masterpiece.

Robert Letellier

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