A Walzer – Valse – Vals just what is a waltz?

Punch Howarth

Continuing with articles this off season of SASO concerts, we will take a good look at the form and history of the waltz. Most everyone is familiar with waltzes and even know the names of some. Settle back and think Om-pah-pah, Om-pah-pah!

Musically a waltz is a dance form in three time; 3/4, 3/8, 3/2, with a strong first beat followed usually by two higher pitched beats. The meter is between 60 and 70 bpm with one downbeat per measure of three equal beats. In Viennese waltzes the second beat is accented and played slightly early. One form of music using the label waltz is not a waltz. In Australia there is a song that is sort of an unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. Waltz there means walking as a vagabond and matilda is not a person but a pack or roll carried on the back and is in 4/4 time. Returning to our survey of the waltz, the first or downbeat usually carries the chord for the entire measure of three beats. It should be noted that not all music in three time are waltzes and most are not. Many of the great symphonic movements by Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler are in three time.

There are several types of waltz; Concert Waltz, Dance Waltz, Popular Waltz and Contemporary Waltz. Concert or classical waltzes include Invitation to the Dance of von Weber, Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and Bolero, Valse Triste of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev’s wonderful ballet waltzes and even the distorted-grotesque waltzes of Stravinsky, Mahler and Walton.

Dance waltzes originated in Austria derived from the Landler in 3/4 time with quarter-quarter-dotted 8th-16th, which has a heavy feel with foot stomping. The most famous Dance Waltz is the Viennese gliding, dancing cheek to cheek waltz. Originally only accepted as a lower class dance, it eventually becomes the rage of all of Europe. Johann Strauss Jr. was the most famous composer of Dance Waltzes and composed 64 between 1844 and 1895. Born into a musical family, his father, brother and uncle were all composers and very good ones. However, the German composer Richard Strauss is not related to the above family although his opera Der Rosenkavalier has fabulous waltzes.

Strauss the younger’s two most famous waltzes are Blue Danube and Tales of the Vienna Woods. The New Year’s Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, started in 1929, celebrates the music of the Strauss period as well as a new year.

Popular Waltzes are known from 1900 and include Anniversary Waltz, Goodnight Irene, Charmaine, Eidelweiss, and Moon River. Examples of Contemporary Waltzes are Billy Joel’s Piano Man, Cry by Kelly Clarkson, and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. I hope the reader enjoys this retrospect in Three Quarter Time as I have. To comment on these summer essays go to [email protected] and/or sasomusic.org. Looking forward to SASO’s return in the fall.