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In the Beginning Was Rhythm...Hans von Bulow

The MHS Review 375 Vol. 10, No. 15 • 1986

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Julie Jordan


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ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. Triple time ( ¾ meter) with one beat to the bar in­evitably means the waltz. This traditional dance form is typically associated with the charming Viennese waltz developed in the 19th century and almost universally in­spires a smile. It can be traced to the Landler; an Austro-German dance in same triple meter appearing sometime shortly after 1770; an early example is the Diabelli waltz tune on which Beethoven composed his Variations, op. 120 (182:3).

The joyous waltz, buoyant with romantic enchantment, became "the craze of Europe" almost instantly. Throughout the 19th century composers satisfied this pop­ular demand by writing thousands of waltzes. Sets of piano waltzes were com­posed by Schubert, Chopin, and Brahms. The concert waltz was established in 1819 with Weber's Invitation to the Dance for piano solo (later orchestrated by Berlioz), a programmatic piece consisting of a series of waltzes with an introduction and epilogue.

The waltz also exerted considerable in­fluence over the songs and operas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Richard Strauss employed the waltz in Der Rosen­kavalier and Arabella. Waltzes also be­came movements in symphonies, as we find in Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and Ravel's monumental poem La valse, an impressionistic choreographic display of the Viennese waltz.

Perhaps the immortal name of Johann Strauss is best linked with this waltz pan­demonium in Vienna. There was a cluster of musicians in the Strauss family. Johann, Senior (1804-49) was famous for his waltzes and other pieces, such as the Ra­detzky March. Johann, Junior (1825-99) was known as an Austrian violinist, con­ductor, and profilic composer of light Vi­ennese music, especially the waltz. The younger Johann studied composition with Dreschler and organized his own orchestra in 1844, later joining his father's group, which toured Austria, Poland, and Germany. Johann's' brother Josef (1827-70) turned out at least 283 waltzes although he was trained as an architect. For a while, Josef became the younger Johann's most talented rivaI. Geheime Anziehungskrafte (Secret powers of attraction), now recog­nized by the title Dynamiden, was com­posed for a Viennese ball. Eduard Strauss (1835-1916) extended the Strauss family repertoire by another 200 pieces and was active as the conductor of the Viennese court balls.

Another to produce Viennese dance music, including waltzes and polkas, on a large scale was Joseph Lanner (1801-43 ), a colleague of the elder Johann Strauss. His Die Schonbrunner was titled after Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace and triumphs as his most famous set of waltzes. Carl Michael Ziehrer added to the brilliant competition with the Strausses. In particular, his 1904 operetta Der Schatzmeister (The valuer) is the source from which Herreinspaziert! (Step aside) stems.

Romanian bandmaster Iosif Ivanovici's marvelous Valurile Dunarii (Danube waves) (1880) caused a widespread sensa­tion. And just as worthy for their pure pleasure arc the waltzes of the bohemian Karel Komzak, Mexican Juventino Rosas, and Hungarian Franz Lehar, the composer of one of the best-loved 20th-century op­erettas, The Merry Widow.

There was more to the waltz than simp­ly entertainment; significant musicians such as Berlioz shared his thoughts in his Memoirs:

The Redoutensaal takes its name from the great balls frequently held in the hall during the winter season. There the youth of Vienna gives rein to its passion for dancing ... I spent whole nights watching these incomparable waltzers whirling around in great clouds, and in admiring the choreographic precision of the quadrilles-200 people at a time, drawn up in two long lines-and the vivid character dances, which for originality and polished ex­ecution I have not seen surpassed anywhere except in Hungary. And there stands Strauss .. (He] deliberately appeals to a popular audi­ence; and by copying him, his numerous imi­tators are perforce helping to spread his influence.

Julie Jordan, pianist, is a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Manhattan School of Music. She received her Master of Music degree from the Julli­ard School, where she is on the piano minor faculty.

(This article refers to the release of waltzes featured on page 1.) Famous Waltzes

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