Waltz


Classical Academy | Orchestral Music | Romantic Music


The sound of the waltz is one of the most distinctive in classic music - that three in a bar 'oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa' beat calls to mind whirling couples dancing around the ballrooms of Vienna. It's not quite clear when the style was invented, although it had been park of traditional folk dance for a long time. In 1580 the French philosopher Montaigne wrote of a similar dance he saw in Augsburg where the dancers held each other so close their faces touched.

 

The dance we know today great out of the Austrian court which in turn took its inspiration from the local dances of Bavaria, Tyrol and Styria. While the eighteenth century upper classes continued to dance the somewhat more boring minuet, noblemen looking for more fun and frolicks slipped off to their servants' balls to take up the waltz. It took a while to catch on in high society - Sophie von la Roche wrote in her 1771 novel "but when he put his arms around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all bounds of good breeding - then my silent misery turned into burning rage". As late as 1825 the Oxford English Dictionary described the waltz as 'riotous and indecent'!

 

In music, the waltz has its own place as a genre of classical music, irrespective of the dance itself. In fact, it has since pervaded Euro-American folk and classical music. Chopin's eighteen waltzes, clearly not intended to be danced to, are just one example of how the style evolved outside of the dance hall. Great waltz composeres were honoured with the title of Waltz King and given the grand "royal staff" - a decorated silver baton passed from musician to musician. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the great Waltz King Johann Strauss Jr was the most famous composer to have ever received the title regularly.

 

Enjoy this fabulous selection of waltz recordings, from Strauss' Emperor Waltz to The Nutcracker, Sibelius' Valse Triste, Ravel's La Valse and even Moon River. You can read more about dance music with our feature articles on ballet and calypso.