Nothing will surpass the popularity in Vienna than the waltz.
Would you agree?
In fact, Alice M. Hanson pointed out in the “Musical Life in Biedermeier Vienna” that, court members NEVER danced and aristocrats only danced sedate quadrilles if at all ― it was amonst the middle class and lower class the ballroom dancing attained its popularity during the 19th century.
I’ve witnessed many an arguments and public rumors claiming that it was something only people of high society had access to, and lot of us today tend to have this association due to its refinement discerned in Johann Strauss’ music which is at large a misleading factor.
The waltz was most evidently for the general mass and the middle class.
That is a great question.
Glassbrenner summing up the impression of Wiener Waltzer as a sensual madness or Totentanz explains the reason why (here’s the quote):
… this frenzy has become degenerated. One no longer sees dancers there, but only Bacchantes. The women feverishly thrill as soon as they are touched by the arm of the man, then they press their breast close to his, their head on his shoulder, and now they let themselves be swept about, imbibing in this voluptuous posture with every movement of the man and that lascivious music; imploringly innocence flees, terrified from the hall, femininity drags itself beseechingly at their feet, and death stands in the corner and laughs up his sleeve.
In short, the Viennese waltz was controversial because of the close positioning of the dancers, its suggestive turns and ‘unhealthy exertion’.
There were about 30 or so dance halls which were mostly located in the suburbs and catered to middle- and lower-class families. Balls were great entertainments which provided them with the opportunities for social contacts.
Usually balls began at 8 or 9 p.m., and the ballrooms were packed with couples, children and families especially on Sunday which is the only free day of the week for most workers. Refreshments (punches, fruit, ices or candy) were available throughout the evening till midnight when the supper was served. Dancing resumed until 3 or 4 a.m..
Men were expected to show up dressed formally in black frocks, silk breeches, black stockings, and maroquin shoes, while women wore ball gowns with their finest jewelry or fresh flowers (as gowns were an indispensable part of any wardrobe).
Waltzes are by principle in a 3/4 time as in the An der schönen, blauen Donau op.314 above, however, the Emperor waltz op.437 for example, has an introduction composed in 2/2 before the first waltz begins (which rather sounds like a polka than a waltz honestly).
In most waltzes the tripartition is applied, and each waltz piece has a few small waltzes in it, and it moves from one waltz to the next thoroughout modulations and rubatos before arriving back to the exposition and then the coda.
Two of the most prominent characteristics of Wiener Waltzer are its unique sense of pulse and rubato that occurs every now and then.
I’ll exlain the rubato first;
In the score shown above, I have marked rubato in red ink. These three quarter notes (or crochets) just before the beginning of the waltz No.1 are an important upbeat for the following bars which leaves anticipation of something very enchanting. Likewise, there could be rubato should the other waltzes have upbeats for their beginnings. The orchestra will have to take plenty of time with the upbeat before settling into the waltz, and this is something the conductor cannot dictate the players by means of mechanically swinging the baton. It takes loyal effort from each of those players to craft the most appropriate timing and degrees to which the upbeat is prolonged. In addition, once the waltz begins, which begins in a lapsed motion because of the rubato, it’s supposed to slowly work its way up to the most natural tempo. It’s very similar to how a shy or reserved person in conversation gradually gets used to the mood and starts opening up.
And then the pulse;
The trick is that, in Wiener Walzer, when the accompanying counterpart has a sequence of crochet rhythms, we play the second crochet of each bar ahead of time. The merit is that the upbeat has more room than it would when it is played as it’s written. It’s as if you’ve thrown the ball high into the sky so that the ball takes its time to come down to the ground. This is particularly the major difference with the other normal pieces composed in a 3/4 time. The second pulse cannot be too close to the downbeat as it would completely ruin the 3/4 form. Again, when playing this, conductor has no real control over precisely when the second pulse should occur. The musicians will need to equip themselves with Viennese or Straussian finesse in order to naturally be able to execute the perfect sense of pulse.
Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of spring) is yet another Waltz that Strauss wrote for soprano and orchestra, and it follows almost the same pattern as the Danube waltz:
This is a version for violin and piano transcribed by my admired and esteemed teacher Simon Fischer. I had the pleasure of playing this transcription in London a couple of years ago as my final recital for school. It turned out that it had never really been performed anywhere in public since its release, which made my playing its official world premier. Unfortunately, this time we had to allow the omission of this transcription in the programme of the forthcoming Sunday’s concert. It was published by the Edition Peters and you can find it in their catalogue at your order.
If you wish to listen to the original version of Frühlingsstimmen, here’s the performance footage:
For next time, I’m planning to talk about one of the greatest Viennese composer of the 20th century, Fritz Kreisler and examine the close relationship with the tradition of the waltz. Keep an eye out for the next article.