The Great Waltz (1938)1938 Directed by Julien Duvivier (more) Writing credits Gottfried Reinhardt (story) Samuel Hoffenstein (screenplay)... Julien Duvivier(more) Gottfried Reinhardt Samuel Hoffenstein
The waltz king A lot of what we call classical music started out as popular music. Most of the non-religious Renaissance pieces performed now by scholarly early music groups are nothing more than extremely old oldies - pop songs and dance tunes that hit the charts before 1600.
The waltz king And one of the most beloved of all 19th-century composers, a man whose music is now played by symphony orchestras around the world, was actually a dance- band leader.
The waltz king Johann Strauss Jr. was the most commercially successful band leaders of his periods, Strauss' prosperous home town of Vienna went waltz mad in the early 19th century. Spectacular dance palaces were everywhere. The privileged classes threw one opulent party after another, while the working classes congregated at tradesmen's balls.
The waltz king In the 1820s, Johann Strauss Sr. and his partner Josef Lanner were the first men to corner the Viennese waltz market. They wrote their own music and conducted their own small dance orchestras to great adulation and profit.
The waltz king Despite his success - or perhaps because he feared the competition - Strauss insisted that his sons pursue non-musical careers. Two of them, Eduard and Josef, obeyed, but wrote waltzes and polkas on the side.
The waltz king His eldest son, Johann Jr., secretly rehearsed 15 musicians and made his debut in 1844. For the occasion he'd written four waltzes, two quadrilles and three polkas, which were immediately hailed as equal to his father's work. Before long, the young Strauss would far surpass the efforts of his father.
The waltz king The first original waltz Strauss played that night was called ``The Favor Seekers''; the last was titled ``Thought Poems.'' Those titles became his career's dual theme.
The waltz king All Strauss waltzes are, in effect, thought poems, with an expressiveness and elaborate detail that transcend dance music forms. One reviewer of a Strauss concert at the 1867 Paris Exhibition wrote, ``No one thought of dancing, for everyone wanted to listen.''
The waltz king Strauss was and remains known as ``The Waltz King,'' but he wrote several different kinds of pieces - polkas, marches, quadrilles and others, as well as sparkling operettas including ``Die Fledermaus'' and ``The Gypsy Baron.''
The waltz king It's easy to tell most of these forms apart. The march needs no introduction. It's a two-step that's so simple it can't be danced to; you merely, well, march to it.
The waltz king The polka was originally a lively Bohemian peasant dance that sent couples bounding and twirling all over the dance floor. Most polkas are in ternary, or three-part, form. The first and third parts are identical, and the second often brings in a contrasting mood. The two most famous Strauss polkas are ``Thunder and Lightning'' and ``Tritsch-Tratsch.''
The waltz king A quadrille is a group dance, requiring an equal number of couples. It seems to have originated in France and may have begun as music to accompany displays of horsemanship. The quadrille is not only a group dance, but a group of dances - five, usually, in different rhythms and tempos. At first, quadrilles used folk tunes, but Strauss' quadrilles employ songs and opera arias that were popular in his day.
The waltz king Finally, the waltz. The basic waltz is in 3/4 time with the emphasis on the first beat (count: ONE- two-three, ONE-two-three). While the polka is a boisterous, jerky dance, the waltz is characterized by gliding and smooth rotation.
The waltz king The Viennese waltz has a special rhythm. It's still a three-count, but the second beat is rushed a little, leaving a short breathing space between the second and third beats. A truly authentic performance of a Strauss waltz will rush the second beat in this manner, imparting a special lilt to the music.
The waltz king To understand Strauss' distinction as a composer of waltzing thought poems, consider one of his most popular works, the ``Emperor Waltz.''
The waltz king Most waltzes begin with a little introduction to give couples time to get onto the dance floor. The ``Emperor Waltz'' opens with an extended intro. First there's a distant march tune, rather jaunty but decidedly military.
The waltz king A waltz melody tries to surge forward but is interrupted by the march, which now comes up front and full regalia.
The waltz king The march tune recedes, and is followed by a swirling transitional passage with a little cello solo. This leads quietly into the waltz theme that appeared in the introduction. There's no grand announcement; it just subtly begins.
The waltz king Now comes a whole series of waltzes, all featuring singing melodic lines. Orchestral flourishes occasionally billow like women's ball gowns, but there are quiet sections,too.
The waltz king Each new tune is a little more extroverted than the last, but near the end the wistful, nostalgic opening waltz returns. It's all about to end in a noble blaze, but everything suddenly dies away into that poetic cello solo from the introduction. It's very slow, not easily danced.
The waltz king Finally comes a brief uplifting coda, louder and a bit faster than the cello solo and full of brass fanfares.
The waltz king Strauss' melodic gift assured him of the public's unflagging favor throughout Europe and the United States. The waltz was a social opiate, and each Strauss waltz provided a deeply satisfying high.
The waltz king Waltzing was, in modern parlance, an escape mechanism. During Strauss' life, Vienna's opulence and its glittering balls masked a pervasive xenophobia, political oppression, epidemics of cholera and scarlet fever, and financial crises.
The waltz king But who could worry about such things while dancing to music given titles like ``Carefree'' and ``I Couldn't Care Less''?
The waltz king Nothing changes, does it? When Dr. Burney in 1805 described the waltz as a “ riotous modern invention ”, whose very name implied “ to wallow, welter, tumble down or roll in the dirt or mire ”, he could just as easily have been denouncing rock 'n' roll in 1956. When he wondered “ how uneasy an English mother would be to see her daughter so familiarly treated ”, he could have been commenting on the lambada or “ Dirty Dancing ”.
The waltz king This salacious popular entertainment hit the big time when Johann Strauss Vater formed his rock - sorry, dance - band in 1825, whereafter it gradually gained acceptance as a social activity. In 1844, Johann Strauss Sohn, who was born the same year as his dad's band, formed one of his own, the key step in his transformation from bank clerk to Waltz King, and embarked on a career which was to elevate the waltz from the coffee house (c.f. disco) to the regal ballrooms of Europe.
The waltz king While nothing assures respectability more than recognition by the Establishment, Strauss also won admiration from some surprising quarters, namely the avant- garde of the next generation. Mahler was a great fan, even paying tribute in his Fifth Symphony, though he wryly observed that Strauss' very facility prevented his becoming a “ great composer ” (presumably in the sense of Beethoven or Brahms) - he had no need of symphonic development, because when one tune had run its course, he simply pulled another, equally memorable, out of his hat! Crying shame!
The waltz king Schoenberg was so incensed at the stodginess of the “ palm-court ” arrangements of the 1920s that he organised a concert, to show that it was not compulsory for piano, harmonium and string quartet to mangle Strauss' elegant tunes. The arrangements by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern are well worth searching out, believe me!
The waltz king You could say Strauss made an art form out of the pot-pourri. He exercised immense skill in coordinating the tunes pulled from his capacious headgear, combining them with imaginative introductions and bridging phrases to transmute mere dance sequences into exquisite tone-poems. I believe that Strauss remains so universally well-loved because his music is not just stylish and attractive, but also edifyingly well bolted together.
The waltz king The names given to these pieces were often just fanciful handles, but sometimes reflected the character of the music. Thus the introduction to the Emperor Waltz (or Kaiser-Walzer, if you want to be picky), written in honour of Franz Josef in 1888, is in a march-like 2/4 giving it a regal, even pompous feel. It also has a certain fussiness which, if I were Franz Josef, I might wonder about.
The waltz king How effortlessly it leads, via a cadential 'cello solo, into the first waltz tune - cunningly pre-echoed in the introduction - and on into a colourful and varied full dress ball. The stately processional of the introduction is brilliantly reflected in a central, majestic, tune, resplendent in weighty brass, which you just know will come back to form the sonorous climax (but surprisingly not the conclusion). If you feel the urge to dance in the aisles, go ahead!