Music Titles and "The Waltz"

After a comment that one of my pieces entitled a waltz, did not sound like a waltz to one member listener, i had a really fascinating discussion with a composer friend (one of those nice "late night" music discussions)... and we began to explore music titles (maybe another interesting discussion for another day...) and what made a waltz a waltz... (apart from it being in three four obviously !) We talked of Ravel's "La Valse" (... which totally disintegrates the whole harmony and structure of the waltz, )Tchaikovsky, Mr and Master Strauss... Irish folk waltzes... and Chopin, the "listener's" rather than "dancer's" waltzes. So, I thought it would be nice, maybe even fun, to throw out our little "twosome" discussion, and see what a waltz means to others.... by right, they should at least be happy... but Chopin wrote plenty in a minor key....be fun to see what anyone else thinks.... and one thing I didn't know, was that it started life as a "scandalous" dance, with warnings to parents, in "The Times" when it first arrived in the UK !

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  • Hi Suzanne,

    I think you'll get as many opinions as there are comments on this one. I would say a waltz is not a single type of music, it is a spectrum of pieces which can be called waltzes, from "dance-able" on one end of the spectrum (eg. Strauss) to further along the spectrum "for performance only" (e.g. Chopin), to IDK on the far end -

    Gav

  • The waltz was considered scandalous because couples, instead of facing each other at a discrete distance and occasionally holding hands as in older dances, actually held each others' bodies!  

    Even Byron found it shocking, which is saying something, though his objection to it seemed to be more on aesthetic than moral grounds.

  • I listened to some of the piece again and I say again that your piece does not sound like a waltz to me even remotely.

    Waltz connotes a dance like feel or something that is rhythmically equivalent to dance, and the mood can be sad or happy.

    I don't believe that Waltz is automatically associated with 'happy' per say, for it could be sad as well.

    On a personal note, I have written a Mazurka about 10 years ago. When I posted it on a different forum many people told me that they can't associate this work with a Mazurka because it doesn't have any particular rhythmic dance like feel to it. I think they had a point, even though it was my work and I could call it whatever I may choose, still the fact that I decide what to call a particular genre doesn't make it so. I accepted that and moved on.

    Maybe one day I'll post it here and it would be interesting to hear if listeners will accept this piece as a Mazurka. 

    Your waltz sound more like a balad to me or a song without words, or a bagatelle.

    Regards,

  • I suspect few people reading this have seen the 1938 film The Great Waltz, a silly and not very historically accurate but entertaining biopic on Johann Strauss II.  I think anyone interested in waltzes would enjoy it.  Its main musical interest, though, I think, is not its waltzes, but an absolutely astonishing performance by the now largely forgotten soprano Miliza Korjus.  I believe the film is still available on DVD and on some streaming services.

    The Great Waltz (1938) - IMDb
    Directed by Julien Duvivier, Victor Fleming, Josef von Sternberg. With Luise Rainer, Fernand Gravey, Miliza Korjus, Hugh Herbert. In 1845 Vienna, Jo…
  • Interesting.

    As far as titles go, anything seems to go these days. About Waltzes, my most oft-used text book has a glossary that defines "polyrhythm" as "The ability to dance a quick-step to a waltz".  

    But in seriousness isn't it the difference between a concert piece and the dance floor? Fair that if a piece is titled Waltz the listener / dancer is right to expect something in 3 beats to the bar. One listener however may expect a piece to sit back and just listen to while another may anticipate something to which to dance.

    It was probably the romantics bringing rubato into it, turning what was a jovial if, ok, romantic dance à la Viennois into something emotional.  Nowadays some pianists, like Bang-blangg (or whatever his name is) can't get enough rubato so he has time to sync his facial contortions with the music. One of the more beautiful waltzes of the time, the second mvt of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique has very little rubato, just that brief rall as it gets to an imperfect cadence to release into the last phrase of the tune. That's often accommodated in the Viennese waltz and I'd say allowable by convention.

    It's possible that regional differences crept in. Though its arrival in England quickly followed Vienna cultural differences arose such as, as you say, a dance that entails embrace. There's also the matter that the waltz isn't the only dance form in 3/whatever. So if someone labelled one of Chopin's Mazurkas 'a waltz' would the less-seasoned listener know the difference. I probably wouldn't.

    The waltz you presented here came across far more as a concert-styled waltz than, say, a minuet or mazurka, to me very midnight-y, veiled; atmospheric... A little more reverb and it could be on a Bluthner in the huge atrium of a mansion late in the night. It had one or two major second but unresolved appoggiaturas that gave it warmth. It's a waltz all right, perhaps awkward to dance to after about 0'50" because of the changing tempi/rubato. However, you could just as well have called it a Nocturne had this been your wont.

    Titles generally? The known/associated forms (I suppose) develop across time. A symphony started out as a three movement piece, 'got upgraded' to four through Mozart and Beethoven while the sonata-form structure developed hugely by the time it reached Bruckner. When Mahler had a bash he used the title very loosely. (My dentist plays Mahler in his surgery - we agreed it hides the screams of pain! - Mind you, Mahler would probably say the same about my stuff!) And yet there are those even today who write according to the rubric of the 4 movements, albeit in a modern harmonic style.

    Otherwise with latter day music the title may signify the mood, a story or just something general; even possibly some classical reference or obscure words just to sound flashy and quasi-original. I've titled a series of pieces "Cantata" though they aren't strictly secular cantatas, just short pieces (5-7 minutes) for solo voices and ensembles, title is more for filing convenience.

    So why bother with titles at all? I've done a few pieces called "Piece for Orchestra No. whatever." I could probably leave "orchestra" off as it'll soon be obvious. Maybe I'll start calling them just "Piece number-folder name"

    Cheers,

    Dane

  • Yes, that, interestingly is my "take" on the Waltz...  I think we are all agreed on the "three time"... but what about one in three four, three eight and three two.... in alternate bars?!!! Not one of the danceable ones. (!).. fun thought though !

    Gav Brown said:

    Hi Suzanne,

    I think you'll get as many opinions as there are comments on this one. I would say a waltz is not a single type of music, it is a spectrum of pieces which can be called waltzes, from "dance-able" on one end of the spectrum (eg. Strauss) to further along the spectrum "for performance only" (e.g. Chopin), to IDK on the far end -

    Gav

    Music Titles and "The Waltz"
    After a comment that one of my pieces entitled a waltz, did not sound like a waltz to one member listener, i had a really fascinating discussion with…
  • It seems to have been almost a requirement of traditional classical music names that they be boring:  Symphony #6 in B minor "Pathetique", Piano Concerto # 5 "Emperor", Piano Quintet in A Major "Trout"

    Maybe it would contribute to the popularity of classical music if composers used some livelier titles, for instance:

    • Symphony #2 "Awesome"
    • Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra "The number you have reached is not in service"
    • Piano Quintet in A Major "Same To You, Mate"
    • String Quartet #23 "Cuddly Koalas"

    Well you get the idea ...

  • Love this article/reply ! (For one, you had me laughing outloud at "Bang-blang") and all your wonderful comments about titles at the end, but also some great thought-provoking "stuff" (apologies for the term(!) as well.... well, I agree about titles, i often forget what I have called a piece and end up with two file names to that same piece... both have the same meaning, but highly confusing !... wastes hours ! One set of pieces almost complete, was a set written by way of inspiration at the untidiness of a composer friend's house ( we prefer writing to tidying !) ... so I have the "Music Room Mazurka"... (which i think IS a Mazurka)  "Slug Sarabande" (they had one in the kitchen for a while... a slug, that is ) Tabletop Toccata... and ... Bogatelle, as a sort of ode to the downstairs loo.... have not got a waltz in there at all !!! Thanks for joining in this, I like the thought that different music titles have evolved at different times.... should we all start on the "Prelude" now, which should by definition of its name, come before something.....what was Chopin thinking of? !

    Dane Aubrun said:

    Interesting.

    As far as titles go, anything seems to go these days. About Waltzes, my most oft-used text book has a glossary that defines "polyrhythm" as "The ability to dance a quick-step to a waltz".  

    But in seriousness isn't it the difference between a concert piece and the dance floor? Fair that if a piece is titled Waltz the listener / dancer is right to expect something in 3 beats to the bar. One listener however may expect a piece to sit back and just listen to while another may anticipate something to which to dance.

    It was probably the romantics bringing rubato into it, turning what was a jovial if, ok, romantic dance à la Viennois into something emotional.  Nowadays some pianists, like Bang-blangg (or whatever his name is) can't get enough rubato so he has time to sync his facial contortions with the music. One of the more beautiful waltzes of the time, the second mvt of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique has very little rubato, just that brief rall as it gets to an imperfect cadence to release into the last phrase of the tune. That's often accommodated in the Viennese waltz and I'd say allowable by convention.

    It's possible that regional differences crept in. Though its arrival in England quickly followed Vienna cultural differences arose such as, as you say, a dance that entails embrace. There's also the matter that the waltz isn't the only dance form in 3/whatever. So if someone labelled one of Chopin's Mazurkas 'a waltz' would the less-seasoned listener know the difference. I probably wouldn't.

    The waltz you presented here came across far more as a concert-styled waltz than, say, a minuet or mazurka, to me very midnight-y, veiled; atmospheric... A little more reverb and it could be on a Bluthner in the huge atrium of a mansion late in the night. It had one or two major second but unresolved appoggiaturas that gave it warmth. It's a waltz all right, perhaps awkward to dance to after about 0'50" because of the changing tempi/rubato. However, you could just as well have called it a Nocturne had this been your wont.

    Titles generally? The known/associated forms (I suppose) develop across time. A symphony started out as a three movement piece, 'got upgraded' to four through Mozart and Beethoven while the sonata-form structure developed hugely by the time it reached Bruckner. When Mahler had a bash he used the title very loosely. (My dentist plays Mahler in his surgery - we agreed it hides the screams of pain! - Mind you, Mahler would probably say the same about my stuff!) And yet there are those even today who write according to the rubric of the 4 movements, albeit in a modern harmonic style.

    Otherwise with latter day music the title may signify the mood, a story or just something general; even possibly some classical reference or obscure words just to sound flashy and quasi-original. I've titled a series of pieces "Cantata" though they aren't strictly secular cantatas, just short pieces (5-7 minutes) for solo voices and ensembles, title is more for filing convenience.

    So why bother with titles at all? I've done a few pieces called "Piece for Orchestra No. whatever." I could probably leave "orchestra" off as it'll soon be obvious. Maybe I'll start calling them just "Piece number-folder name"

    Cheers,

    Dane

    Music Titles and "The Waltz"
    After a comment that one of my pieces entitled a waltz, did not sound like a waltz to one member listener, i had a really fascinating discussion with…
  • Great !... should we have a forum competition ?

    Jon Corelis said:

    It seems to have been almost a requirement of traditional classical music names that they be boring:  Symphony #6 in B minor "Pathetique", Piano Concerto # 5 "Emperor", Piano Quintet in A Major "Trout"

    Maybe it would contribute to the popularity of classical music if composers used some livelier titles, for instance:

    • Symphony #2 "Awesome"
    • Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra "The number you have reached is not in service"
    • Piano Quintet in A Major "Same To You, Mate"
    • String Quartet #23 "Cuddly Koalas"

    Well you get the idea ...

    Music Titles and "The Waltz"
    After a comment that one of my pieces entitled a waltz, did not sound like a waltz to one member listener, i had a really fascinating discussion with…
  • ...well, as a "last fling" (excuse the pun) on the subject of the waltz from me, guess what popped up on myy Piano Network Facebook page ?!

    "Chopin Waltzes Research Week 3 !!!!....
    McKee argues that Chopin, being an established dancer himself, translates physical motions into musical gestures. In fact, different rhythms in his waltzes are represented by both the male and female ! To best represent the characteristics of the waltz, Chopin was said to use melodic arches, neighbouring motions, appoggiaturas and grace notes.
    If this interests you, this book is for you  -Eric J McKee: "Decorum of the Minuet, Delerium of the Waltz: A Study of Dance-Music Relations in 3/4 Time (Musical Meaning and Interpretation)"...... perhaps we should all get a copy !!!
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