Sunday, August 31, 2008

What is a "Waltz"?


The waltz is a genre of music primarily intended for the purpose of dancing the waltz, a graceful, intimate ballroom dance, and later of course, listening to the artistry of the composer and performers of the waltz. Waltz music is always in 3/4 time with a strong emphasis on the measure's first beat -- think TRA-la-la, TRA-la-la. Each measure generally contains only one chord, and that chord is preceded by a bass note played on the first downbeat; the TRA represents the bass, and the la represents the chord. Waltz is a gentle, flowing style of music, a style so elegant that it is often associated with the upper class and aristocratic finery.

But the ties between the waltz and the rich haven't always been so solid. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the upper class shunned waltz music until Austrian composer Johann Strauss Sr. began toying with the style. Prior to Strauss Sr., the waltz was typically thought of as too common, too entwined with the peasant culture. But Strauss Sr., in conjunction with another Austrian composer, Josef Lanner, brought a new sort of grace to the waltz, an elegance and gentleness that was very easily embraced by the upper class. Strauss Sr. and Lanner made waltz music listenable for its own sake; before them, waltz music was rarely heard outside of the dance.

While Strauss Sr. and Lanner popularized the waltz worldwide (or at least throughout Europe), it wasn't until Johann Strauss Jr. that the waltz became massively popular in Vienna. Strauss Jr., taking a cue from his incredibly influential father, began composing a form of the waltz much faster and energetic than those written by Strauss Sr. and Lanner. This type of waltz music spawned a new, faster form of the dance, the Vienna Waltz, which is still danced today. It was Strauss Jr. that created the type of waltz we now hear so frequently, and his contribution to the form gave him the title "Waltz King." "The Blue Danube," perhaps the most famous waltz in history, was composed by Johann Strauss Jr.
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