You might be surprised to
know that the title And the Waltz Goes On is actually an orchestral piece
composed by the actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, better known perhaps for his
portrayal of the psychiatrist and cannibalistic killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter in
The Silence of the Lambs. He wrote the waltz over fifty years ago,
before he made a name for himself in acting and he’s written several pieces
since, including a work called The Masque of Time which was given its
first performance a few years ago by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Oddly enough, there is
a British composer with a similar name, the broadcaster Antony Hopkins best
known for his BBC radio series, Talking about Music, which ran for
nearly forty years.
I suppose for
Australians, mention of the waltz brings to mind Waltzing Matilda,
the words of which were written by one Andrew Barton Paterson. He was more
commonly known by the unlikely name of Banjo but not because he played one;
it was evidently the name of his favourite horse. Banjo Paterson went on to
write many poems about life in the outback but Waltzing Matilda is
the best-known. Some years ago, it was discovered that 28 percent of
Australians would like the song to be their national anthem.
As you might expect,
the word “waltz” has German origins and almost certainly comes from the verb
walzen, meaning “to turn or roll”. A similar dance in triple metre
was popular as early as the 1580s but around the middle of the eighteenth
century the rural people of southern Germany began dancing the Walzer,
a dance for couples which caught on quickly in urban areas too.
While the older minuet
remained popular with the aristocratic classes, it must have seemed terribly
old-fashioned and stuffy to the younger crowd. Although the spectacle of
two people dancing so intimately shocked many of the older generation, the
waltz became something of a craze. It was especially fashionable in Vienna
and around this time, one observer wrote that the Viennese were “dancing
Johann Strauss II
dominated the dance music scene in Vienna during the nineteenth century and
his orchestra provided the music for many grand balls. If these things
interest you, the word “ball” comes from the Latin word ballare,
meaning “to dance”. Strauss composed over four hundred waltzes, polkas,
quadrilles and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and
a ballet. The waltz was so popular that it appeared in symphonies by
Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Mahler in much the same way that the minuet was used
in symphonies a hundred years earlier.
Unlike the waltzes of
Johann Strauss, those of Frédéric Chopin are notably different in that they
were not written for dancing but for concert performance. Chopin started
writing waltzes for piano in 1824 when he was fourteen, and during his life
wrote about eighteen of them although others have probably been lost.
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978): Waltz from Masquerade
Moscow Chamber Orchestra cond. Constantine Orbelian. (Duration: 04:15; Video
Aram Khachaturian is
the most important Armenian composer of the twentieth century. He wrote
this music in 1941 and it was originally intended to accompany the play
Masquerade by the nineteenth century painter and poet Mikhail Yuryevich
The music is best
known today as a five-movement suite but the famous waltz theme didn’t come
easily to Khachaturian. He evidently had something of a struggle composing
it, but having got over that particular hurdle it seems that the rest of the
waltz came to him easily.
Russian orchestra gives an energetic performance of this meaty piece and if
you are the dancing type, you’ll probably be on your feet in minutes.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): La Valse.
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France cond. Myung-Whun Chung. (Duration:
12.55; Video 360p)
Ravel was a composer
who invariably did things differently and this waltz is a fine example of
his sophisticated use of musical ideas and brilliant orchestration. He
called it a “choreographic poem for orchestra” and began it in 1919. It was
conceived as a ballet but these days it’s usually performed as a concert
This French orchestra
gives a beautifully shaped and controlled performance, conducted by the
distinguished South Korean pianist and conductor Myung-Whun Chung.
Although there are
unmistakable echoes of the nineteenth century, this powerful work couldn’t
be more removed from the innocent melodies of Johann Strauss that charmed
the Viennese. It seems more like a nightmare from a haunted ballroom. It
beings quietly with ominous rumbling of double basses and cellos but
gradually the tempo and intensity increase, fragments of tune appear then
swirling melodies are emerge. You can even get an unsettling sense of
foreboding organic growth within the music, as it hurls itself towards an
almost terrifying but inevitable conclusion.