Last night we had a formal dance at the Salon, to the music of Johann Strauss Jr. Below is similar to the notecard I passed out. (This may have a bit more info).
Johann Strauss the Younger, the most famous and enduringly successful of nineteenth-century light-music composers, was born in Vienna on 25 October 1825. His father, Johann Strauss the Elder, was by that time well on his way of becoming Europe’s uncrowned king of dance music. Indeed, it was only with Strauss senior’s untimely death in 1849 that the younger man could advance his own musical standing in his native Vienna.
Building upon the firm musical foundations laid by his father (1804-49) and Joseph Lanner (1801-43), Johann II, along with his brothers Josef and Eduard, developed the classical Viennese Waltz to the point where it became as much a feature of the concert hall as the dance floor. With his abundantly tuneful waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and marches, Johann II captivated not only Vienna but also the whole of Europe and America for more than half a century.
The Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, dating from the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The German “Lander”, a folk dance, is supposed to be the forerunner of the Waltz. During this time period a dance developed which was called the “Walzer”, a word owing its origin to the Latin word Volvere, which indicates a rotating motion. Napoleon’s invading solders spread the waltz from Germany to Paris; then the dance glided across the channel to England and finally made its way to the United States.
When the waltz was first introduced into the ballrooms of the world in the early years of the Nineteenth Century, it was met with outraged indignation, for it was the first dance where the couple danced in a modified Closed Position – with the man’s hand around the waist of the lady.
Beginning about 1830, the waltz was given a tremendous boost by two Austrian composers Lanner and Strauss. They set the standard for the Viennese Waltz, a very fast version played at about 55 – 60 measures per minute. The fast tempo did indeed present problems. Much of the enjoyment of the new dance was lost in the continual strain to keep up with the music.
It is not known exactly when the waltz introduced to the United States. It was probably brought to New York and Philadelphia at about the same time, and by the middle of the Nineteenth Century was firmly established in United States society.
During the later part of the Nineteenth Century, Waltzes were being written to a slower tempo than the original Viennese rhythm. Around the close of the Nineteenth Century, two modifications of the waltz developed in the United States. The first was the “Boston”, a slower waltz with long gliding steps; there were fewer and slower turns and more forward and backward movement than in the Viennese Waltz. This version eventually stimulated the development of the English or International Style which continues today.
Today both the faster Viennese Waltz made forever popular by the Strauss family, and the slower American and International style waltzes are extremely popular today with dancers of all ages.
The important musical features of the Viennese Waltz are:
- 3 4 time. A time signature with three beats in a bar obviously fits waltzʼs three-step sequence the best. This means that the first step of the sequence (the forward or backward step) always falls on the first beat of each bar.
- An accent on the first beat of the bar. This means that the main, driving step of thewaltz (the first step that propels the dancers forwards) is always given emphasis in the music.
- An um-cha-cha pattern. The ʻumʼ is often a single bass note on the first beat of thebar, and the ʻchaʼs are the chords that follow on beats 2 and 3.
- In the Viennese waltz, the third beat of the bar is often hesitated to give it a lilting feel.
- A moderately fast tempo of around 70 bars per minute, allowing the dancers to step at a natural pace. This gives the feel to the music of one beat in a bar, rather than three.
- Rubato, allowing musicians to vary the tempo to give expression to the music. If this were overdone it would cause problems for the dancers, but it can be helpful, for example, at the end of the introduction when a slight pause indicates that the dance is about to begin, followed by an increase in tempo as the dance gets into full swing.
- Simple harmony (chords I, IV and V are the most frequently used), and a slow harmonic rhythm (the same chord is often repeated for several bars).
- A wide variety of instrumentation, ranging from solo piano to full orchestra.
- Balanced phrasing.
- A melody-with-accompaniment texture.
- Smooth, flowing melodies. The legato nature of the music strongly reflects the graceful, flowing nature of the dance.
While the polka is Bohemian in origin, most dance music composers in Vienna composed polkas and included the dance in their repertoire at some point of their career. The Strauss family in Vienna for example, while probably better-known for their waltzes also composed polkas which have survived obscurity. Josef Lanner and other Viennese composers in the 19th century also wrote many polkas to satisfy the demands of the dance-music-loving Viennese..
The polka evolved during the same period into different styles and tempi. In principle, the polka written in the 19th century has a 4-theme structure; themes 1A and 1B as well as a ‘Trio’ section of a further 2 themes. The ‘Trio’ usually has an ‘Intrada’ to form a break between the two sections. The feminine and graceful ‘French polka’ (polka française) is slower in tempo and is more measured in its gaiety. Johann Strauss II’s Annen Polka op. 114,is an example of this type of polka. The polka-mazurka is also another variation of the polka, being in the tempo of a mazurka but danced in a similar manner as the polka. The final category of the polka dating around that time would be the ‘polka schnell’ which is a fast polka or galop.