The Waltz King and the Golden Age of Waltzes

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I try not to pretend to be a connoisseur when it comes to classical music. I can list a handful of just a few of the greatest composers and could name even fewer actual works of theirs – symphonies, operas, concertos, etc. My classically-inclined friends that play violin, cello, and piano (you know who you are) would scoff if I were to ever pretend to know a fraction of what they knew about Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Beethoven, or Bach. I am, for all intents and purposes, a layman when it comes to classical music.  

These same friends would’ve – have – mocked me for saying one of my favorite classical composers is Johann Strauss II (not Richard Strauss – sorry). Strauss is better known to the average person today as the “Waltz King” and the composer of “The Blue Danube” (An der schönen blauen Donau, literally “On the Beautiful Blue Danube”), which has featured in dozens (if not hundreds) of movies, TV shows, and commercials for decades. Though not my favorite work of his, it easily remains his most popular – despite, funnily enough, having bombed during its premiere performance in 1867.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CTYymbbEL4[/embed]

 

At this point those classical music experts among you might be mocking me for how naive I sound and how simple my taste seems to be. Believe me, I don't believe Strauss to be the greatest composer of his age, or of any age; it's the simplicity and sheer happiness of his work that I love. Strauss made infectious “poppy” (if you will) melodies that were fun to dance to and easy to remember. The melodies were upbeat and carefree; listening to one of his waltzes never fails to make me smile or feel happy.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og3joyCntrI[/embed]

 

My favorite of his works is the waltz “Viennese Blood” (Wiener Blut). The main melody is warm and inviting, and makes me happier than any Jimi Hendrix or Tame Impala song ever could.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZQaEv4bgp4[/embed]

 

When listening to Strauss' simple waltzes, one is always reminded of the period in which he wrote them: the late 19th century in Vienna, where one could nearly always hear a piece of his being played in a ballroom someplace or another. Images of graceful women in long ball gowns dancing with slim, mustachioed men in tuxedos or army uniforms buries Strauss' music in national and cultural character – and a sort of strange and universal nostalgia that we all share. As romanticized as that image may have been over the decades since the pre-World War I years – before cars and planes, before phones and computers, before mass electrification, before Einstein's theory of general relativity and even the specter of nuclear annihilation – the great hobby of the day was to attend a public event and listen to music being performed there. And if you're dancing to that music and having fun, what could have been better?

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkoRSojz7_g[/embed]

 

Image credit: sounb.ru