A Turn About the Waltz - Dianna Anderson


Have you ever danced the Sarabande? How about the Minuet, the Gigue or the Bourée? Do you know anyone who can dance the Gavotte or the Louré? If your answer is no, you are in the company of most people living today. The Sarabande, Minuet, Gigue, Bourée, Gavotte and Louré are all dances that people did in the time before George Washington, but they are rarely danced today. Have you ever danced a waltz? If not, ask your parents or grandparents if they have. There is a good chance that someone you know has danced the waltz.

The waltz is another type of dance like the Minuet or Gigue, but people danced the waltz during the time of George Washington and they still dance the waltz today. In fact the waltz is the most popular ballroom dance ever. The word waltz comes from the German word walzen, which means to turn about. And indeed the waltz was danced first by German-speaking people and is characterized by turning motions. The waltz originated alongside the Ländler, an older dance used by Germans and Austrians who lived in rural areas. If you would like to see a Ländler being performed, check out the film The Sound of Music. The Ländler is danced at the party about half-way through the film. The Ländler used many leaps and stomps which were fine for rustic peoples, however the polite society in the Imperial City of Vienna demanded a more refined sensibility. The waltz is similar to the Ländler in that it uses a 3/4 time signature and is a partner dance in which the couple embraces. However, it has a faster tempo, includes no stomping or leaping, and was danced by every part of society, not just in rural villages.

Who composed waltzes? Nearly every famous composer from 1800 until now has composed some kind of waltz. Some are danced to and some are meant just to be played. Some aren’t even called waltzes, but have the meter, tempo and character of the waltz. Beethoven, Schubert and Hummel all wrote waltzes that were intended as dance music. Some of these pieces are for piano, but most are for an ensemble of string and wind instruments, or orchestra. Many times, dances were held outdoors, so a louder sound than a piano would be needed for the dancers to hear the music. Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Brahms wrote many waltzes to be played on the piano as salon or concert music. Dance orchestras or bands in Vienna in the early to middle 1800s were very important to the development of the waltz. The most famous composer of waltzes, Johann Strauss, Jr. was a leader of such an orchestra, as were his father and brother. Because of the by-now widespread popularity of the waltz, Johann Strauss, Jr. was a celebrity: as well-known to people in Abraham Lincoln’s time as Madonna is in our time.

Would you care to dance? The waltz is usually a partner dance, but you can try this variation by yourself. First count out loud 1-2-3 four times- Keep it steady! Now keep counting, but say 1 more loudly than 2-3- like an accent. Keep the count and accent going and step at the same time as you say 1. Once this is comfortable, move forward as you step and count. The final step is to add two very tiny steps- up on tip-toes as you say 2 and 3. Once this is mastered, try turning and going backwards. Stand up straight and be as graceful as possible! You are waltzing!

What is it like to play a waltz? Waltzes are almost always in 3/4 meter, 3 beats in every measure, and a quarter note equals one beat. Usually one hand has the melody and the other supplies the harmony and basic rhythm. Waltzes are usually written in repeated sections, so the main melody is played several times. Where can I hear a waltz being performed? Viennese Waltzes are traditionally programmed by major symphony orchestras on New Years’ Eve concerts and Pops Concerts. If you can’t go to one of these performances, tune in to PBS on New Years’ Eve, there is usually a program broadcast from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Waltzes are everywhere, used in commercials, TV and movie soundtracks. Classical radio stations program the waltzes of Chopin, Brahms and Johann Strauss Jr. frequently. What is it like to play a waltz? Waltzes are almost always in 3/4 meter, 3 beats in every measure, and a quarter note equals one beat. Usually one hand has the melody and the other supplies the harmony and basic rhythm. Waltzes are usually written in repeated sections, so the main melody is played several times. When playing a waltz, always try to bring out the melody. Supply a strong bass on the first beat of every measure and try to play the harmony on beats 2 and 3 lightly. Always keep the music moving forward- no stopping on at the bar lines!

Can I play a waltz on the piano? Absolutely! Waltzes have been written for every level of piano ability. The following is a list of recommended pieces and their corresponding levels. If you would like to try one, ask your teacher to check these pieces out from the PLIYH library.

  • Beginning students (corresponds to Piano Adventures Level 1) Carousel Melody by Faber, in Accelerated Piano Adventures Performance Book -Early Elementary (corresponds to Piano Adventures Level 2a)
  • A Sad and Happy Waltz by David Karp in The Allison Contemporary Piano Collection.
  • On a Merry-Go-Round by Kathleen Massoud in The Allison Contemporary Piano Collection
  • Sleeping Beauty Waltz by Tchaikovsky, arr. Faber in PlayTime Piano Classics level 1 Elementary (corresponds to Piano Adventures level 2b-3a)
  • Waltz of the Young by Louis Kohler in Masterwork Classics Level 1-2
  • Dance by Cornelius Gurlitt in Masterwork Classics Level 1-2
  • The Merry Widow Waltz by Franz Lehar in ShowTime Piano Classics level 2A -Late Elementary (corresponds to Piano Adventures level 3b)
  • Jessica’s Waltz by Joyce Schatz Pease in The Allison Contemporary PIano Collection
  • Thistles in the Wind by Martha Mier in The Best of Martha Mier Book 2
  • Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss, Jr. in FunTime Piano Classics Level 3A-3B -Early Intermediate (corresponds to Piano Adventures level 4)
  • Waltz Op. 101 No. 11 by Cornelius Gurlitt
  • Waltz for a Princess by Dennis Alexander in Especially for Girls
  • Waltz in G Major, Op. 4 No.2 by Carl Maria von Weber in Celebration Series Piano Repertoire Book 4
  • Waltz in A-flat Major by Schubert in A Romantic Sketchbook for Piano Book II -Intermediate (corresponds to Piano Adventures level 5)
  • Waltz Op. 12, No. 2 by Edvard Grieg in Lyric Pieces Book 1
  • Waltz by Rebikov in Celebration Series Piano Repertoire Book 7
  • Waltz in B flat, Op. 39, No. 8 by Johannes Brahms in A Romantic Sketchbook for Piano Book III Late Intermediate
  • Waltz in A Minor, Op. Posth by Chopin
  • Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69, No. 2 by Chopin- Advanced
  • An Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber
  • Mephisto Waltz No. 1 by Franz Liszt

Dianna Anderson is the Regional Director of Piano Lessons In Your Home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mrs. Anderson is a doctoral student in Piano at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. In addition to teaching privately, Mrs. Anderson enjoys spending time with her husband Erik (a cellist) and their three children, Erik, Miles, and Curtis.