Posted in Research for Project 3 Examples

Percussion Quintet Research, Part 3: Viennese and piano waltz

As I’ve written in the previous part of the research, the early waltz, or deutscher walzer will lead to the Viennese waltz. As McKee writes, this dance was revolutionary not so much that it involved the embrace, but because the couples maintained it through the whole dance while continuously turning in circles (McKee, 2012: 100). In dancing, there is one important distinction between this early form of the late eighteenth century and the Viennese waltz of the early nineteenth century, and it involves the coordination of the couples. In deutscher walzer, the couples coordinated their movements with each other as a type of group dance. With Viennese waltz, couples, aside from a general counterclockwise motion around the room, didn’t coordinate their movements with other couples.

Music was also different. At first, early waltz tunes were fairly simple in form, based on the old landler or deutscher tanze melodies I’ve mentioned in the previous part. It wasn’t until around the second decade of the nineteenth century that the waltz music started to become more independent with the characteristics like the oom-pah-pah ostinato accompaniment, which wasn’t consistently used, nor established as a defining feature in the old landler or deautscher pieces. Scott goes further to write that it was even scarcely and rarely used. McKee pointes out how Reeser observed the oom-pah-pah in the waltz music occurring “only sporadically before about 1815.” (McKee, 2012: 71)

Generally, only with the explosion and popularity of waltz, did the oom-pah-pah become associated with a single genre, like it is today. In the past, by itself oom-pah-pah could have been used in different ways within a variety of styles. For example, the oom-pah-pah figures wasn’t used at all in Mozart’s first collection of deutsche tanze, while in the subsequent deutsche and landler pieces, it was utilized inconsistently, yet the pattern appeared as a standard accompaniment in his minuet trios. In fact, it was used as a standard pattern also in trios by many other composers, with the earliest occurrence that McKee had found being the trio of a minuet by J.C. Bach. (Fig. 1)

jc bach.PNG

Fig. 1. Oom-pah-pah in J.C. Bach’s minuet trio

Furthermore, it is the accent on beat 1 that is crucial to the waltz, however this wasn’t a noticeable feature of early waltzes, rather using a characteristic accent on beat 2 of landler. Another thing that separates the early waltzes from the Viennese, is that even around 1815, when the pieces started departing from the old deutcher and landler pieces with elements like more experimental harmonic subtleties and interesting modulations, their structures were still tied to them.

In art music, this can be seen in the waltzes by Schubert, like 20 Waltzes, D.146, composed around 1815–23. Although breaking away from the simple harmonies that rarely moved beyond tonic and dominant, introducing unexpected modulations, these waltzes still form cycles made up of a series of brief dances without transitions, introduction or coda – a form that reminds of the ternary deutsche pieces composed by Mozart and Hummel. (Fig. 2)

fig 2222.PNG

Fig. 2. Schubert’s D. 146, No 1 with structure like deutcher tanze

On the other hand, his Op. 18, consists of both waltzes and landlers, here the diving line between the forms is very blurred, although waltzes seem to have a bit larger structures, but his Valses sentimentale and Valses noble,  in form completely remind of his landler compositions, with some in Valses noble like No. 2 (Fig. 3) and No. 3, even having the 2nd beat accented. Despite this, Schubert, did start to stylize the waltz, raising them to a higher artistic level, bridging the gap between “light” and “serious” music.

fig 3333.PNG

Fig. 3. No. 2 of Valse noble with landler’s structure and accented 2nd beat

But, the true crystallization of waltz began with a full departure from the old landler and deutsche, when the form transitioned into a different, separate, individual structure – the waltz chain or Walzerkette. This musical development is owed to Weber and his Invitation to the Dance, composed in 1819, which is the first important milestone that tied together several waltz tunes, while including a formal introduction and a thematic coda, creating a large-scale programmatic waltz in rondo-form. The body of the work consists of a suite of four different waltzes of two sections in each waltz, all connected.

This was the first concert waltz, elevated from dance hall to concert stage. Its formal structure paved the way for the stream of waltzes that will follow and set the norm, both for the popular orchestral ones by Viennese masters – Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I, but also it served as a precursor for the piano waltzes of Chopin, Liszt and others. Weber’s piece also uses allegro vivace tempo, which is faster than the one of waltzes that would be actually danced. Thus, he also separated the waltz as a dance form, and waltz as music genre.

‘The Father of Waltz’ – Lanner, and ‘the King of Waltz’ – Strauss, were both members of the small string dance-orchestra of Michael Pamer (Fig. 4), their principal predecessor. There were also other dance bands like Labitzky’s and Fahrbach’s, but it was Pamer with his that infected Vienna with waltzing. (Fantel, 1972: 31) He was a genius, a composer of originality with a wealth of inspiration, yet his contribution to the development of music after the time of Mozart, especially of the waltz, is not receiving any attention today. Rather, he had almost completely disappeared. Here and there, some isolated recordings of his works can be found, but these are extremely scarce.


Fig. 4. Michael Pamer

He was among the first to take notice of the peasant dances on the river boats and the Linz fiddlers I’ve mentioned in the earlier post. Thus, his earlier works are strikingly close to the landler and deutscher of the popular folk music. Among his later compositions though, some of his musical ideas were pioneering in the field of waltz. He was among the first to create the real separation of the main melody and giving the oom-pah-pah rhythm to the accompanying voices. Next, there are already forms in which the brief introductory figures appear, like in his Linzerische Tanze, which drew in half of Vienna, and the pieces often contain connected dances, some even with a coda. The example of a piece with coda was the one cynically dubbed by Pamer Blessed Memories of Hütteldorf Beer. Jacob mentions how Pamer gave a practical demonstration of the memory developing into a present reality by swilling a mug of the liquid which occurred after the coda. The audience applauded with frenzy and so the beer-waltz had to be repeated even some twenty times.

However, many of these structural elements were only scattered inconsistently. For example, the waltz Lenner wrote for the farewell benefit, which marks his departure from Pamer’s orchestra and his style, on 19th October 1826 – Mitternachts Waltz, Op. 8, goes back to the early form, containing neither the introduction nor the coda, suggesting that this was perhaps the regular practice of his forerunner. Either way, Pamer proposed, rather than truly introduce Weber’s form of walzerkette, but he was certainly responsible for much of the initial popularity of waltz, (Fantel, 32) and helped to preserve the almost outworn threads leading back to the old folk music with many of the melodies recalling to the old memories of Upper Austria, rural life and Alpine breezes (Jacob), all this while anticipating the musical pieces by Lanner and Strauss (Fig. 5), thus being a quasi-inventor of the classic Viennese waltz.

Fig. 5. Lanner (left) and Strauss (right)

However, Pamer – the grandfather of the Viennese waltz, will soon reach the darkness of oblivion, maybe because behind his music, there was a violent temper, addicted to drink, greedy for food and of Bohemian habits. Which wouldn’t surprise that the young Lanner would soon run away from his drunken chief, and start his own trio, with Strauss  not soon after, also leaving Pamer and joining him. Their collaboration significantly influenced the development of waltz music.  Lanner’s group expanded eventually to a full classical orchestra with woodwinds and percussion. I’ve mentioned in the research about snare drum, how he was one of the first to alter the instrument’s role in dance genre. With him, the signs associated with military drumming have begun to disappear, giving way for snare drum to be a color or dynamic reinforcement.

Lanner and Strauss finally used Weber’s cyclical walzerkette form as the new norm. The cycle was now constructed as set of five waltzes framed by introduction and coda that recapitulates the main themes of the waltzes. The waltzes were also longer, with sixteen-bar sections replacing the earlier eight-bar sections and there are other modifications, such as the use of hemiola, as a strong presentational element of melodies, often initiated at the very beginning of a melody. (McKee)

The music group became so popular that Lanner split the orchestra in two and put Strauss in charge of the other half. They were closest of friends, however, soon professional jealousies erupted between them. Various gossip say the trouble was caused when Lanner introduced Strauss’s new waltzes under his own name, others said Strauss was stealing Lanner’s girlfriends. Whichever the case, they parted ways in 1825, after having a very public fight. The fight was very well covered in newspapers. Lanner recalled the event in his “Trennungs-Waltzer” – the separation waltz, which as Knowles writes “… echoed in musical themes a drunken brawl even down to the sounds of people hiccupping.” In the video below, the hiccupping can be heard around 2: 19.

They went separate ways with each musician attracting passionate admirers. The audience was divided into two camps – the fans of fair-haired Lanner and his sweet and sentimental music, and dark-haired Strauss and his fiery music. While Lenner seemed content with local fame, Strauss longed for international recognition and toured Europe. He even went into series of collapes because of the stressful and relentless schedule. After Strauss Senior’s death, Johann Strauss Junior (Fig. 6) continued his late father’s legacy and developed to be an outstanding exponent of the waltz. He was seen as the “most widely popular composer of light music ever.”


Fig. 6. Johann Strauss II

The piano waltzes started with transcriptions of the orchestral waltzes. Only later did it develop into a genre of its own, when more serious composers started to write original piano waltzes, adding different forms of stylization, modifications, and using various structures, both old and new. Chopin was a pioneer in the area of keyboard concert waltzes. After 1820, the waltz was as popular in Warsaw, where Chopin grew up, and was well connected with the social trends booming in Paris and Vienna.

Chopin generally used an overall ABA structure for his shorter waltzes like Waltz No. 14, fundamentally reminding a bit of a larger deautscher structure, while the longer ones, such as Op. 18 and Op. 42, are more rondo-like – more like walzerkette. Both forms often have an introduction and coda, not as separate sections, but just as the opening eight bars – short, fan-fare-like introductions that serve as a standard functional device of the time to draw dancers’ attention, and expanded final section, to bring the work to an exciting closure.

Within his waltzes, Chopin’s modifications include the adaptation of the oom-pah-pah accompaniment figure and interruption of this with silent measures, as well as his use of tempo: his waltzes are either too fast (molto vivace) or too slow (lento) to dance to, and he often uses many different tempo indications and changes of tempo within one waltz, such as accelerando, sostenuto, piu mosso and piu lento.

On the other hand, Brahms was a great admirer of Johann Strauss, however, he adopted Schubert’s style of the early waltz, in his series of small waltzes without introduction or coda. In the previous post, I mentioned that Brahms called Schubert’s 12 Ländler, D. 790 as waltzes. He edited them, and just a year later he composed his first set of waltzes, op. 39, after spending time in Vienna. These waltzes, like the other, are similar to the form of the simple landlers, valses sentimentales and valses nobles that Schubert wrote, without the trio and complex ternary form of the deutcher dances, nor the more complicated cyclical forms. Also, the characteristic um-pah-pah accompaniment-figure is diminished, just like in Schubert’s time, employing it in only five of the sixteen waltzes of op. 39. Brahms himself stated in a letter to Hanslick in 1866: “…they are two books of little innocent waltzes in Schubertian form.”

Schumann didn’t compose sets consisting completely of waltzes, however he did compose six waltzes in the years 1829-1830 which were never published. Instead, some of this musical material was later used in Papillons Op. 2, where he did utilize the idea of waltz cycle, with the first waltz referred to in the final piece to bring the circle to a close. Although, not all pieces are waltz – like number two in duple meter and number eleven being a polonaise, and waltzes are short and not as connected as walzerkette, the pieces do form one long cycle of dances with introduction and finale, to be performed as one piece – in idea reminding of Weber’s cycle.

Carnival Op. 9, is very similar to Papillons,  this time describing the party atmosphere before the beginning of Lent. He references to Shubert in No. 4 that is titled Valse noble, and No. 16 – Valse allemande and also, Schuber’s Sehnsuchtwalzer served as a thematic springboard for Carnaval. (Reiman, 35)

Liszt wrote many waltzes for piano solo, including a Fantasia about a Waltz by Franz Schubert, Grande Valse di Bravura, Valse mélancolique, Valse-Impromptu, four Valse-oubliées, and the four Mephisto Waltzes. In 1852, Liszt also wrote nine Soirées de Vienne which were based on various Viennese waltzes by Schubert, primarily his Valses nobles and Valse sentimentales. In all these works Liszt made cyclic use of thematic material.

In the Romantic era, there are even examples of meter change from ¾ to 5 /4, as in Tchaikovsky’s Valse à cinq temps, op. 72 no. 16.

Departing from romantic composers, we get to a very interesting point. Ravel’s La Valse, a piece being as he himself described, a “sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz,” at the same time seems to have ended the waltz genre. This is very similar to what he had done with another dance form – the Parisian bolero, which you can read in this blog post.

Earlier though, he represented the two different types of waltzes, Schubert – early waltz and Weber – cyclical walzerkette in his Valses nobles et Sentimentales. Goehr writes that here, Ravel demonstrates a great model for composers – the outward mold is given while the rest is to be filled in with original – a subtle way to achieve something new.

The title obviously refers back to Shubert. Ravel took something that was outwardly very familiar, in this case specifically Schubert’s waltzes. As Grobler writes, these “not only bring with them triple meter and a specific bass pattern associated with all waltzes, but also Schubert’s characteristic combination of lilting rhythms, rubato, balanced phrases, straightforward form and unexpected harmonic subtleties.” The similarities of Ravel’s set to Schubert’s are clear, but there are also some adaptations: “Ravel’s waltzes are somewhat longer than Schubert’s eight bars, but they are still very short and would be considered ‘miniatures’.” Each short waltz has its own, distinct personality, and most are in (sometimes modified) simple ternary form.

Rhythmically, Ravel also made ample use of hemiola throughout the waltzes and the oom-pah-pah accompaniment is gone, with his accompaniment outlining the harmonies, which are “complex, and utilize 7th, 9th and 11th chords, with added seconds and sixths.” Finally, since Shubert’s pieces are separate, and Ravel’s is a cycle with epilogue, in structure it is closer to Weber’s form.

La Valse is very different. It was originally planned as a sort of homage to Johann Strauss, in the form of a “symphonic poem.” However, it is intermingled with “the impression of a fantastic and fatal whirling.” Although Ravel loved the rhythm of the waltz, which he considered to be joyous, what actually happens is similar to his Bolero and its ostinato. Like in bolero, relentlessly repeated rhythmic pattern exhibits a striking parallel to industrial ostinatos. As I mentioned in that research, Ravel enjoyed the music while surrounded by the sounds of the factories, because of his father’s occupation as engineer. The destructive element is intrinsic to the machine, since there is always the risk that the machine will get out of hand.

Bolero gets to this point of destruction with a steady tempo, meter and through the gradual orchestral crescendo that culminates and overtakes in the almost abrupt ending, while in this obsessively faster and faster repetitive spinning waltz, Ravel reached the destruction using the element of acceleration, asymmetrical phrase structure and fragmentation, tone clusters and dissonances, and disruption of the meter through hemiola all ending in 4/4.

Ravel prefaces the score describing the scene:

“…Through breaks in the swirling clouds, waltzing couples may be glimpsed. Little by little they disperse: one makes out an immense hall filled with a whirling crowd. The stage is illuminated gradually. The light of the chandeliers peaks at the fortissimo. An Imperial Court, about 1855…”

However, as Grobler notes, what others perceive his elevation of musical materials to their breaking point – the explosive catastrophe, to be a metaphor for the Viennese culture – “by destroying the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, World War I also destroyed the community in which the waltz had held sway, as well as the waltz itself.” According to Orenstein, this is “one of the most frightening of all artistic products of World War I.”  

Grobler gives an interesting analysis of this piece representing birth, life and death of waltz.

“The introduction serves as the section depicting the “birth” of the waltz. This section is musically unstable, and exhibits tonal and rhythmic ambiguity.” It starts with a dark tremolo in the bass, barely audible. Among this mystery of tonal instability, a heartbeat appears and waltz-like segments are irregularly inserted, with the fragmentary binary units interspersing with triple groupings and single bars.

Next, the life section consists of a suite of nine waltzes, flowing uninterrupted. It is characterized by melodic, harmonic and rhythmic stability. It announces the main tonality for the piece. The recapitulation then begins, though is much shorter and soon the interrupted flow of thought is revealed with the opening material reintroduced, leading us into the death section with the use of “melodic fragmentation, rhythmic alteration as well as meter changes, together with a general accelerando to support the decay of the waltz and build tension toward the point of destruction.” Finally, the work speeds up and spins out of control from this point, to end with the “destruction of the last remaining characteristic of the waltz–the triple meter.”

With this I conclude my research. I really enjoyed doing learning about the history of cymbals and waltz. Especially in their origin, they proved to be very foggy, but interesting subjects. Check out my percussion example titled Midnight Carousel Waltz.

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1. Oom-pah-pah in J.C. Bach’s minuet trio

Fig. 2. Schubert’s D. 146, No 1 with structure like deutcher tanze

Fig. 3. No. 2 of Valse noble with landler’s structure and accented 2nd beat

Fig. 4. Michael Pamer

Fig. 5. Lanner (left) and Strauss (right)

Fig. 6. Johann Strauss II


McKee, Eric (2012) Decorum of the Minuet, Delirium of the Waltz: A Study of Dance-Music Relations in 3/4 Time. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press

Fantel, Hans (1972)  The Waltz Kings; Johann Strauss; Father & Son, and Their Romantic Age.  New York: Morrow

Reiman, Erika () Schumann’s Piano Cycles and the Novels of Jean Paul. New York: University of Rochester Press

Brian G. Phan for the degree of Honors Baccalaureate of Science in Biology
presented on 25 May2012. Title: The 20th Century Viennese Waltz: Nostalgia and Decadence.


Grobler, Sophia (2007) The Life and Death of the Piano Waltz. University of Cincinnati

Orenstein, Arbie (1975) Ravel: Man and Musician. New York: Dover Publications

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