The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Learn more about the waltz — and other forms of dance music — and why it endures in classical music. Then tell The Ear about your favorite waltz and waltz composer.

June 22, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear spent much of the past weekend listening to dance music.

To the tango, to be specific, the new tango or “nuevo tango.”

He heard eight or 10 sexy and bittersweet tangos that were played superbly by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which was certainly helped by the presence of pianist Pablo Zinger who played with New Tango master and Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. (You can still catch the two BDDS concerts with tangos — and much more — TODAY at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green. For details, visit,

I will have more to say about those concerts later this week.

But all that South American dance music brought to mind what is no doubt the most popular dance of Western European classical music: the waltz. (Below are people dancing the Viennese waltz.) Music is so tied to the dance.

viennese waltz

The great music blog “Deceptive Cadence” that is written by NPR recently featured an overview of the waltz with history and some very fine sound samples.

I thought the history was a little skewed or thin. Personally, I wish the blog had said how the waltz -– which by now we so identify with aristocratic nobility and with elegance – evolved out of rougher peasant dances, including the landler. You can hear the similarities especially in Landler movements by Franz Joseph Haydn (below) and even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.


I would also like to have heard a wider range of waltzes and waltz composers. Sure, there is the Strauss family. But some of my favorites are the smaller waltzes by Franz Schubert (below top) and Frederic Chopin (below bottom) to say nothing of Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich among others.

Franz Schubert big


But the waltz is a huge subject and the NPR essay is a fine starting point.

Here is a link to the NPR posting:

And here is a popular YouTube video, with more than 1.3 million hits, of the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein playing one of The Ear’s all-time favorite waltzes, which has just the right hint of bittersweetness, by one of the all-time great waltz composers, Frederic Chopin.

Classical music: Happy New Year! Viennese waltzes for orchestra by the Strauss Family aren’t the only ones suitable for seeing out the old year and ringing in the new. Here are waltzes by Chopin and Schubert played by Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Stephen Hough. What waltzes are your favorites?

January 1, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is January 1, 2014.


Here is a reminder that “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (below) performing waltzes, polkas and marches of the Strauss Family under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live this morning at 10 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

As always the Strauss Family will be the featured stars. But while they made the waltz a livelihood and trademark, there are other outstanding waltz composers.

Two of my favorite waltz composers are Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert, both of whom found the magic family to combine good cheer and glamor as well as bittersweet poignancy.

So here are two of my favorite sad waltzes both by Chopin. First, there is the so-called “Farewell” Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69, supposedly written in the memory of a fellow student who was killed in the Polish rebellion by Russian troops. Here it is played in a beautifully restrained manner by British pianist Stephen Hough:

And then here is the Op. 34, No 2 in A minor, played by Arthur Rubinstein:

As for ringing in the New Year, here is one of the “Brilliant Waltzes” by Chopin often used by Arthur Rubinstein to start or end a recital:

More heartbreaking waltzes come from Franz Schubert in his “Noble and Sentimental” Waltzes, a title later borrowed ironically by Maurice Ravel. Here are some of those Schubert waltzes – both cheerful and dark — in one of those wonderful scissors-and-paste jobs, a free-wheeling transcription, by Franz Liszt in the “Soiree de Vienne No. 6” and played incomparably by Vladimir Horowitz.

Hope you enjoy them

Farewell to 2013.

Cheers to 2014.

What are your favorite sad and happy waltzes?

The Ear wants to hear.

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