Classical Music

Music In The Making: Waltzing Matilda

May I have this dance? We’re exploring the waltz, with Ravel, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky.

It’s time to grab your dancing shoes–on this week’s episode, we’re learning about the waltz, with music by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Ravel.

Scene from Pyotr Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake, Bolshoi Theater
Scene from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, Bolshoi Theater

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Suite from Swan Lake, “Valse”
Moores School Chamber Orchestra, JungHwan Kwon, conductor
Moores Opera House

The waltz, a ballroom dance in 3/4 meter, evolved from Ländler. At first, it scandalized polite society because of the proximity of the men and women, who twirled and swirled around ballrooms while embracing. It was rapidly adopted by classical composers, exploited as symphonic movements, at home in operatic tradition, and, of course, found in ballet scores, such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Anton Diabelli
Anton Diabelli

Ludwig van Beethoven: Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, op. 120
Clive Swansbourne, piano
Duncan Recital Hall

As a composer, Anton Diabelli’s name would likely be long lost in the annals of history, were it not for one fairly insignificant waltz, which gave rise to Beethoven’s keyboard variations which now bears Diabelli’s name. The waltz was originally penned as a publicity stunt–Diabelli intended for all the important composers to write a variation on this theme, which he would publish in one collection. Beethoven didn’t contribute to this project, and didn’t limit himself to one offering–instead, he crafted 33 of these masterful variations.

Maurice Ravel in 1925
Maurice Ravel in 1925

Ravel: La Valse (Poeme choreographique pour Orchestre)
Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra; Larry Rachleff, conductor
Stude Concert Hall

As early as 1906, Maurice Ravel had began contemplating paying tribute to Johann Strauss, Jr., the so-called, “Waltz King.” For many reasons, not the least of which was World War I, Ravel was unable to focus on the project, and by the time “La Valse” emerged in, 1919, the world was a changed place. Ravel provides these images, though, as a preface:

Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.


This episode originally aired Sunday, March 12th, 2017. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical.