The     Waltz


In 1919, H.L.Menken wrote

“The waltz never quite goes out of fashion;

it is always just around the corner;

every now and then it returns with a bang . . .

It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely. . . .

The waltz, in fact, is magnificently improper..

the art of tone turned lubricious. . .


Austrian music scholar, Max Graf, wrote,

“If there exists a form of music

that is a direct expression of sensuality,

it is the Viennese Waltz...."


The WALTZ was a smash hit from the very start, mesmerizing its listeners into non-stop revelry. The waltz swept out of Germany in the middle of the eighteenth century to conquer all of Europe, inspiring an old German verse: “Whosoever the dance did discover/Had in mind each maid and lover/With all their burning ardor.”

The name of the waltz is taken from the Italian ‘volver’ - to turn, or revolve. It was an outgrowth of the ländler, a country dance in three-quarter time, and replaced the heavy hopping and jumping movements with more polished and graceful gliding.

It was, indeed, rural lads and lasses who first found these whirling steps so appealing. And so, the waltz originally was decidedly low-brow and provincial. In those days, there was something unsavory about a woman being gripped in a man’s embrace while whirling in a frenzy around the dance floor.

The close contact with one’s partners body contrasted sharply with the stately dances of the aristocracy - the minuets, polonaises, and quadrilles - in which one kept one’s distance. A first-hand account of a village dance in the latter part of the eighteenth century read “The men dancers held up the dresses of their partners very high so that they should not trail and be stepped on, wrapped themselves both tightly in the covering, bringing their bodies as closely together as possible, and thus whirling about went on in the most indecent positions....

As they waltzed around on the darker side of the room, the kissing and the hugging became still bolder. It is the custom of the country, I know, and not as bad as it looks, but I can quite understand why the waltz has been banned in parts of Swabia and Switzerland.”

Naturally, the scandalized upper classes could not endure to have the lower classes having all the fun, and so, in time, the waltz finally achieved a degree of legitimacy, yet not losing any of its basic appeal.

The Austrian music scholar, Max Graf, has written, “If there exists a form of music that is a direct expression of sensuality, it is the Viennese Waltz. It was the dance of the new Romantic Period after the Napoleonic Wars, and the contemporaries of the first waltzes were highly shocked at the eroticism of this dance in which a lady clung to her partner, closed her eyes as in a happy dream, and glided off as if the world had disappeared. The new waltz melodies overflowed with longing, desire and tenderness.”

These new waltz melodies could trace their ancestry back to the beer gardens of early eighteenth century Vienna, and to the rural inns and tavern situated on the outskirts of Vienna and on the banks of the Danube River. Traveling orchestras, some of them from the ships and barges that plied the Danube, whetted the Viennese appetite for this new dance, and the waltz craze soon reached epidemic proportions.

Into this dance-mad atmosphere stepped Josef Lanner and Johann Strauss the elder, both band musicians and both at one time members of the same orchestra. In the compositions of these two men the waltz gained sophistication and a distinctly Viennese light-hearted spirit.

A contemporary music critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote that “You cannot imagine the wild enthusiasm that these two men created in Vienna. Newspapers went into raptures over each new waltz, and innumerable articles appeared about Lanner and Strauss.”

And when he visited he city in 1845, the composer Hector Berlioz, too, was struck with the passion for the waltz . “The Viennese youth abandons itself to its passion for dancing, a very real and delightful passion, which has led the Viennese to make a very real art of drawing-room dancing as far above the routine of our balls as the orchestra and waltzes of Strauss are superior to the polkas and strummers in the dancing salons of Paris. I have passed whole nights watching thousands on incomparable waltzers whirling about . . ."

Until his death in 1899 kept Europe whirling in blissful abandon. Even in 1919, H.L.Menken wrote: “The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it returns with a bang . . . It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely. . . .The waltz, in fact, is magnificently improper-the art of tone turned lubricious. . . . There is something about a waltz that is irresistible. Try it on the fattest and sedatest or even on the thinnest and most acidulous of women, and she will be ready, in ten minutes, for a stealthy smack behind the door-nay, she will forthwith impart the embarrassing news that her husband misunderstands her and drinks too much and is going to Cleveland, O. on a business trip tomorrow.”

Yes, the waltz is irresistible-and exceptionally durable. In a world where the Mosh and the Monkey are popular social dances, and the macarena, line dances, and the chicken dance sometimes seem to be the only alternatives, the waltz still holds on tenaciously to a small part of our dancing lives, for its lilting strains never fail to evoke three pleasure dearest to the heart of civilized man – wine, women, and song!


click below to listen to midi's

Viennese Blood, Johann Strauss Jr.
Kaiserwaltzer Op.437 Johann Strauss Jr.
Voices of Spring Op.410 (114k), Johann Strauss Jr.
Tales from the Vienna Woods, Johann Strauss Jr.
Emperor's Waltz, Johann Strauss Jr.
Roses From the South, Op.388 (141K)Johann Strauss Jr.


Johann Strauss Jr.'s
'The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz'


HOME of the New York Dance Band Orchestra
The New York Strauss Festival Orchestra
The Johann Strauss Family and Their Compositions
Bob January
bob@bobjanuary.com