The Waltz - Causeway Performing Arts= The Music Department

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Johann Strauss II
Johann Strauss II

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Kirk Watson
Kirk Watson

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=Causeway Performing Arts=
GCSE Music AoS 3: Dance Music (Vol. 1)
The Waltz
in conjunction with
This chapter:
focuses on area of study 3, in which you will explore a range of dance music
drawn from different times and places. The dances you will learn about fall
under 3 headings:
Paired dance: waltz, tango and salsa
Synchronised dance: American line dance, Irish jig and reel, and
Improvised dance: disco and club dance.
This chapter describes the background, context, style and musical characteristics of
each dance. It also provide some suggestions on how to compose in different dance
This area of study is assessed in the listening test (unit 4). In the listening test you will
almost certainly hear a piece of dance music. You will be asked to identify the features of
the music that are typical of the dance. You might also be asked about the context of the
dance - where and when it originated, and how it is danced. You may have to compare two
dances in the same style, or even two dances in different styles. You also have the option
to compose a piece of dance music for Unit 2. The two set tasks that relate to this area of
study are:
An original piece of dance music, in a style of your choice
An arrangement of a piece, in a dance style of your choice.
If you choose one of these tasks then your composition will partly be assessed on how
well you incorporate features of your chosen dance style into your piece. Five of the 20
marks are awarded for this, and to get all the five marks you will need to combine features
of the style in an imaginative and convincing way. This chapter will give you lots of ideas
on how to compose in a variety of different dance styles.
The Waltz developed out of Austrian and German folk dances at the end of the 18th
century. In particular, it originated from a popular folk dance in triple time called the ländler.
This was a lively dance for couples, involving stamping and hopping as partners turned
around each other. These folk dances were combined together and taken into the
ballroom, where they were transformed into the Viennese Waltz (so called because Vienna
was the city where the waltz first became popular in the 1770ʼs).
The folk dances were refined as they entered the ballroom. The steps became smoother,
and a gliding motion replaced the hopping and stamping. However, despite the waltzʼs
new-found sophistication the upper classes were still outraged by how close the partners
dancing the waltz came to each other. The waltz was the first ballroom dance in which
couples had any close contact. This indecent side to the dance was probably one of the
reasons why it became so popular, and the closed position of the dance had a great
influence on other ballroom dances. The waltz itself spread throughout Europe and many
variants of the Viennese waltz were created.
Two of the earliest composers of the Viennese
waltz were Josef Lanner and Johann Strauss
(senior), both good friends and rivals. They
greatly helped to popularise the waltz,
transforming it from a peasant dance into a highsociety entertainment. But it was Johann Strauss
(junior) who was the chief composer of the
Viennese waltz. You are likely to have heard his
waltz The Blue Danube, which is one of his most
famous pieces.
What does the dance look like?
•The waltz is danced by partners (male and
female) in a close embrace. The man places his
right hand on the womanʼs back and extends his
left arm, taking hold of the womanʼs right hand in
his left. The woman then places her left arm on
the manʼs shoulder.
•The basic movement is a three-step sequence: a
step forward or backward, a step to the side and then a step to close the feet
together. Through these three steps, repeated over and over, couples rotate around
the dance floor.
The dance has a graceful and elegant feel to it - the steps and movement are always
very smooth.
If you watch a waltz, you will see that the dancers rise a little onto their toes during
the first step (the forward or backward step). They then fall back onto their heels at
the end of the third step (the step closing their feet together). This subtle rise and fall
contributes to the waltzʼs flowing nature.
More ambitious steps can also be introduced, such as spins and turns. For an
example see
Musical characteristics
The important musical features of the Viennese Waltz are:
3 4 time. A time signature with three beats in a bar obviously fits waltzʼs three-step
sequence the best. This means that the first step of the sequence (the forward or
backward step) always falls on the first beat of each bar.
An accent on the first beat of the bar. This means that the main, driving step of the
waltz (the first step that propels the dancers forwards) is always given emphasis in
the music.
An um-cha-cha pattern. The ʻumʼ is often a single bass note on the first beat of the
bar, and the ʻchaʼs are the chords that follow on beats 2 and 3. For example:
Can you see from the shape of the pattern (from a low note to two higher chords)
mirrors the rise and fall of the dancers, described opposite? The music rises with the
dancers from their first to second step, and falls with the dancers at the end of their
third step.
In the Viennese waltz, the second beat of the bar is often anticipated (played a little
bit earlier) to give it a lilting feel.
A moderately fast tempo of around 70 bars per minute, allowing the dancers to step
at a natural pace. This gives the feel to the music of one beat in a bar, rather than
Rubato, allowing musicians to vary the tempo to give expression to the music. If this
were overdone it would cause problems for the dancers, but it can be helpful, for
example, at the end of the introduction when a slight pause indicates that the dance
is about to begin, followed by an increase in tempo as the dance gets into full swing.
Simple harmony (chords I, IV and V are the most frequently used), and a slow
harmonic rhythm (the same chord is often repeated for several bars).
A wide variety of instrumentation, ranging from solo piano to full orchestra.
Balanced phrasing.
A melody-with-accompaniment texture.
Smooth, flowing melodies. The legato nature of the music strongly reflects the
graceful, flowing nature of the dance.
The short extract below comes from a waltz by Strauss (Junior), called Wein, weib und
Gesang (ʻWine, Women and Songʼ):
These eight bars illustrate most of the features described above. This short section is
clearly split into two balanced phrases of four bars each. The accompaniment is made up
of a characteristic um-cha-cha pattern, with the chords changing every two bars (a
reasonably slow harmonic rhythm). The harmony itself is simple - the music moves from F
major chord to the relative minor (Dm), and then from a Bb major chord to another relative
minor (Gm). The graceful, legato melody largely moves in steps to create a sense of flow.
Performing ideas
Many famous waltzes have been arranged for all sorts of solo instruments and ensemble groups.
With such a vast collection to choose from, it should be easy to find an arrangement of a waltz
that you can play. Try, for example to find an arrangement of The Blue Danube by Strauss.
Look for opportunities to include the following in your performance:
Smooth, legato playing
Anticipation of the second beat, as if performing a Viennese Waltz
A graceful, elegant flow to the music.
Composing ideas
Use the following steps as a guideline for composing your own waltz:
Decide which chords you might want to use for your waltz. Remember that waltzes usually use
very simple chords (chords I, IV and V in particular), and each chord might last for two or even
four bars.
Compose a melody for your waltz. Try to create a smooth, flowing melody by using a lot of
step-wise movement. You might choose to structure your melody with question-and-answer
phrasing - a four-bar question could be followed by a four-bar answer. Waltzes usually have
regular phrase lengths, so you might want the melody for your first section to last 16 bars.
Waltzes occur in many popular films and are well worth watching. A few examples that I have
found are available on
Anna Karenina (1997), scene 2.
Evita (1996), scene 25.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), scene 17.
Shall we dance (2004), scenes 3, 7 and 13.
Take the lead (2006), scenes 13 and 17.
Listening ideas
Try listening to as many waltzes as you can, and as you do so listen out for the main
characteristics described above. Aside from the Johann Strausses, other famous composers of
waltzes include Chopin, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Examples of these three composers can be
found on and include:
Chopin: Waltz in Db major (the ʻMinute Waltzʼ). A waltz for solo piano, which some
pianists try to rush through in under a minute.
Chopin: Waltz in Eb major (the ʻGrand, Brilliant Waltzʼ). Chopinʼs first waltz for solo piano.
Tchaikovsky: Waltz from ʻSwan Lakeʼ. A waltz for full orchestra, though arranged for
many other solo instruments since.
Tchaikovsky: The third movement of symphony No. 5.
Brahms: Waltz in Ab major. Another waltz for solo piano.
Test yourself
How did the waltz originate?
Give one reason why it caused outrage among the upper classes.
Name a famous composer of the waltz.
Describe the three different steps of a waltz.
Give four musical characteristics of a waltz.

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