- The Viennese waltz is widely recognized as one of the most ubiquitous genres in classical piano literature. Despite the common characteristics that most of these waltzes share ---light, melodious themes, three-four meter, and varied tempos --- there is a large distinction between its earlier and later forms. Curiosity about its changing form, its place in the history of Western music, and love for the music itself has inspired this study.
Research for this project was focused on the piano scores of six major composers who contributed to the form of the Viennese waltz. Even with this approach, due to the inherent subjectivity of music, the results of this analysis may differ from those of other scholars. Several aspects of the waltz were examined in this analysis including structure and form, treatment of melody and harmony, rhythm, and at a certain level, the cultural forces surrounding the music.
Upon completion of this study, it was concluded that Ravel’s twentieth century waltzes were a modernized take on the nineteenth century Viennese waltz in terms of modern application of structural features and form within the traditional waltz framework. From a cultural standpoint, Ravel’s waltzes were a byproduct of an evolving European aesthetic since the waltz form in the early twentieth century was both a cultural symbol of a decadent society and a vehicle used to express a composer’s own personal musical language. Ultimately, Ravel’s applications of both traditional and progressive techniques were an effective culmination that ended the Viennese waltz genre both by reflecting its form in Valses nobles et sentimentales and symbolizing its “death” in La Valse.
Possibilities to expand this study include analyses of the evolution of piano dance music before the Viennese waltz in order to acquire a broader understanding of the significance of dance music in keyboard literature or a study of waltzes by post-modern composers to see how the waltz form evolved after Ravel’s treatment.