The Waltzes

Chopin’s Waltzes are among the world’s most often played piano music. They fall into two styles: gracious and brilliantly decorated, or melancholy. John Ogdon calls them “the brightest jewels in the greatest salons of the time.”

The Waltzes are peculiarly Chopinesque. The Viennese waltzes of the day as exemplified by those of Lanner and the elder Johann Strauss were anathema to Chopin’s rarefied nature, and after his stay in Vienna he reported, “I have acquired nothing of that which is specially Viennese by nature, and accordingly I am still unable to play valses.” The true precursor of the Chopin waltz style is Weber’s Invitation to the Dance. Arthur Hedley wrote, “The Chopin Waltzes were never meant to be danced by ordinary mundane creatures of flesh and blood.”

Grande Valse brillante in F-flat major, Op. 18:
One of Chopin’s most extroverted works. Insouciant, teasing, high-stepping, it is beloved by the virtuoso. Berlioz spoke of its “divine delicacies.”Some of its fetching passages must have inspired Offenbach. Schumann saw it “enveloping the dancers deeper and deeper in floods.”

Valse brillante in A-flat major, Op. 34, No.1:
Chopin composed three waltzes in 1838, under the generic title Trois Valses brillantes. This waltz is akin in spirit to the Grande Valse brillante, Op. 18, but with even more delightful colors. A true ballroom creation, it is marked Vivace, and Chopin is happy and at ease with the aristocratic veneer of the salon. There is such sparkling life throughout that it feels as though it were improvised at a Dionysian revel.

Valse brillante in A minor, Op. 34, No.2:
The composer Stephen Heller related that Chopin called this slow (Lento) waltz his favorite. When Heller told the Pole that he, too, loved it best, Chopin immediately invited him for lunch at a fashionable cafe. Frederick Niecks wrote of this piece, “The composer evidently found pleasure in giving way to this delicious languor, in indulging in these melancholy thoughts full of sweetest, tenderest loving and longing.”

Valse brillante in F major, Op. 34, No.3:
A witty and little-known waltz. Huneker calls it “a whirling wild dance of atoms.” The themes are less distinguished, but the perpetual-motion flavor with its bracing appoggiaturas casts its own spell.

Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 42:
A case may be made for the Op. 42 as Chopin’s most perfect valse. After the first measures of trill, a call to the dance, there is a melody with a rare lilt composed in double time, with the triple time of the waltz in the left hand. Schumann remarked that “like his earlier waltzes it is a salon piece of the noblest kind.” The composition, Schumann feels, should be danced to only by “countesses at least.” This waltz is the most demanding technically of the series.

Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No.1:
This all-time favorite of Chopin’s waltzes is called the Minute Waltz because of its perpetual-motion attitude. However, it must not be played in that time period. Chopin himself was often compelled to play it, the London society ladies repeatedly exclaiming that it sounded “like water”-a phrase that annoyed the composer.

Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No.2:
Huneker declares, “It is the most poetic of all. The first theme has never been excelled by Chopin for a species of veiled melancholy. It is a fascinating, lyrical sorrow.” Delicate passage-work ensues, followed by a D-flat major section of vocal beauty.

Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 64, No.3:
Seldom performed, because of the popularity of the two preceding waltzes, although it is shapely and finely made. The last of Chopin’s waltzes, it has a deft charm. Niecks speaks of its “exquisite serpentining melodic lines, and other beautiful details.” The middle section in C major is perfectly poised.

Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 69, No.1:
Published posthumously with the B minor Waltz in 1855. The manuscript has the inscription “Pour Mlle Marie.” Chopin wrote this waltz in 1835, while courting Marie Wodzinska. He had fallen in love with the young and beautiful countess and had proposed marriage to her. As a poor musician, however, Chopin was not considered suitable marriage material by Marie’s parents, and he was rejected. His Waltz in A-flat was given to Marie just before his departure for Paris. Marked Lento, this beautiful dance poem has often been called L’Adieu.

Waltz in B minor, Op. 69, No.2:
This often played work was composed when Chopin was nineteen. The composer wanted it and others of his early works burned, but they were issued posthumously. The piecehas three themes; the opening is distinctively Chopinesque in its pensive melancholy.

Other posthumously issued works include three waltzes in Op. 70, all attractive pieces. The best known, No.1 in G-flat, is a brilliant specimen, and the E minor Waltz, without opus number, composed in 1829, is deservedly popular.

The Waltzes:

  • ANIEVAS: EMI (CD)
  • CICCOLINI: Seraphim
  • CORTOT: Seraphim
  • LIPATTI: Odyssey; Angel (CD)
  • NOVAES: Vox
  • PENNARIO: Angel
  • PIRES: Erato (CD)
  • RACHMANINOFF (various waltzes): RCA
  • RUBINSTEIN: RCA (CD)
  • ZIMERMAN: DC