Episode 149: Chopin Mines Three-Quarter Time

Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 34, No. 1

rc-three-quarter-200“It is interesting to consider the manner in which Chopin displayed his remarkable originality…. He kept almost entirely to forms already fixed…and within their limits did entirely new things…. The waltzes [for example,] are not dances for the ballroom, but the emotions of the waltz – the waltz spiritualized.”

Olin Downes wrote that in his 1918 guide, "The Lure of Music: Depicting the Human Side of Great Composers". Eighty-three years earlier – the very year Chopin composed his waltz, Op. 34, No. 1 - doctors were busily advising against the then-decadent dance:

“Too much…waltzing, is as injurious to the soundness of mind as to the health of the body,” advised one; “…abandon waltzing.…The clasping of the dancers, their exciting contact…and too long a succession of lively and agreeable emotions, produce sometimes in women of a very irritable constitution, swooning, spasms and other accidents which should induce them to denounce it,” warned Dr. Donald Walker.

Chopin wasn’t all that hot on waltzes either, but it wasn’t because of spasms and…other accidents. "Here," he had written contemptuously from Vienna, "they actually call waltzes 'works'." Oom-pah-pah didn’t do much for the poet of the piano. But doing “entirely new things” within “fixed forms” did. He took the dance form blamed for all manner of physical and moral maladies and made it his own.

Dr. Walker may not have approved, but Victor Gollancz in "Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic" gets it: [his waltzes] assured Chopin's success both socially and commercially, and…have enjoyed a popularity which shows no sign of abating. That they have survived…is due entirely to the art which lies behind them, and to their Mozartian reflection of hidden depths beneath the surface. - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 149: Chopin Mines Three-Quarter Time

Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 34, No. 1

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