Sevin H. Yaraman
At the beginning of the 19th century the waltz brought men and women face-to-face dancing tightly embraced and staring into each other’s eyes a position that provoked a great deal of anxiety in many circles-bishops of Austria signed decrees against waltzing France banned it at court and even Leo XII sought to suppress the waltz by papal decree. Nevertheless composers wrote waltzes for the ballrooms and the new bourgeoisie of Europe enjoyed the freedom and informality of the dance.
The reception of the waltz as music was informed by 19th-century views on women. As a result the waltz-both dance and music-acquired a distinctly gendered meaning. In Verdi’s a Traviata Puccini’s La BohпїЅme and Berg’s Wozzeck the composers relied on the waltz’s contradictory meanings of individual pleasure and social disapprobation to portray the women characters and their roles in the development of the plot.
The close ties between waltz as dance and as music go beyond the societal meaning of the genre. When composers such as Chopin Brahms and Tchaikovsky wrote waltzes for listening rather than for dancing they did not abandon the waltz’s established characteristics but used the freedom from the actual dance steps as the impetus for refining and sharpening them without effacing the pieces’ identities as waltzes.
The popularity of the waltz persisted beyond the original era of the Viennese waltz. Twentieth-century composers wrote waltzes either to pay homage to the Viennese waltz and its creators or to evoke the spirit of that earlier period. In compositions such as La Valse and Wozzeck Ravel and Berg make deliberate references to the Viennese waltz without yielding their own musical language to its convention.