If you are a ballet teacher, you use waltzes ALL THE TIME! Whether you select them yourself for an unset class or it's set in the syllabus that you use! A waltz for your pointe class warm up, another for slow tendus, perhaps one for rond de jambes and yet another for grand battement/cloches. You've already used 4 waltzes and you're not even into centre practice yet! If you teach unset ballet classes on a regular basis, you've got your favourite recordings for each of those exercises, however, the question is, are you challenging yourself and your students to respond to different music than they're used to? If you wanted a triple meter, some kind of waltz, would you know which style would serve your exercise best? Are you in a position to knowledgeably sort through the massive array of waltz styles? I'm going to explore 3 waltz styles (Spanish, Viennese and the 'grand' waltz) for you today to help you get a better grasp of some of the differences and, hopefully, motivate you towards using some less familiar waltz patterns.
After all, aren't you and I in a position to teach, train and challenge? What better way than to learn, discern and teach using different music than your students are used to hearing?
The "Spanish waltz" (a ballet termed category that a beginner accompanist will likely not fully understand; feel free to direct them to Don Q as there are a lot of great waltzes for them to start with in there!) is a waltz who's rhythm generally contains syncopation and strength, it is usually played in the medium tempi range. This is unusual as some waltzes die a slow and painfully heavy death if you play them at a medium tempo. I've done it, I've killed a waltz or 2 in my early days by having pre-selected music that needed to be quicker and then trying to slow the music down for the exercise! Not good! Now, I just jump over to a Spanish waltz if I realize the teacher wants it slower and full but not heavy. A common rhythm for this waltz is where the first measure is a quarter note followed by 4 eighth notes and the second measure is 3 more quarter notes. Another way of way saying it is, Ta ti-ti ti-ti|Ta Ta Ta. Musician counting, it's 1 2+3+|1 2 3. Spanish waltzes are known for having strength and syncopation in the melody! If you're looking to listen to one, look no farther than Don Quixote (Here is a collection of mostly waltzes from Don Q)! Also, if you're for more of this rhythm, check out the cachucha! Great music!
Let's take a look at the Viennese waltz now. This waltz is a pleasant 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 waltz, it sounds COMPLETELY different compared to the Spanish waltz. It's got a strength of 1 count per bar instead of being made aware of all 3 beats in each measure/bar of music like the Spanish waltz sometimes does. The Viennese waltz has a lightness, charm and gracefulness to it. The melodies of a Viennese waltz are pleasant and 'pretty'. They are known for being quicker and smooth. The most familiar Viennese waltz that most people recognize is The Blue Danube (This recording is just magical! You'll hear the classic Viennese tempo kick in around 1:28). The Viennese waltz was the very first triple meter that was light and quick in the history of triple meter music. It was initially considered "scandalous" and therefore very exciting and thrilling for the people who loved to dance.
Finally, the "grand waltz". This is another ballet category that if you try to ask for it with a beginner pianist, they'll have no idea what you're talking about! A grand waltz for a pianist is a waltz with big chords that is heavy and full. If you're wanting your dancers in the air, that heavy, slow, full-chorded music will feel way too weighted and slow! A balletic grand waltz has no specific recipe save for it needs to have a fullness and yet, a lightness in specific places. You will want pedaled, fuller sound during the travelling step to encourage the plie but then an empty, airy lightness on the 'and' after counts 1, 3, 5, 7.
There are waltzes upon waltzes, upon waltzes.. this blog post could go on and on, but then you'd stop reading and then what would be the point?! Now, I want to make sure that this information becomes actionable and applicable for you and your studio(s), I encourage you to chose one of these waltzes, the Spanish, the Viennese or the Grand (preferably the style you're least familiar with), and, after listening to it in the car a bit, make an exercise or 2 for your students to get some musical exposure! Practice counting your exercise to the music if you feel uncertain or insecure about counting music that you're new to. Remember, if you're not using it, your students are missing out on that personal growth as a dancer!
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