Updated January 4, 2021
The Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Webpages explore the history of the mandolin, buying and building mandolins, the various makes and models of mandolins available on the market, basic chord structures, different styles of playing, practice exercises, and the best of the web on various mandolin topics.
Bruce Bernhart Discusses the Waltz
I love playing waltzes on the mandolin. The melodies and tremolos work in tandem to produce a wonderful sound that can be intoxicating. Unlike traditional bluegrass, waltzes are defined by very distinct and defining melodies that are played at a slower meter, requiring repetitive practice in order to memorize the tune.
Waltzes also have a very interesting history, as this excellent article from essortment.com reviews:
The word waltz comes from the German word "waltzen," which means "to turn." The turn is the essence of the waltz step. The waltz is done in 3/4 time with an accent on the first beat of every measure. Each series of movements is a turning step and a close. Today, it is often danced on a light foot, although this was not always the case.
Precursors to the waltz were the allemande and the minuet. The allemande was a stately dance done in two lines. Partners faced each other and moved back and forth, sometimes going under the arms of the other line, or processing down the middle. The minuet was a square-step dance performed in a rigid and stately manner. The waltz itself is Viennese, and it evolved in Austria and Bavaria under such names as the Dreher, the laendler and the Deutscher. It was created as a peasant dance in early Austria, and involved robust moves and lots of space. Often, partners were hurled into the air in moves that occasionally led to injury and miscarriage. Because peasants wore loud, thick shoes, it was also very noisy. When it first became popular in Viennese dance halls in late eighteenth century, these aspects began to change.
The waltz was termed the "forbidden dance" for one reason. When it moved into Viennese dance halls, partners were allowed to touch! This was unheard of, and led to the dance being slandered by many officials of the church and leaders of the Austrian community. Because it was a favored dance of the young, however, it continued to be danced. Because of its transition to dance halls and city gathering, it evolved into a light dance for polished floors and parties. Its music also changed, becoming more refined and orchestrated. Notable instruments used to play it were the piano, the violin and the bass. In 1787, it was brought to the operatic stage, inviting huge debate. Mozart was a huge fan of the waltz, and in one of his operas, Don Giovanni, three waltzes are played at once in one scene! Clearly, the dance could not be stopped.
By the 1800's, Paris had fallen in love with the waltz. It did not arrive in England until later, where it was first denounced, and then accepted. A final public acceptance of it in 1819 allowed the waltz to reach the popularity that it still has today.
Today, the waltz is danced in all corners of the world. Its predecessors have mostly died away, but in their place the waltz is acclaimed in Asia, Australia, America, Canada and South America as a favorite dance. Its label as the "forbidden dance" has been taken instead by the tango, a dance that arose from the slums of Argentina.
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