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Regardless of the times I have heard them, in my eclectic taste of music, I continue to be enthralled by two distinctive classical waltzes, both composed by early 20th-century French composers.
The “Dance Macabre,” or Dance of Death,” by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1927). was based on a rather grotesque poem by Henri Cazalis, beginning “Zig et zig et zig, la Mort in cadence.” The poem is a waltz measure set off with bizarre, but ingenious instruments. Over the years the theme has been employed, in full or in part, as background music for numerous films and television shows.
In the music Death is depicted as a fiddler, summoning the skeletons from their graves to dance at midnight; the hour being indicated on the harp. The ghastly merriment, interrupted by some somber strains, is kept up until the cock crows, which is the signal for the instant disappearance of the grim and clattering revellers.
My second, and an equally favoured is, “The Waltz, “ (La Valse) composed by Maurice Ravel, (1875 -1977) and subtitled “A Choreographic Poem.” In this fabulous piece of music, it was Ravel’s idea to further extend the Viennese dance, as made famous by Johann Strauss.
First performed in Paris on 12 December 1920, it had been originally conceived as a ballet but nowadays it is generally heard as a concert piece. Although, in 1958 choreographer Frederick Ashton created a ballet, a La valse for, The Royal Ballet, which was considered by some critics as the first successful interpretation of Ravel’s intentions for this music.
Listening to The Waltz I automatically have the impression of whirling clouds, of couples dancing in an immense hall, peopled with a twirling crowd. The scene becomes gradually illuminated until the chandeliers burst forth – in fortissimo, to portray a 19th-century ball in the Austrian Imperial court.
Two beautiful waltzes, one gruesome and one charming. Both a joy to hear.
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