A waltz, or valse from the French term, is a piece of music in triple meter, most often 3/4-beat (help·info) but sometimes 3/8 or 3/2. Waltzes typically have one chord per measure, and the accompaniment style particularly associated with the waltz is (as seen in the example to the right) to play the root of the chord on the first beat, the upper notes on the second and third beats. The left hand accompaniment is known as an "oom-pa-pa" beat and consists of one of the major chords, C, F or G.
Classical composers traditionally supplied music for dancing when required, and Franz Schubert's waltzes were written for household dancing, without any pretense at being art music. However, Frédéric Chopin's surviving 18 waltzes (five he wrote as a child), along with his mazurkas and polonaises, were clearly not intended to be danced to. They marked the adoption of the waltz and other dance forms as serious composition genres. A notable precursor to Chopin was Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance, which is considered the first concert waltz.
Other notable contributions to the waltz genre in classical music include 16 by Johannes Brahms (originally for piano duet), and Maurice Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales for piano and La valse for orchestra.
The waltz style is found in nearly every kind of European and Euro-American folk music and also in classical music. Although waltzes are often associated with the dance of the same name, not all waltzes were composed as dances: some were written for concert performance.
The waltz had once held so much importance in European music circles that great waltz composers received the honorary title of “Waltz King”. The title came with an accompanying “royal staff”, a decorated silver baton which was passed from musician to musician. Johann Strauss Jr., the most famous “Waltz King”, received the title frequently.
Many classical composers have written waltzes, including:
- Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance (sometimes erroneously called Invitation to the Waltz)
- The Strauss family—notably Johann Strauss Senior and Junior, the latter being composer of the famous The Blue Danube, were perhaps the most famous of all waltz composers. Joseph and Eduard Strauss also wrote many waltzes.
- Joseph Lanner composed many Viennese-style waltzes.
- Joseph Haydn composed classical waltzes.
- Ludwig van Beethoven's Diabelli Variations are based on a simple waltz by Anton Diabelli.
- Frédéric Chopin's waltzes for the piano are well known, among them the “Minute Waltz”.
- Francisco Tárrega's Gran Valse
- Jean Sibelius's orchestral Valse triste is an unusually slow, even morbid example of a waltz for full orchestra.
- Alexander Glazunov wrote a pair of orchestral Concert Waltzes, and some waltzes for piano solo.
- Maurice Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales (originally for piano, but arranged by Ravel for orchestra) and orchestral La valse are well known.
- Ion Ivanovici wrote the famous waltz Waves of the Danube
- Impressionistic composer Claude Debussy's Valse Romantique is an example of a post-Romantic waltz though, as characterised by this period of music, the work contains so many rhythmic changes and rubato that it is barely considered a waltz.
- Many other 20th century composers have composed waltzes, including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Stravinsky.
Waltzes can also be found as part of larger works:
Popular song waltzes
The waltz was a familiar format in popular songs until the 1970s. Some waltzes which are well-known popular hits include:
From the first decades of the 20th century, "Kiss Me Again", "Beautiful Ohio", "I'm Falling in Love with Someone", "When I Lost You".
From the 1920s: "The Anniversary Waltz", "Are You Lonesome Tonight", "Always", "Remember", "What'll I Do", "All Alone", "The Song Is Ended", "Russian Lullaby", "Marie", "Together", "Lover", "Charmaine".
From the 1930s: "Falling in Love with Love", "Fascination", "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", "Reaching for the Moon", "Someday My Prince Will Come", "The Touch of Your Hand", "Wait Till You See Her", "When I Grow Too Old to Dream".
From the 1940s: "Goodnight, Irene", "You Always Hurt the One You Love", "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", "Out of My Dreams", "Californ-i-ay", "Hello, Young Lovers", "The Carousel Waltz", "The Girl That I Marry", "The Girl Next Door", "Cruising Down the River", "Tenderly", "Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk", "It's a Big, Wide, Wonderful World", "You're Breaking My Heart". "This Nearly Was Mine", "A Wonderful Guy".
From the 1950s: "The Tennessee Waltz", "If", "I Went To Your Wedding", "(How Much Is) The Doggie in the Window", "Song from Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart)", "True Love", "Allegheny Moon", "Rock and Roll Waltz", "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)", "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", "Tammy", "Around the World", "The Chipmunk Song", "El Paso", "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things".
From the 1960s: "The Times They Are a-Changin'", "Moon River", "Charade", "Dear Heart", "Somewhere, My Love (Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago)", "The Sweetheart Tree", "What the World Needs Now Is Love", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Time to Get Alone", "Friends", "The Last Waltz", "Jean".
From the 1970s: "Time in a Bottle", "Piano Man", "Annie's Song", "When I Need You", "You Light Up My Life", "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "Three Times a Lady", "Take It to the Limit", The Godfather Waltz, "Watching the River Run" by Jim Messina, "My Sweet and Tender Beast" by Eugen Doga.
From the 1980s: "Friends and Lovers (Both to Each Other)", "At This Moment".
Among popular composers, it seems they either wrote a lot of waltzes or almost none. Irving Berlin was known for his many waltzes, including "When I Lost You", "Always", "Remember", "What'll I Do", "All Alone", "The Song Is Ended", "Russian Lullaby", "Marie", "Reaching for the Moon", "The Girl That I Marry", "Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk", "(Just One Way To Say) I Love You", and "Let's Go Back to the Waltz". Similarly, Richard Rodgers wrote many waltzes, including "Lover", "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", "Out of My Dreams", "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things", "Falling in Love with Love", "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", "Wait Till You See Her" "This Nearly Was Mine", "A Wonderful Guy", "Hello, Young Lovers", and "The Carousel Waltz". Henry Mancini included many waltzes among his popular songs: "Moon River", "Charade", "Dear Heart", "The Sweetheart Tree", and "Whistling Away the Dark". In contrast, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Cole Porter wrote only a small number of waltzes each. Stephen Sondheim often uses the waltz in his music, particularly in A Little Night Music
Contemporary composers have also made use of the waltz form. Notable examples include:
- Aqualung, five tracks from Strange & Beautiful (notably Extra Ordinary Thing and Good Times Gonna Come)
- Hayley Westenra, Dark Waltz
- the Pierces, Secret
- Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, "Widening Eye", Composed by Michael Iago Mellender, is a good example of a Waltz in Avant Garde music. During live performances Guitarist Nils Frykdahl and Bassist Dan Rathbun frequently perform solitary waltzes in sync with each other.
- Seal, "Kiss From A Rose"
- Danny Elfman, who heavily utilizes the waltz rhythm in his many motion picture scores including Batman and Spider-Man
- Hans Zimmer used waltz in his score for the movie Gladiator to depict the rhythm of the battle scenes.
- Bjork, Hyperballad (Brodsky Quartet)
- Brian Wilson, whose waltzes, composed in the late 1960s, are found on the Beach Boys albums Friends and 20/20
- Suzanne Vega, whose song Bad Wisdom is another notable modern waltz
- Bill Evans: "Waltz for Debby" being one of his most popular contributions.
- Elliott Smith, a folk-rock musician who also wrote several pieces in waltz time, most notably "Waltz #2 (XO)" and "Waltz #1" from the album XO (album).
- Patrick Doyle, composer of the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, wrote a waltz for the Yule Ball in this film.
- Ben Folds: Lullabye and Smoke
- Aimee Mann: High on Sunday 51
- Pure (band): Wagner's Show
- Bob Dylan: Winterlude from the album New Morning
- Mark Knopfler: Several tracks from Kill To Get Crimson
- The Eels: "Beautiful Freak", "Daisies of the Galaxy", and many more.
- Beirut (band): "A Sunday Smile", "Elephant Gun" & "Forks and Knives(La Fete)"
- Number One Fan: "Waltz in F#"
- Adele: "First Love"
- Muse: "Blackout"
- Rachel Yamagata: "Quiet", "Be Be Your Love"
- Built to Spill: "Velvet Waltz"
- The Dodos: "Joe's Waltz"
- Fiona Apple: "Waltz (Better Than Fine)"
- Queen: "Sweet Lady" (3/4) from A Night At The Opera, and "The Millionaire Waltz" from A Day At The Races
- The World/Inferno Friendship Society has several songs in waltz time, in keeping with their Weimar Germany theme. These include "Heart Attack '64," "All the World is a Stage (Dive)," and "...And Embarked on a Life of Poverty."
- Okkervil River: "Red"
- Billy Joel: Piano Man
- Kelly Clarkson: Cry
- Kelly Clarkson: Breakaway
- Wumpscut: Cut to see how much I bleed
- Joe Satriani Always With Me, Always With You
- Bomb the Music Industry!: "Big Plans of Sleeping In" from Album Minus Band.
- Cake "Sad songs and Waltzes" from Fashion Nugget
- Miles Davis: All Blues from Kind of Blue
- Iron And Wine : "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" from The Shepherd's Dog and Twilight OST
- Katie Melua : When You Taught Me How To Dance from Miss Potter OST
- John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War is Over)
- Metallica: Nothing else matters
- Naimee Coleman: Your Arms
- Ingrid Michaelson: The Chain