Genres Genres


Aristocratic from the first note to the last
(Robert Schumann on Chopin's waltzes)

The waltzes are among the best known and loved of Chopin's works. He wrote around twenty-five works in the waltz convention, of which eighteen have survived (as well as one piece of not entirely certain authenticity). Of these eighteen, Chopin opused and intended for publication eight compositions:

The remaining works were published after the composer's death, including in Opp. 69 and 70. Chopin's waltzes contain a variety of types, as the composer was able to draw on several traditions of this dance. In his youth, Chopin became acquainted with functional waltzes, both in Poland (where "walcerki" were often danced) and in Vienna. The style of Chopin's waltzes was also influenced to a certain degree by the waltzes of Schubert (of the miniature type) and the music of Weber, with the famous piano Invitation to the Dance to the fore.

Yet Chopin's waltzes reproduce no models, instead giving us music that is inimitable, recognisable from the very first bars, full of elegance, charm and brilliance, not infrequently marked by profound expression. There are short pieces, which can be defined as typical dance miniatures, and also more expansive waltzes, with the character of dance poems.

Chopin treated some of his waltzes as compositional "presents", writing them into albums as keepsakes. Such works belong to the "private" strand in his oeuvre, not intended for publication (for example, the sentimental, simple Waltz in F minor [WN 55]). The composer also had no intention of publishing a number of youthful waltzes from his Warsaw period, which include both subtle, lyrical miniatures (Waltz in B minor [WN 19]) and virtuosic waltzes (most notably the effective Waltz in E minor).

Of a different character are the concert waltzes from the "official" strand in the Chopin oeuvre. Their dimensions are larger, and the pianistic splendour incomparably greater. Here the degree of artistic refinement reaches its peak, particularly manifest in the rich melodies and subtle harmonies. Among these eight masterful waltzes, two fundamental types may be distinguished. The first, more numerous, type is the striking waltz of virtuosic panache-the valse brillante. This type of composition might begin with a distinctive introduction and end with a virtuosic coda, fulfilling the role of the climax of the work (Waltz in E flat major, Op. 18, Waltz in A flat major, Op. 34 No. 1). The second type is associated with a different sort of expression: it is the melancholic, almost sentimental, waltz in a much slower tempo. The most famous examples of this type are the Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2 and Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2, although it should be remembered that both these types are also present among the waltzes of the "private" strand.

For audiences at large, the division into "concert" and "salon" waltzes is of little significance. Captivated by the magic of Chopin's waltzes, we follow the composer's inspiration. Such is the effect when listening, for example, to recordings of the waltzes in the wonderful interpretation of Dinu Lipatti.

Artur Bielecki