Monday, 26 October 2009

Moments of Magic Number 2

Anyone who knows me intimately knows that I adore a waltz. Composers of old often considered that a good waltz, above all other musical styles, was a work of genius. And although the Viennese waltzes sound dated to today's dancers, they were in vogue far longer than any dance that has been created since. Waltz, though originally a musical pastime of the commonfolk in central and eastern Europe, became popular as a style and social pursuit of the rich and the regal.

The grand ballrooms of Europe have many a musical ghost but the most booming of these ghosts is undoubtedly the waltz; the grand oom-pah-pah is such huge part of the history of social dancing that the chandeliers still tinkle to the mighty strains of Strauss. It is a Strauss selection offered here. Written in 1889 for the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany as a mark of Austro-Hungarian-German friendship, it is now known as the Emperor Waltz. Though on its reception, there might have been plotting in the minds of the dedicatees - men who had the next European campaign on their minds and not the next dance partner - it stands as one of the grandest examples of Strauss's style.

This small sequence is not part of the triumphant oom-pah-pah main dance sequence but is a beautiful and delicate bridge between one waltz sequence and the other. I have always thought that there was something gloriously tragic in the echo of a waltz - a defiance of a bygone age. To me, this sequence captures the slowing whirligig of a culture and a life and an age that remains a fascination and a dream for thousands of people.

Emperor Waltz - J.Strauss

Moments of Magic

As much as I can adore a symphony, I can be seduced by a mere strain. And as much as I can admire a concerto, a tumble of a few notes can put me in a state of the most exquisite ecstasy.

Pieces of music in their entirety say a great deal about the listener but it is often the little moments within those great works, the riff or the hook or the chord change that ensure the attention and importantly, the musical intoxication, of the listener.

I have thought about compiling my favourite sequences from a range of different music for some time and have finally decided to knuckle down and do it. These selections vary in length and style. They are largely from 'classical' pieces although, being that most popular music relies on repetition, it is hardly surprising that I have not found as many unique sequences of magic within the modern pieces.

Opening the series, appropriately, we have Bach. This is one of my favourite pieces of music and without doubt one of the most majestic and celestial compilations of notes in history. The orchestral version of the cantata 'Where Sheep May Safely Graze.'

Although this entire cantata is beautiful, this intricate sequence in which Bach throws us from major key to minor key with an initially puzzling but in-the-end gratifying movement is not only an example of one type of emotion but of many, all in a bizarrely logical (it is Bach) and satisfying order. After the uncertainty and meandering of the middle of this sequence, the long return to the 'home' chord is all the more pleasing.

'Where Sheep May Safely Graze' - J.S. Bach