With the recent posting of the Blue Danube Waltzes on pianosoundings.com, I am reminded of how fortunate we pianists/keyboardists are with our rich literature related to the dance. The English Virginalist School gave us the spirited dances of Byrd and Gibbons, among others. Listen to Glenn Gould's fleeting recording "A Consort of Music..." for a lesson in sparkling articulation. The French gave us the "The Great" Francois Couperin; numerous recordings capture the picturesque movements of his Ordres. The Germans culminated the writing of Baroque dances with the Suites of J. S. Bach. For me, the intrinsic nature of each dance is found in the recordings of Rosalyn Tureck. I would tell my students that performing a Suite was not only challenging for them, but also for the audience. There are several movements, all with repeats and all in the same key, so it is imperative that the performer convey the different character of each dance via the meter, tempo, rhythm, accentuation and articulation.
The following eras gave us waltzes of Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, etc. The dilettante/amateur pianists welcomed the numerous, accessible waltzes of Schubert while Brahms contributed his somewhat more sophisticated set. Both composers can thank their heritage where the waltz evolved from the "Landler", a German folk dance.
Chopin presented the waltz as a musical genre, not necessarily to dance to. Liszt gave us the demonic and alluring Mephisto Waltz, the charming Valse oubliée (there are 3 in all), and entertaining transcriptions like the Waltz from Gounod's opera, Faust. In contrast to the ostentatiousness of the latter, Ravel offers the suave and exotic Valse nobles et sentimentales, a homage to Schubert. The Russians also contributed many waltzes by Tchiakovsky, Arensky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Prokofieff. Obviously, there are many other composers of waltzes, too numerous to mention. We pianists are quite lucky to have such a vast literature to dance to!
Getting back to the Blue Danube Waltzes posting, it as a transcription borrowed from the Schultz-Evler version and arranged for 2 pianos by Abram Chasins, a pianist, composer, teacher, and more. Chasins (1903-1987) studied piano at Juilliard with Ernest Hutcheson and at Curtis with Josef Hofman. He was on the piano faculty at Curtis, and performed his 1st Piano Concerto, and later his 2nd, with the Philadelphia Orchestra. From 1946-1965, he was Music Director of WQXR in NYC.
Pianists going back to Liszt and company could transcibe and perform works, mainly for orchestra or from operas, with such gratifying results. For centuries, symphonies were arranged for the piano. Liszt gave us all 9 of Beethoven's; how else would pre-radio audiences hear them if they had no access to a major orchestra. For honing sight-reading skills, the Haydn Symphonies arranged for piano duet are ideal, and unlike solo reading, there is no stopping! The art of transcibing was a natural progression for the great pianists after Liszt, e.g. Tausig, Busoni, Rachmaninoff, Cziffra, Horowitz, Pletnev, Volodos, Wild, to name a few. The sonorities of the piano, and multiple pianos, are endless and envious.
Joe Di Piazza