Joseph Lanner: Viennese Dances

review lanner x1 cong

We’d heard of Mr Lanner — he invented formal Viennese waltz, taking a peasant dance and turning it to a refined art form enjoyed by high society — but we didn’t know that a “waltz” was the closed-hold dance position, which explains the sleeve notes (see below).

We also didn’t know it was danced at twice the rate — 180 beats per minute v 90bpm — of the slow waltz that men in Pringle sweaters who own caravans so love today. By comparison, hip hop is 80-115pm, and house music around 118-135bpm, and it’s only when you get to drum and bass (160-180bpm) and old style jungle (160-170bpm) that you get to the same speed as Lanner’s waltz. (For classicists, presto is 168-200bpm).

We mention the modern dances not to sound cool (though we are, obviously) but because the sleeve notes say that pieces such as the opening Tarantula Galop were the sweaty, down and dirty dances of their day: these “immoral” dances were in demand from “dance frenzied” youth rebelling against the “bourgeois smugness” of the age — ie your parents and their stupid pop music, while you want to get into the mosh pit at a gig with a sweary band and stand next to the opposite sex. We assume the dances were immoral because of the close touching that “waltz” would suggest.

We’d suggest that the waltz today as a musical form is one that most people forego, the waltz being a rather schmaltzy style of music seen only in period dramas, Stanley Kubrick movies and satirical black and white films in which a crusty colonel makes an ass of himself.

Tarantula Gallop is such a tune, but we forgave it because it was a rebel tune — Lanner even snuck in a sample from a march normally played by the Second Viennese Citizens’ Regiment, which Google informs us were the gendarmes of the day, mounting pickets and carrying out surveillance. Probably a bit pompous.

A whole album of galloping dance tunes from the 19th century would probably be too much, so as the album goes on, you get music that’s less obviously waltz: The Union of Elizabeth and Catherine takes a dance form in places but not others, and is encased by trumpet fanfares, while the Court Ball Dances is even less obviously formal dance music; it’s still the lively kind of music that might provoke people into pretending to conduct, air conducting the distant ancestor of air guitar. This is not the case all the way through: Midnight Waltz is very waltz-ish.

We’ve enjoyed this CD and continue to do so: it’s lively music that suits being in the kitchen and washing up; it would probably have been the gym playlist of its day. If you sort-of like waltz but hesitate buying anything for fear of excess cheese and cymbals, we recommend this. It’s still Viennese Waltz but it’s good fun and with its rebelliousness, high bpm and potential for air conducting, surprisingly modern in approach.

The Orchestre de Cannes is an interesting tale in itself, and Wolfgang Dörner conducts. Out on Naxos (8573552).

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