University of Birmingham
The Viennese Waltz and Post-Classical Syntax
Despite the syntactic innovations of radical romanticism and modernism, a succession of post-classical musical practices dominated nineteenth-century popular style and popular taste and continue to shape everyday western musical experience to the present. This paper formalizes Peter van der Merwe’s percipient identification of ‘parlour modes’ in nineteenth-century music. The music based on these ‘modes’ emerged at the end of the eighteenth century in triple-metre dances that succeeded the minuet. Its syntax was transmitted via the Viennese waltz to many other musical genres that were not typically in triple metre, including marching-band music, operetta, the drawing-room ballad and the songs of the music hall. Interplay between the music of parlour modes and nineteenth-century art music was constant. This mutual influence came to define a broad and resilient musical ‘middlebrow’ on precise syntactic terms, to which popular musicians have returned time and again down to the present.
This paper traces transformations of eighteenth-century formal functions and galant schemata in the Viennese waltz. Adaptations to late eighteenth-century syntax include compound duple metre relative to classical tight-knit theme structures; and upper-third melodic doubling relative to galant schemata. The models on which the ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’ of Classical themes are based can support independent waltz sections, with a ‘big IV’ underlined in hyper-metrically regular expanded cadential progressions. However a sense of classical thematic ‘completeness’ is usually maintained in the end. Examples are drawn from music by Mozart, Beethoven, Lanner, Strauss Snr and Chopin.
Matthew Riley’s research and teaching covers music theory and analysis, Classical instrumental music, nineteenth-century music history and British music c. 1900.