Waltz No.1

Frédéric Chopin

Waltz No.1 in Eb major

Op. 18, B. 62 • “Grande valse brillante”

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Frédéric Chopin's published waltzes (actually valses -- a subtle but significant stylistic distinction) fall into two distinct categories: sparkling, highly ornamented jewels suitable, to at least some degree, for actual ballroom use; and more introspective, often rather melancholy, miniatures that are far removed from the fashionable Viennese waltzes of Joseph Lanner or Johann Strauss I. The earliest of the published waltzes (actually fifth in order of composition), the Grande Valse brillante in E flat major, Op.18, is an example of the former.

This aristocratic work presents its young composer in a particularly extroverted mood; surely the main theme of the work, introduced after a lively four-bar fanfare, is one of Chopin's most famous. The composer toys with a secondary, repeated-note gesture (marked leggieramente) before making a happily-chosen move to D flat major; the chromatic figure in parallel thirds that runs throughout a good part of this central section provides a good taste of the composer's more mature style. An extended version of the opening fanfare ushers in the reprise of the initial tune, which, upon reiteration some forty bars later, is broken up by the unexpected intrusion of two bar-long grand pauses.

While some, including the famous musicologist Huneker, have felt the (perhaps overly) effervescent quality of the Opus 18 Waltz to be vulgar, others see a kind of sly humor in the work's irrepressibly joyous tone. Whatever the Waltz's true sentiment is, Chopin, having visited Vienna and found the Viennese waltz to be entirely foreign to his nature (declaring, upon his return to Paris, that "I am still unable to play valses), seems wholly determined to reinvent the form in his own image.

Done