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Can't Waltz?


This page contains a brief, illustrated history of the development of the waltz's partners in the mid-19th century ballroom. During the first half of the century the waltz migrated from being something regarded as obscene to something that could be danced at court. Even so, Queen Victoria wrote just before her 1840 marriage that she was looking forward to dancing the waltz at last as it was unthinkable for a man to put his hand round the waist of an unmarried lady of quality. So, if you couldn't waltz what could you dance?


By the 1820's the Viennese dance programmes had the galop (variously spelled), the ecossaise, the cotillons and the contredanse , apart from  the landler and the waltz. There was also a plethora of rustic dances. Only the galop, waltz and landler survived much beyond 1835 to any significant extent.

All of the "facts" on this page have been culled in about five minutes from internet sources by me. I am not an historian or a musicologist (... or a musician ... or a writer ... or a web designer) so everything here should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Do not base your thesis on this!


Michael Pamer was a successful dance composer and director around 1820. These days he is most famous for having Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I in his orchestra at some time.


Here is a set of ecossaises, typical of the form. 


Mathias Schwarz was one of many dance music composers in Vienna in the 1820's. Most have fallen into oblivion, and I was tempted to say "Here's why". It's a pretty galop, but there is nothing to raise it above the level of half a hundred more written at the same time.

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The received internet wisdom is that while on tour in Paris in 1839, Johann Strauss sat in with the orchestra of Philippe Musard, the father of the quadrille, to study how to write one, and then subsequently brought the form back to Vienna. However, the Viennese quadrille in its final form has six movements – Pantalon, Été, Poule, Trénis, Pastourelle and Finale. The French version only has five. This set of contredanses and a subsequent set by Strauss, both written well before 1839, are Viennese quadrilles in all but name, having the six named movements described above. Lanner also wrote quadrilles and called them that before 1839, although they do not conform exactly to either the strict Viennese or French forms.



Cotillons (or cotillions) were a predecessor of the quadrille, danced by four pairs of dancers. The dance had several movements but, unlike the quadrille, these were all in triple time.

Cotillons were often based on themes from popular operas, in this case I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini.


The variously spelled galop continued to be popular in Vienna. Publishers often issued books with dozens of galops by different composers. Here is one of Lanner's later efforts.

The speed of the dance and the increasing weight of fashionable ladies' clothes led to the dance being banned in Vienna as a health risk.

Health and Safety gone mad!

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As stated above, while on tour in Paris in 1839, Johann Strauss sat in with the orchestra of Philippe Musard, the father of the quadrille, ostensibly to study how to write one, and then subsequently brought the form back to Vienna. 


For the reasons given above, I doubt this very much. Strauss is a much better composer than Musard and had no need of lessons. It would be good publicity for the visiting composer to sit in with the most famous dance band in Paris, however. I expect that is all it was.


Here is a Musard quadrille dating from 1839.


The quadrille itself was known in Vienna before Strauss's return from tour although, as can be seen in this Lanner piece, it had yet to settle down to its later six movement format.


Away from Vienna, the galop retained its popularity.

This Labitzky one is typical and is a follow up to his hit Immergrun Galop.


In the mid 1830's dance composers produced increasing numbers of marches. These were designed not only for military use but also as processional dances, to allow the fashionable crowd to play at soldiers.

This one was written for a Viennese regiment, but it's definitely more ballroom than parade ground.

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The replacement for the galop in Vienna was the polka, a dance imported from the Czech region of the empire.

In its initial form it was a walking pace dance but the need for a fast dance to replace the galop soon caused some rebranding.

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By the mid-1840's the Viennese quadrille had more or less assumed its final form. The quadrille Johann Strauss II wrote for his debut concert would not have caused too many dancers to lose their feet had it been played 50 years later.

Strauss wrote a surprisingly high proportion of quadrilles in his early years. They must have been popular with the public but perhaps not so popular with publishers as few have surviving orchestral parts.

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Strauss wrote this polka for the same concert.

It has a rather more Viennese flavour than his father's Salon polka above ehich retains the Czech rhythms.

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Strauss father wrote numerous marches throughout the 1840's including one of the most famous ever written.

This isn't it but it is a fine example of the breed.

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The quadrille rapidly became known as a showcase for popular airs of the day, operatic or otherwise.

This Fahrbach I example is typical, being based on themes from Verdi's Il Trovatore.

Some of these are in doubtful taste. This one is just about bearable.

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The polka fragmented into three distinct dances in the 1850's The oddest transformation is into the Polka Mazur, a dance in triple time using the rhythms of the mazurka.

This is a very early example of the type by August Lanner, the ill fated son of Joseph.

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Marches remained popular and by the mid 1850's had established a format that would remain the same throughout the rest of the century.

The Viennese march tempo is slightly slower than that common in the rest of Europe and the USA.

The Austrian army also marched to polkas, presumably the slower varieties!

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The polka schnell is a galop in all but name and outside of Vienna was often advertised as such.

Eduard, the third Strauss brother, had a production line for polka schnells (polkas schnell?!), probably his most successful genre.

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The polka mazur remained on the dance programme until the end of the century.

Here is one of the next generation of composers' essays in the form.

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The original slowish polka had speeded up and transformed itself into the polka schnell so that a replacement was required to give the dancers a breather. Musically, the polka française is little different from its predecessor.

It also remained on the cards till the end of the century.

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And to finish, another quick polka off the Eduard Strauss production line.

But it is rather good.

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