Marble Surface

Josef Strauss

Dorfschwalben aus Österreich, Walzer, Op. 164

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00:00 / 08:02

This is 2020’s annual Christmas folly. It is my transcription of a set of first edition parts of this very famous waltz by Josef Strauss.

I think Josef Strauss is the best of the Viennese waltz composers. I don’t do much of his work, certainly not the mature work, as full scores are difficult to come by and his orchestration is so much better than mine. Most of his published work has been recorded so there isn’t really much point.

However, I did want to see how he did it and this set of parts was free to download from the Austrian National Library. As a word of warning, when I downloaded the parts there were a few pages missing which the library sent me within a day of my asking. I don’t know whether the online copy has been updated.

The parts have not been played from and are full of errors. Most were fairly obvious but some are a bit doubtful. As I’ve said, Strauss is a clever orchestrator and what in others would probably be a mistake might be something he has done for effect. For example, somewhere in here the orchestra plays a forte but the second trumpet part has it marked a bar early. It could be a mistake but the extra nudge works perfectly musically.

There are some things in the score, particularly phrasing and articulation, that are usually not played as marked and the piece is quite often played on a huge orchestra. The Strauss orchestra of the period was about 40 strong. The brass section has 2 trumpets, 4 horns and 1 trombone, although a second note appears now and then in the trombone part. There are just 2 percussion players, including timpani. There is a lot of internal detail that gets lost in the mush if everything is doubled and played on a 90 piece orchestra.

I have played this as written, up to speed and without a lot of rubato, as a waltz for dancing, not as a symphonic poem. There is one oddity. In the first time bar of the second section of waltz section two there is a double bar after the phrase ending with a pause over it. It’s not a rit. or any kind of held back note, it is a break. I’ve never heard it played. I have done it, but I can’t make it sound convincing to my ears. There is a tendency when doing a famous piece to make it sound like your favourite recording. I do try to avoid that. Few composers of this period put explicit interpretation of this kind in the score (because everyone knew how to play a waltz!) and when they do it is often not what I expect listening with my 21st century ears. 150 years of “interpretation” has lost us the knack, I fear.

To cap it all, it was a nightmare getting the canary to come in on time. I tried a swallow but it was hopeless.