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Marble Surface

Johann Strauss I

Loreley-Rhein-Klänge, Walzer, Op. 154

00:00 / 08:23

My transcription of the Neuausgabe Johann Strauss Vater score of this waltz.

Every Christmas I do a transcription of a very famous piece as a present to myself. I get to hear the pieces as I would like them to be played. This was supposed to be the 2023 piece so I bought the score. I have had several goes at orchestrating the piano score and was never convinced by them. When I looked at the score I was horrified. I can cope with not getting every note right but I had totally missed the spirit of the piece. In my defence, it was mostly down to ignorance but also being influenced by the many recordings of the piece by conductors who should have known better making even more of a mess of it. I thought I had better put the record straight.

As far as I can tell only the Marco Polo recording uses anything like the urtext score and I find that recording very flat. My personal opinion is that if you’re listening to a waltz of this period and you find yourself counting one-two-three then it’s too slow.

Most (all?) of the other recordings seem to be based on the same score which has been modernised to conform to later expectations of the waltz. The best of them do work, but it isn’t what Strauss intended. The urtext edition is mostly based on the Haslinger first edition published parts of 1844. (A copy is sitting on a shelf in the Wiener Stadt und Landesbibliothek, a couple of kilometers from the Musikverein if my geography serves. It took me about two working days to produce my score. You’d have thought if you were putting on a concert for global TV consumption you might take the time to look and see if the score you were going to play was accurate. Just a thought.)

This piece is very lightly scored even in comparison to Lanner. It uses more or less the same orchestra that Lanner does in his late works (minus the ophicleide and some percussion) but not used anywhere near as forcefully. He does have four trumpets but they are not the snarling beasts you find in most late Lanner scores. They very rarely play together and never louder than forte. There is a piccolo player that plays only for 16 bars, at a time when the flute player is silent and could therefore have played them. When the piccolo player plays second flute, for all of 16 bars, it is doubling the clarinet at the octave and probably wouldn’t be missed. The wind parts are mostly melodic, not filling in harmonies.

It is written for a small orchestra. There is a lot of detail in the winds that I have never heard before as it gets swamped by the massed strings in the big orchestra recordings. The dynamics and articulations are worthy of note, for example the eight notes before the last chord are staccato. Too many other examples to list here.

Above all, it is a lot quieter than you would suppose. There is hardly any fortissimo writing in the piece and even the big climax in the coda, much beloved of the VPO’s trombone section is one trombone playing forte and staccato, admittedly doubling cellos, basses and bassoon (singular!).

This is without doubt Strauss’s masterpiece. I can’t think of another mature waltz that comes close. I do really like some of the early waltzes but the style is so different it’s not really possible to compare them with this. There are some very good tunes here but it is the overall structure that makes it special I think. All of the tunes fit, the opening motif is inspired and the coda is very well put together, with the repeat of the opening motif to close the piece a master stroke.

I used to think the Blue Danube was the most hacked about piece of music in the canon, but this must run it close. Of course there is always the Radetzky March as an alternative candidate. Maybe for Christmas!

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