Sunday, February 9, 2014

Waltzing Through the Balkans

It is my personality alone that has brought back the waltz and made it a global craze.
Andre Rieu

Music from the Balkans is best known for its uneven rhythms and odd time signatures.

Western classical and popular music, for the most part, has an even number in the time signature. A notable exception is the waltz, a dance in 3/4 time.

The waltz originated as an Austrian folk dance, the Ländler, native to southern Germany (Bavaria) and Austria. The most renowned composer of waltzes was Johann Strauss, Junior; although the Viennese waltz did not begin with him. His father Johann Senior and his friend Josef Lanner took Austrian folk tunes and dressed them up for the sophisticated audiences in Vienna and its environs. Their music became part of the classical music repertoire worldwide.

Here is an example of a waltz borrowed from folk music, the Styrian Dances by Josef Lanner. Styria (Steiermark, in German) is a region in southeastern Austria; it shares a border with Slovenia, part of a country that no longer exists, Yugoslavia.

The fame of the waltz traveled far and wide throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it spread to Hungary, where Emmerich Kalman and Franz Lehar incorporated it into their operettas. It went further down the Danube, River of Many Names (Johann Strauss' most famous waltz was about it), into the Balkans, and even as far east as Russia.

The next waltz is from Croatia.  The  tamburitza orchestra gives it a distinctly Croatian sound.  I don't know if this is a folk tune or a piece that was composed. The recording sounds quite old. By the way, much of the music at folk dances comes from vintage recordings.

Diko Iliev, Bulgarian composer (best known for Dunavsko Horo), has a birthday this month on the 15th.  Although he composed many pieces based on Bulgarian folk dances such as daichovo, rachenitsa, elenino, and pravo, he wrote waltzes, too. The title of this one, translated from the Bulgarian is In the Vineyards Over Rabine.  I have no idea where Rabine is, but it is probably somewhere in Bulgaria, which is a big wine producing country.

In Bulgaria, February is the month of St. Trifon the Pruner (Trifon Zarezan); it is the time when the vintners get to work pruning the vines to make them ready for the next growing season. It it is also celebrated with lots of wine!

And finally, here is a very famous waltz from Romania by a composer who is practically unknown nowadays. Pop culture buffs will recognize this piece because it has undergone several incarnations.  One of them was  The Anniversary Song performed by Al Jolson (of classic movie fame), in The Jolson Story. The other was a song popular in Korea titled In Praise of Death. The woman who sang it died tragically at a very young age.

This version is the original, by a composer of Serbian descent who lived in Romania.  His name was Iosef Ivanovici and he was a bandmaster stationed in Galati. He had his first introduction to music when an elderly man gave him a flute.

He composed a number of pieces including hora, a dance based on Romanian folk tunes, and many other works, including waltzes, polkas, and marches. However, his best known composition was a waltz titled Waves of the Danube, also known under the German title Donauwellen.

By the way, the conductor in this video, Minseok Kang, ironically, is from Korea, and he conducts the Botosani Philharmonic Orchestra.  He is quite the character, and an excellent dancer!


My new blog Light and Shadow has now been launched! If you enjoy humor and satire, photos and poetry, stop by to visit!  I will be posting there about once a month. Eventually I plan to sell chapbooks of my poetry on this site, as well as feature anthologies where my work has been published.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Music

A Birthday Celebration and A Source of Inspiration (music by Diko Iliev)

Blessed Wine, Cursed Drinking:  A Look at St. Trifon, The Patron Saint of Vintners

The River of Many Names, Part 6: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs (if you like tamburitza music, you will love this)

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