Ravel’s love for the Viennese waltz is evident in La valse, which originated as a tribute to Johann Strauss II. The thematic material originated from the musical sketch of an orchestral piece entitled Wien (Vienna) which Ravel started – but abandoned – in 1906. In reference to this work, he wrote to a friend, music critic Jean Marnold, “It is not subtle, what I am undertaking at the moment. It is a Grand Valse, a sort of homage to the memory of the Great Strauss, not Richard, the other – Johann!”
La valse exists in three versions – including this one for two pianos – all written between December 1919 and March 1920.
The preface to the score includes the following descriptive note: “Whirling clouds give glimpses, through rifts, of couples dancing. The clouds scatter, little by little. One sees an immense hall peopled with a twirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth, fortissimo. An imperial court, in or about 1855.”
The work begins with vague murmurings in the bass register, from which a waltz rhythm is established. This evolves into a great Viennese waltz, in the best tradition of Johann Strauss. After a while, however, the music grows more and more feverish; some of the earlier merriment returns as we reach the apotheosis of the waltz, bringing the work to its explosive conclusion.
-- Notes by Ileen Zovluck; © 1998 and 2001, Columbia Artists Management, Inc.