Johann strauss ii Viennese Blood Waltz
This month Bridget Mermikides reckons we should look at a piece in three-quarter time. And where better to start than with The Waltz King himself, the venerable Johann Strauss II.
The AusTriAn composer wrote so many engaging and popular waltzes (as well as other dance forms) in the late 19th century that he became known as The Waltz King. Growing up in a family of composers, strauss had a hugely busy, occasionally very stressful and fabulously successful musical career. he was essentially the premiere pop songwriter of the day, contributing significantly to the huge popularity of the Viennese waltz. There is an unfussy elegance to his writing that seems accessible to all, which might explain why his music has been used in several films and TV shows every year since 1930, including Titanic, Amélie and most famously his Blue Danube Waltz in stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey.
here i’ve arranged his famous Wiener Blut which translated as Viennese spirit, or Viennese Blood, and popularly known as the Viennese Blood Waltz. First performed by the Vienna philharmonic orchestra in 1873, it is in the light 3/4 waltz feel popular at the time, and actually includes a number of themes, from which i’ve selected and arranged the famous Waltz i which has an extremely simple yet stunningly effective melody.
originally written in c major (with a middle section in the key of G major), i’ve transposed it up a tone to D (with a middle section in A) and used drop D tuning so a wider range of the guitar may be used.
Technically this arrangement requires the ability to play a bass and chordal accompaniment using fretting hand thumb and fingers. This should have a light waltz feel underneath the melody, which is occasionally voiced in 3rds and 6ths. The challenge is to keep an effortless lilting rhythm while
I have ‘cheated’ by allowing the first bass note of each bar to sustain more than just one beat. This makes it easier but still retains the character.
retaining the lyrical simplicity of the melody. Those of you who caught our recent classical harmony article (GT226) should recognise a wealth of diatonic harmony and secondary function chords in this work. I firmly believe that a theoretical understanding of the basic progression can really help memorisation.
This arrangement is a good example of playing in three parts: melody, bass notes and middle accompaniment notes. When playing a solo guitar arrangement we have the technical challenge of playing all parts where an orchestral player only ever has one part to cope with. if you follow the score along with my recording, you may notice that i have ‘cheated’ by allowing the first bass note of each bar to sustain longer than just the one beat as written. This is deliberate; it makes it much easier to play without worrying about excessive bass note muting; the best thing about it is that it manages to retain the character of the music.
i do hope you enjoy playing this splendid piece. Why not practise it to strictly… with the sound turned down of course?