From its very beginnings, the waltz was revolutionary. It still is.
Its roots are somewhat obscure – but what is known is that the first music labelled 'waltzen' (meaning 'to turn' in German) was a popular, spinning dance of peasants emanating from rural parts of Austria, Bavaria and Bohemia in the mid-eighteenth century...
It was danced in 3/4 time with an accent on the first beat of every measure. Each series of movements involved a turning step and a close. However the waltz was not initially a formal toffs’ dance with strict(ly) ballroom steps that must be adhered to - it was the art of grabbing the nearest desirable human being and whisking them around with reckless abandon. Much later, it became stuffy, institutionalized and commodified as is often the way with sub-cultural innovations...let’s reverse the fortune of the waltz and take it back to the scandalous excitement of its debauched beginnings.
In a direct parallel to the acid house movement of the late 1980's the waltz was the first dance scene that anybody and everybody could immediately take part in as it broke down rigid class barriers.
One Bavarian citizen of the period commented:
"The people here are excessively fond of the pleasure of dancing; they need only hear the music of a waltz to begin to caper, no matter where they are. The public dance floors are visited by ALL classes; these are the places where ancestors and rank seem to be forgotten and aristocratic pride laid aside. Here we see artisans, artists, merchants, councillors, barons, counts and excellencies dancing together with waitresses, women of the middle class, and ladies. Every stranger who stays here for a while is infected by this dance malady."
Doesn't this remind us of spontaneous outbreaks of dancing in service station car-parks around the M25 with the double-barrelled named “Mr. Bigs” of acid house unified with loved-up football firms and everyone else in between?
Reaching the suburbs and shocking many when it was first introduced, the waltz became very fashionable in Vienna around the 1780's, spreading across the globe in the years to follow...
The waltz involved robust moves and lots of space. Often partners were hurled into the air in moves that occasionally resulted in injury or miscarriage. Imagine the nimble-toed dandies and their wenches hot-footing it over discarded foetuses on the dancefloor!
The waltzers were twirling themselves into a state of uncontrolled euphoria and the three quarter rhythm was here to stay...
But what was the big scandal about the waltz anyway?
Religious leaders almost unanimously regarded the waltz as vulgar and sinful just as they did rock 'n' roll a couple of centuries later. As far as they were concerned this was 'The Devil's Dance'...
It was also the first dance termed 'The Forbidden Dance' (not the tango as is widely believed). This was because although there were some European dances with erotic undertones, the waltz was unlike these in that you didn't need a dance master to instruct you in its ins and outs. Therefore the scandalous touching was indiscriminate...how very rude.
Couples were described as clinging to each other with the lady wrapping her concealing cloak around them both as they whirled off to the darker recesses of the candlelit halls where they could indulge in some hasty oral, anal finger blasting or suchlike. Not so badly regarded by the family if the guy was a Duke at an elite ball - but probably not so well received if he was a social climbing delinquent who the “lady” had met moments before.
18th century Vienna was the music capital of the world, not unlike New York or London of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. It had become the vibrant musical hub of the romantic movement, which was a new social trend that rebelled against the conventional rules, well-ordered symmetry and emotional restraint that characterized the classicism of the previous era.
The romantic movement placed emphasis on the spontaneous unpredictabilty of individual expression and the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect.
The romantics believed that art was meant to educate, enlighten and entertain the masses, not just satisfy the privileged few. Social rank and status no longer dictated participation in the creation or consumption of art.
Obviously this climate provided a rich and fertile breeding ground for the evolution of music and dance and gave birth to some splendidly forward-thinking, maverick spirits.
Romantic composers Haydn, Mozart and Schubert all wrote early waltzes - as did, later on of course, our old friend, Ludwig Van. But the true Godfathers of the Viennese waltz were Johann Strauss Sr. and Josef Lanner.
You cannot imagine the wild enthusiasm that these two men generated in Vienna. Newspapers went into raptures over each new waltz, and innumerable articles appeared about Lanner and Strauss.
However it was Strauss's son - also named Johann - who is predominantly associated with the style, having created the most famous waltz tunes of all. Hence the infamy of 'The Blue Danube' and 'Wine, Women and Song' (which was of course the 'Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll' of it's day).
Johann Strauss Jr. was the musician most regularly awarded the accolade 'The Waltz King' which is comparable to being voted the world's number one DJ and winning a Grammy and the Mercury Prize all at the same time.
We all love the pink-wigged piss-artist, Mozart, who though not a waltz purist was around the Vienna scene in the early days and was a huge fan.
In one of his operas, 'Don Giovanni', three waltzes are played at once in one scene! This is perhaps akin to a present day rock or hip-hop icon getting drum’n’bass remixes.
Another Mozart classic, written in 1782 was his choral song, 'Lick me in the Arse' ('Leck Mich im Arsch'). Though not strictly a waltz as it was an acapella piece, it was in 3/4 time and could therefore be waltzed to. Or indeed, licked to, in 3/4 time.
Incidentally an anagram of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is 'A famous German waltz God'. As is 'Gorgeous waltz fan, Madam' and also, if you like; 'Zealous warm 'n' mad faggot'.
Amadeus was THE proto punk rocker of the romantic age.
By the early 1800's, super-chic Paris had fallen in love with the waltz followed by the rest of Europe. For this we can largely thank Napoleon Bonaparte. If he hadn't wanted all of Europe for himself, we might never have known the waltz. The Congress of Vienna held in 1814 was sound-tracked by the now ubiquitous waltz. Its purported major function was the divvying-up of the small princedoms of Europe, following Napoleon's disastrous invasions of here, there and everywhere - but because of the glitterati in attendance, it became known as the 'Waltzing Congress'.
The waltz had begun its triumphal conquest of the whole continent and could not be obstructed by the violent protests of hostile moralists warning the people of the evil consequences of this new dance fever.
The waltz was first imported to England by the notorious drunkard and eccentric, The Prince Regent. Renowned for building that glorified drug den the Brighton Pavillion, there could not have been a finer ambassador for the 'riotous and indecent' new dance craze that was poised to sweep the nation.
This review of his first event appeared in The Times on 16th July, 1816:-
But as history repeats itself over and over again, the outrage only served to increase the popularity of the waltz...
Before becoming widely accepted by the establishment the waltz had also found it's natural home in the secretive and elitist 'Hellfire Clubs' that were popular among the more anarchic and free thinking people of the era. These truly subversive fraternities were the precursors to underground “after hours parties” as we know them today. Adopting a literally anything goes policy including masked orgies, bestiality and indulging in the new fangled opiates imported from South East Asia, the hedonistic waltz rhythm provided the perfect playlist...
The waltz has obviously had a profound influence on virtually every form of modern music popping up its pretty, bobbing head throughout pop culture as we know it today...
Many iconic artists from 50’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins(‘I put a Spell on You’) and Elvis' ('Are You Lonesome Tonight?'), through 60's drug-frazzled misfits like Syd Barrett ('Long Gone') and Nico (Winter's Song ','Ode to Lenny Bruce'). Not forgetting those experimental Motown B-sides e.g.Mary Wells(‘Litle Boy’), 70's punk rock heroes The Damned ('These Hands'), The Clash ('Rebel Waltz') and Siouxsie and the Banshees ('Playground Twist' and 'Melt') – all of whom have waltzes in their armoury.
Then of course we have The Stranglers’ sublime 'Golden Brown' and 'Waltzinblack' in the 80's, along with super-maverick chick Kate Bush's 'Army Dreamers' - and many tracks by the groundbreaking Cocteau Twins.
All in all, there are many ground-breaking, pioneering artists who've swung to the humorously erotic feel of the waltz, often while at their creative zenith - or whilst seemingly tapping into some alternate 3/4 tempo universe.
However, we are still awaiting the moment the waltz makes its presence felt in contemporary electronic party music. There is the odd, random track here and there; such as 'Heaven' from hip-hop legend Nas(which is a bit too fast unless you’re an expert waltzer),Kanye West’s ‘Spaceship’, the ahead-of-its-time UK garage tune 'Think about me' by Artful Dodger - or odds and sods of the less accessible and so-called 'intelligent dance music '.
In 1919, H.L.Melken wrote:
"The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it returns with a bang... It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely... The waltz in fact is magnificently improper, the art of tone turned lubricious..."
What the world really needs now is a FUTUREWALTZ REVOLUTION... pubic regions once again in close proximity... romance and swagger once again on the dancefloor... albeit to a fat bass and machine drums seemingly eating themselves.
So now is the call to the three-step revolution. There is no time to waste. Channel the spirits of Sid and Nancy and summon the ghosts of Fred and Ginger. Envision Los Angeles Krumpers falling in love on a Twister mat and let yourself go...
Seize each other, intertwine, misbehave, come together. Bang. Wreak havoc on the dance-floor, in the bedroom, behind the palace curtains, in the parks and fields, on the high street - let the balls drop.
Twirl like a Viennese whirling dervish spiked with acid.