The inspiration for this blog comes from my love of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as well as wanting to write a blog that is slightly shorter and a bit lighter than some of my earlier ones. I shall be looking into one of my favourite waltz’s of all time – Shostakovich’s Waltz No.2 from Suite for Variety Orchestra. Shostakovich wrote this suite post-1956 as it is used as part of the soundtrack of the Russian film The First Elechon. The suite itself has 8 small movements in them, all of which are scored for a large orchestra (with the addition of a full saxophone section, a celeste and two pianos). In a composers note on the score, Shostakovich writes that any amount of the movements can be played at any one time, as well as in any order the conductor pleases. This adds a personal effect for the conductor/orchestra as it can be made a much more personal suite.
The second waltz is probably the most famous out of all the movements, probably due to its affiliation with film. As well as that it is an incredibly charming piece of music that is accessible to listen to. The waltz is only about 3 minutes long, and somehow its just very recognisable. Starting with a standard waltz accompaniment in 3/4 by the strings and snare drum, the main theme is played on alto saxophone, which is an interesting choice, seeing as saxophones were rarely used in classical orchestras. The tune is charming and very pleasing to listen to which gives such an impact when the full orchestra start layering in after the first solo line with the main theme. A lush sound is made by the strings at this point and it really highlights the delightful writing from Shostakovich.
This piece wavers between Eb major and C minor (relative major/minor keys) which gives it a steady feel in terms of tonality, which I think will appeal to a lot more people. The use of tuned percussion and bells is incredibly alluring for the listener as it creates a kind of comedic value, but Shostakovich still holding his musical integrity. The strings a bit later play a new theme which is accompanied by the snare drum and an ‘oom pa pa’ accompaniment from the winds and brass. The trumpets then take this new theme on and it creates a nice contrast to the rich string sound. This leads into my favourite section of the waltz – the trombone solo. A wonderful recap of the first theme is played by a solo trombone which is so very inviting for the listener as it emphasises the instrument as well as carrying on with the witty novelty of the piece.
The togetherness is something that is very important within any dance pieces, and this one really highlights and emphasises the whole varied orchestra working together to create music that people can move to. This piece is also nicknamed ‘Russian Waltz’ as it is heard in a Russian film in the waltz scene (fancy that?!) and if you went by the original order of the suite it comes seventh out of eight. Some have commented that this piece is somewhat depressing and gives out a lot of negative feelings, which I can kind of understand/hear, though I don’t agree myself! Shostakovich was a prominent 20th century Russian composer who I will be delving into in more depth in a later blog!
This charming little number is well worth 3:45 minutes of your time, even if you just need a bit of a pick-me-up or are having a naff day, take a listen to this waltz and you’ll have more of a smile on your face I’m sure! (Especially if you watch the video I have suggested below, it’s great to watch!)
A fantastic recording of Waltz No.2
Johann Strauss Orchestra – André Rieu