Valse Romantique (1925)

Valse Romantique for piano was written in October 1925, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Universal Edition, and was dedicated to Emil Hertzka. The original and sophisticated stylisation of the Viennese waltz naturally brings to mind Ravel, but mainly because of the striking contrast between the ways in which the two composers approached the subject. The delicate, almost unreal, impressionistic vision of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and the poem La Valse contrasts with Szymanowski’s sharp, gaudy and complicated picture with its expressionistic features. It is a somwhat curious fantasy, which combines parody and melancholy, with a pinch of the uncanny and a puzzling smile. The expressive ambiguity of the work calls forth associations with a mask worn at a ball, placed over a totally different face; in fact, quite a number of features link this composition with the piano aesthetics of Masques op. 34. The 182-bar Valse Romantique is a complex composition, both in its form and expression, richly undulating with continuously changing moods, following and transforming various threads. The somewhat jocular beginning seems to be a preparation, with initial hesitations, for a grand waltz. We then have a parade of various motifs and emotions: the lyrical-mazurka kind (the most beautiful ones, close to op. 50), the sarcastic-grotesque ones, as in Tantris le Bouffon, those powerful and consumed with passion, evoking an abandoned whirl of a dance (two climaxes in the composition), the dramatic or the reflective. The harmonic language is often sharp and biting and at the same time full of tonal weighting; the work is within the A flat major framework. At the end it returns to the hesitant phrases of the introduction, but now with an admixture of a sad, somewhat weepy melody. Szymanowski was not happy with this composition, which is probably the reason why Valse Romantique was not given an opus number and was not published in Vienna. Its manuscript was found by Teresa ChyliƄska in 1967, and published in the same year.