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The Microcosm of London: Astley’s Amphitheatre

Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of. Edward has heard from Henry this morning. He has not been at the races at all, unless his driving Miss Pearson over to Rowling one day can be so called. We shall find him there on Thursday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 1796

In 1808, Rudolph Ackerman (famous for his Repository of Arts and Literature) published a multi volume set entitled The Microcosm of London, wherein, he described various locals and hotspots with a tour guide’s enthusiasm, leaving an illustrated, detailed record of the London that Austen knew. Astley’s Amphitheatre, famous for both the riding school and circus type show they offered was just such an attraction, attended by Jane and her brothers on at least one trip to London in 1796. Advertising for the Amphitheatre offered such delights as an eight year old girl who could ride two galloping horses, simultaneously, Astley’s son, who was reported to dance the minuet on the backs of three running horses, and of course, ‘the Little Military-Learned Horse’ who could, it is said, “play dead, set a tea table and heat a kettle to make tea, jump through hoops, play hide-and-seek, do mathematical calculations and fire a pistol.”*

Continue reading The Microcosm of London: Astley’s Amphitheatre

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John Playford: The English Dancing Master

Dancing Master John Playford

John Playford: The English Dancing Master

John Playford was born in Norwich in 1623, and died in London in 1686. His father

was a mercer, also named John. Local records show that he was one of a large family, many of whom were scriveners or stationers. While his brother Matthew was recorded at a grammar school, there is no record that John did so. It is likely that his education came from the almonry, or choir-school, which was attached to the cathedral, and it was here he probably acquired a knowledge of music and the “love of Divine Service”.

After his father’s death in 1639, Playford was apprenticed to John Benson, a London publisher of St. Dunstan’s Churchyard on Fleet Street. After seven years, he earned his freedom and became a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationer’s Company in 1647, which enabled him to trade as a publisher. Playford secured the tenancy of a shop in the porch of the Temple Church, the place from where all his publications were issued until his retirement in 1684. His publications included political tracts, miscellaneous non-musical works, music theory, lessons for various instruments, collections of songs, and psalms. His books had a ready market with the law students of the Inns of Court, or Law School, that passed his shop each day.

By personal inclination and family, Playford was a Royalist. One of his political tracts was The Perfect Narrative of the Tryal of the King, as well as others relating to the executions of royalist nobility. In November of 1649 a warrant was issued for his arrest as well as his associates. Nothing was heard of him for a year until, on November 7, 1650, a stationer’s register was entered for The English Dancing Master. Apparently things had cooled off enough for him to return.

While it was theoretically obligatory to register works, Playford registered so few of his music books before publication, it is not known whether The Dancing Master was his first music book or not. It was certainly not his last, for seventeen editions of that work alone were published.

As well as a bookseller and music publisher, in 1653 Playford was admitted clerk to the Temple Church, an office he held to the end of his life. He devoted himself to the repair and maintenance of the building, and also promoted the seemly ordering of the services there. He was also vicar-choral of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It was about this time he married Hannah Allen, daughter of Benjamin Allen, a publisher of Cornhill. The Playfords moved to Islington in 1655, where his wife established a boarding-school for girls. She maintained this school until her death in 1679, upon which Playford returned to London, taking a house in Strand.

An examination of the court books of the Stationer’s Company shows that in 1661, Playford was called to the livery. In 1681, the king wrote a letter to the master and wardens that Playford and others listed be admitted to the court of assistants. He retired in 1684 in favor of his son Henry and another young man, Richard Carr, although a number of books retained his imprint until 1686. Henry also published from the same shop in the Temple Church until 1690.

Playford’s will requested that he be buried in either the Temple Church or in St. Faith’s, the stationer’s chapel in the undercroft of St. Paul’s. Unfortunately no record of his burial is known in either place.

More about The English Dancing Master:

In 1651 Charles I was under arrest and about to be beheaded. People of Royalist leanings were persecuted. Between political unrest and the periodic outbreaks of plague that threatened the city of London, people were beginning to seek refuge, education and leisure either in their homes or away from the city. A do-it-yourself book on social dancing was long overdue.

It is fairly well known that John Playford was a bookseller and publisher, not a dancing master. It is also fairly well accepted that he did not write The English Dancing Master. Scholars have determined that six to eight different contributors actually wrote the book, some covering dances known for years, while others may have been penned specifically for the book. A fair number of typographical errors still cause confusion today, but for the most part, the steps are clear.

Playford published the first seven editions between 1651 and 1686, his son Henry published the eighth to twelfth editions, and John Young the remaining six. In A Musical Banquet, a 1651 Playford publication, The English Dancing Master is advertised “… to be played on the Treble Violl or Violin”.

Sadie, Stanley, editor. New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London.

Keller, Kate van Winkle and Shiner, Genevieve. The Playford Ball, 103 Early English Country Dances. A Capella Books and the Country Dance and Song Society, Chicago.

Barlow, Jeremy. The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1651 – ca. 1728). Faber Music Ltd., London.

Millar, John Fitzhugh. Elizabethan Country Dances. Thirteen Colonies Press, Williamsburg, Va.

Written by Fidelico de Rocheforte for Volume 3 of Letter of Dance.

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How to Dance Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot


To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love
-Pride and Prejudice

Many English Country Dances, like American contra dances, are danced to a pair of phrases of music played AABB — i.e. the first phrase is played twice, and then the second twice. In contrast, the generally accepted version of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot–a version usually attributed to Pat Shaw–has the structure AAB. This is the version given here.

When Cecil Sharp interpreted this dance for modern consumption, he decided he could not get all the instructions to fit into so little music, so he published a dance to fit AABB. Cecil Sharp’s version is also widely known, and is given in Palmer’s Pocket Playford.* This dance was originally printed in Playford’s Dancing Master in 1695.

Although neither this particular dance nor the duple minor formation it is in were being used in Jane Austen’s day, the dance is a very ‘cinegenic’ dance. I’m not here giving the Cecil Sharp version which has a longer B part dance sequence to fill out a repeated B part (even though the original clearly says play the second strain but once). I’m here giving a closer-to-original Dancing Master (1695-1728) version. This is the sequence they dance in the movie Emma, but in that movie they dance the sequence just once then go into a snowballing cast off. P&P2 has the same non-Sharp B part as given below and used in Emma (with the dramtaic up and back) but for the A part has everyone r.h. turn, l.h. back, then 1s cross, cast, cross back up. I suspect this change from the original was probably inspired by the need for a more dramatic face-to-face beginning to a dance that was to be the vehicle for a ‘battle’ between the two protaganists, without giving away altogether a dance which offers the lovely, camera-confronting, film-effective, 4-in-line (with Darcy and Elizabeth ‘trapped’ side-by-side in the middle) up and back figure.**

A Maggot when referred to in country dancing means An extravagant notion; a whim.

Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot as danced in P&P2


The first Man crosses over and goess back to back with the 2nd Woman.

Then the 1st woman crosses over and goes back to back with the 2nd Man at the same time (in short, 1s cross right shoulder to other side- possibly giving right hands momentarily, then after a bow to 2s below, do-si-do-ing with 2s below)


Then meet and turn Shoulder over right shoulder with 6 steps (2 bars) then the 1st man turns the 2nd Woman with his right hand, and 1st Woman turns the 2nd Man with her right hand at the same time in 12 steps (4 bars), then 1st Couple take left hands and turn into their own places with 6 steps (2 bars)


The 1st couple cross over into the 2nd couple’s place by pulling on left hand, passing left shoulder and casting down on opposite side while 2s meet partner and lead up, and go back to back with their Partner while 2s cast out with 6 steps onto outside end, then all four lead up hands abrest with 2 steps and a rise, then back with 2 steps and a rise, then 1st man and Woman cross (Woman in front) as they lead up and go the partial Figure through; and cast off into the 2nd couple’s place while 2s meet partner again and lead up.


**Information from Earthly Delights and The Hawaiian Contra Dance Page.

Mister Beveridge’s Maggot appears on Popular English Country Dances of the 17th & 18th Centuries by the Claremont Country Dance Band and is also part of a medley on the CD English Country Dances from Playford’s Dancing Master by the Broadside Band.

Sheet Music for this song can be found on the Republic of Pemberley’s website in Easy and Complex formats.


*Thanks to Hugh Stewart of the Round, in Cambridge, for this information.

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How to Waltz

Few sights are as romantic as that of a couple, absorbed in each other, sweeping across the floor in a dreamy waltz. It is certainly the highlight of many a fairy tale and even Jane Austen allows her couples ample time on the dance floor. While the English Country Dance is most associated with Jane Austen’s novels, many will be surprised to discover that by the early 1800’s the waltz had also made it’s way across the channel and was being danced by the more progressive of the Beau Monde. By 1814, the waltz, originally considered decadent, was finally sanctioned as appropriate behaviour at the ultra fashionable Almacks, though the patronesses there still kept a firm hand on who was allowed permission to dance “the godless…Spinner”. No debutante could waltz unless one of the patronesses had given her permission, something that was only granted to girls “whose deportment was considered impeccable.”*

The following easy to follow tips and instructional video are provided by Wikihow.




  1. Find a song that is a slow 3/4 song because anything faster would be a different type of waltz, with different set of guidelines. Though you can keep the basic waltz steps and apply it across different genres.
  2. Learn the basic handhold (“frame”). The right hand of the man will be on the woman’s shoulder blade, rarely the waist or under her armpit. The lady’s left hand is on the partner’s shoulder or upper arm.
  3. Girls, mirror what your partner does. But that’s only for the beginning. If you are trying to learn it and become a competitive dancer, you need a real coach.
  4. After the dance, if both partners are comfortable with it, give each other a hug. After all, it is a close position dance. Nothing better to finish it off with a close embrace. The traditional ending, especially for someone you are not close with, would be a simple “thank you for the dance.”

Many classical composers have written waltzes, including:

  • The Strauss family—notably Johann Strauss Senior and Junior, the latter being composer of the famous The Blue Danube, were perhaps the most famous of all waltz composers. Joseph and Eduard Strauss also wrote many waltzes.
  • Josef Lanner composed many Viennese-style waltzes.
  • Joseph Haydn composed classical waltzes.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations are based on a simple waltz by Anton Diabelli.
  • Frédéric Chopin’s waltzes for the piano are well known, among them the Minute Waltz.
  • Jean Sibelius’s orchestral Valse triste is an unusually slow, even morbid example of a waltz for full orchestra.
  • Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (originally for piano, but arranged by Ravel for orchestra) and orchestral La Valse are well known.
  • Ion Ivanovici, who created the famous waltz The Waves of the Danube
  • Impressionistic composer Claude Debussy’s Valse Romantique is an example of a post-Romantic waltz though, as characterised by this period of music, the work contains so many rhythmic changes and rubato that it is barely considered a waltz.
  • Many other 20th century composers have composed waltzes, including Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Stravinsky.

Composers who wrote waltzes during Jane Austen’s lifetime include Joseph Hayden, Ludwig Von Beethovan and Franz schubert.

Waltz instructions courtesy of The How To Manual that You can Edit. Additional information(*) from An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray.

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Jane Austen’s Wise Wit

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.–I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the
room, or the number of couples.”

– Pride and Prejudice

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
With this tongue-in-cheek admonishment, so like that of a dancing master
hired to prepare Darcy for society, begins one of the greatest romances
in literature. What is it that gives Jane Austen’s writing such timeless
appeal? For me, and many others I have spoken to, it is her keen
observation of human nature tempered by humor and the ultimate romance
of the playful, witty repartee between her hero and heroine. So often
movies and books that are represented as romantic lack an essential
element of romance– witty repartee. Perhaps this is due to the high
level of difficulty in composing humor that works.

It is no wonder that Jane Austen’s work would be so popular at a moment when there is a lack
of wit and humor in romantic entertainment. Playfulness and wit are
something we all look for in our romantic attachments. How often has a
female friend described the new man in her life to you as someone who
makes her laugh? We all seem to be looking for someone to share a few
laughs with on the road of life. There is also something so sexy about
being intellectually engaged with another which can only be improved by
the addition of humor.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
Jane Austen’s keen eye for the ridiculous in the foible’s of human
nature seems to be shared by the lively Elizabeth Bennet. We chuckle
when Elizabeth is likely at some pains to keep a straight face at Lady
Catherine’s dinner table when Sir William Lucas dutifully echoes every
compliment to Lady Catherine by his sycophant son-in-law Mr. Collins. We
all share in Elizabeth’s embarrassment at her misjudgments and
foolishness in being taken in by Wickham and letting her hurt pride rule
her opinion of Darcy. Austen’s heroines are so realistically written
that we grow to know and love them as friends. The heroines all have the
standard issue silly relatives and the ubiquitous family problems that
come with them. These character types are certainly familiar to all of
us, but presented with such wit that we must now smile at the unbearable
co-worker who is so like one of Austen’s characters.

Sharon Wagoner is the webmistress of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a treasure trove of little known information about the Georgian period. A fascinating collection!

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Regency Dancing

“…To be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in Love… ”
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

The late Eighteenth century brought great changes in both Europe and American society – the upheavals of both the American and French Revolutions had shaken the well-ordered social strata; and the decline of “aristocratic” ideas entered the forum of social dance as well. Public balls and “dance Assemblies” became more popular than ever, especially in America -“all ranks here being equal” – at least on the dance floor.

Country dancing was a favorite evening diversion for the young as well as the more mature ladies and gentlemen of the genteel classes, and a pastine frequently mentioned by the well-known authoress, Jane Austen, whose heroines and suitors often encountered each other at public or private dances.

Bringing to life the ballroom scenes from Pride and Prejudice with fashionable dances such as “La Boulanger” (a favorite of Jane Austen’s) or charming country dances with names such as “Teasing Made Easy”, the dancers of Tapestry bring to life an”Austen Assembly” of the early 1800’s.

Regency dance is the term for historical dances of the period ranging roughly from 1790 to 1825. The term is popular but is actually a misnomer, as the actual English Regency (the future George IV ruling on behalf of mad King George III) lasted from 1810 until 1820. Nevertheless, there are consistencies of style over this period which make having a single term useful.

Most popular exposure to this era of dance comes in the works of Jane Austen. Balls occur in her novels and are discussed in her letters, but specifics are few. Films made based on her works tend to incorporate modern revival English Country Dance; however, they rarely incorporate dances actually of the period and do them without the appropriate footwork and social style which make them accurate to the period. Dances of this era were lively and bouncy, not the smooth and stately style seen in films. Steps ranging from simple skipping to elaborate ballet-style movements were used.

In the longways Country Dance, a line of couples perform figures with each other, progressing up and down the line.

Regency country dances were often proceeded by a brief March by the couples, then begun by the top lady in the set and her partner, who would dance down the set to the bottom. Each couple in turn as they reached the top would likewise dance down until the entire set had returned to its original positions. This could be a lengthy process, easily taking an hour in a long set. An important social element was the calling of the dance by the leading lady (a position of honor), who would determine the figures, steps, and music to be danced. The rest of the set would listen to the calling dancing master or pick up the dance by observing the leading couple. Austen mentions in her letters instances in which she and her partner called the dance.

The cotillion was a French import, performed in a square using more elaborate footwork. It consisted of a “chorus” figure unique to each dance which was danced alternately with a standard series of up to ten “changes”, which were simple figures such as a right hand moulinet (star) common to cotillions in general.

The Scotch reel of the era consisted of alternate heying (interlacing) and setting (fancy steps danced in place) by a line of three or four dancers. More complex reels appear in manuals as well but it’s unclear if they ever actually caught on. A sixsome reel is mentioned in a description of Scottish customs in the early 1820’s and eightsome reels (danced in squares like cotillions) occur in some dance manuscripts of the era.

In the 1810’s, the era of the Regency proper, English dance began an important transition with the introduction of the quadrille and the waltz.

The Waltz (one of the only dances mentioned by name in Jane Austen’s writings) was first imported to England around 1810, but was not considered socially acceptable until continental visitors at the post-Napoleonic-Wars celebrations danced it in London – and even then it remained the subject of anti-waltz diatribes, caricatures, and jokes. Even the decadent Lord Byron was scandalized by the prospect of people “embracing” on the dance floor. The Regency version is relatively slow, and done up on the balls of the feet with the arms in a variety of graceful positions. The Sauteuse is a leaping waltz commonly done in 2/4 rather than 3/4 time, similar in pattern (leap-glide-close) to the Redowa and Waltz Galop of the later nineteenth century.

First imported from France by Lady Jersey in 1815, the Quadrille was a shorter version of the earlier cotillions.

Figures from individual cotillions were assembled into sets of five or six figures, and the changes were left out, producing much shorter dances. By the late 1810’s, it was not uncommon to dance a series of quadrilles during the evening, generally consisting of the same first three figures combined with a variety of different fourth and fifth figures. Jane Austen’s niece Fanny danced quadrilles and in their correspondence Jane mentions that she finds them much inferior to the cotillions of her own youth.

By the late 1810’s, under siege from the Quadrille, dancing masters began to invent “new” forms of country dance, often with figures borrowed from the Quadrille, and giving them exotic names such as the Danse Ecossoise and Danse Espagnuole which suggested entire new dances but actually covered very minor variations in the classic form. A few of these dances became sufficiently popular that they survived through the entire 19th century. One example of this is the “Spanish dance” popular in vintage dance circles, which is a solitary survivor of its entire genre of Regency-era dances.

Some other dances of the era: La Boulangere is a simple circle dance for a group of couples and Sir Roger de Coverly, mentioned by Charles Dickens, is the ancestor of America’s Virginia Reel.

From Wikipedia, The Online Encyclopedia


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Christmas Day with the Austen Family

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.”
A Christmas Carol
, by Charles Dickens


Christmas did not become a national holiday in England until 1834–Seventeen years after Jane Austen left the world. However, it had been growing in popular observance for much longer, and during Jane’s lifetime was already a greatly anticipated holiday of wistful longings and merry-making; replete with customs, rituals, rites and superstitions, church-going and devotion—much like the holiday portrayed by Dickens in A Christmas Carol.

In fact, the one thing Victorian–and modern life have to offer that was lacking in Jane’s day (with regard to Christmas) is commercialism and unashamed exuberance, which only came with national recognition and a growing middle class, later in the nineteenth century.

In other words, Christmas was not yet commercialized, so that Jane Austen (and many others of her day) viewed it primarily as a sacred holiday. As the daughter of a pious clergyman she was schooled to understand it in all its Christian significance and beauty. (Being a man of the church did not necessarily mean that one was devout, but in Mr. Austen’s case, it did, and Jane herself appears to have taken her readings in The Book of Common Prayer quite seriously.)

Though the Victorians are usually credited with “inventing” our modern-day Christmases, it is more accurate to say they popularized it commercially. They did not invent any of the age-old traditions that had long been in place such as the Yule log, the roast goose and potatoes, or the Christmas pudding. Likewise, carols and caroling (called, “wassailing” or singing by “the waits”) were already long-entrenched customs, as were many others, including mistletoe , feasting, gift-exchanging, decorating with evergreens, and the like. What then, did the Victorians add? Primarily, “respectability” (by making it fashionable to observe Christmas); the Christmas “cracker” (still popular today), and the use of tall trees. Additionally, technology grew and enabled Christmas cards and prints to be exchanged, fueling the popularity of the holiday.

What Was Jane’s Christmas Like?

She most likely made tea for her family in the morning as was her custom; then went to church with them; helped with the great Christmas dinner, if she were to eat at home (rather than at Godmersham or another relative’s house), enjoyed a gift exchange with her siblings and close relatives and a good friend or two; participated in parlour games (Charades was a family favorite), with perchance a good card game, or even a dance, if it were held. She may have played carols on the pianoforte, joined the others to sit ’round the fire for storytelling or reading aloud; and she may have joined the family in prayer, perhaps reading one of her own making, aloud. The family would have enjoyed special food and a favorite brew, such as mulled cider or wassail at some point in the evening; and if company stopped by, all the better. In short, Jane and the Austen family enjoyed a festive day, and in fact welcomed all festivities during the full twelve days of Christmas. May you and yours do likewise!


Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an inspirational regency romance. Visit her website for more information about this, and her other books.

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The History of the Waltz

the history of the waltz

The History of the Waltz

“Here ceased the concert part of the evening, for Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax were the only young lady performers; but soon (within five minutes) the proposal of dancing — originating nobody exactly knew where — was so effectually promoted by Mr and Mrs Cole, that every thing was rapidly clearing away, to give proper space.

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.”

Few sights are as romantic as that of a couple, absorbed in each other, sweeping across the floor in a dreamy waltz. It is certainly the highlight of many a fairy tale and even Jane Austen allows her couples ample time on the dance floor. While the English Country Dance is most associated with Jane Austen’s novels, many will be surprised to discover that by the early 1800’s the waltz had also made it’s way across the channel and was being danced by the more progressive of the Beau Monde. The fact that it was a couples dance (as opposed to the traditional group dances), and that the gentleman actually clasped his arm around the lady’s waist, gave it a dubious moral status in the eyes of some.

By 1814, the waltz, originally considered decadent, was finally sanctioned as appropriate behaviour when it was approved at the ultra fashionable Almacks, though the patronesses there still kept a firm hand on who was allowed permission to dance; no debutante could waltz unless one of the patronesses had given her permission, something that was only granted to girls “whose deportment was considered impeccable.”* By 1815, when Emma was printed, it was acceptable dancing, even in the humble home of the Coles, in the small village of Highbury. This detail from frontispiece to Thomas Wilson’s Correct Method of German and French Waltzing (1816), shows nine positions of the Waltz, clockwise from the left (the musicians are at far left).

The history of the waltz actually dates back to the 1500’s. There are several references to a sliding or gliding dance, i.e. a waltz, from the 16th century including the representations of the printer H.S. Beheim. The French philosopher Montaigne wrote of a dance he saw in 1580 in Augsburg, where the dancers held each other so closely that their faces touched. Kunz Haas, of approximately the same period wrote that, “Now they are dancing the godless, Weller or Spinner, whatever they call it.” “The vigorous peasant dancer, following an instinctive knowledge of the weight of fall, utilizes his surplus energy to press all his strength into the proper beat of the measure, thus intensifying his personal enjoyment in dancing”. The wide, wild steps of the country people became shorter and more elegant when introduced to higher society. Hans Sachs wrote of the dance in his 1568 Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände(1568).

At the Austrian Court in Vienna in the late 17th century (1698) ladies were conducted around the room to the tune of a 2 beat measure, which then became the 3/4 of the Nach Tanz (After Dance), upon which couples got into the position for the Weller and waltzed around the room with gliding steps as in an engraving of the Wirtschaft (Inn Festival) given for Peter the Great.

The peasants of Bavaria, Tyrol, and Styria began dancing a dance called Walzer, a dance for couples, around 1750. The Ländler, also known as the Schleifer, a country dance in 3/4 time, was popular in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria, and spread from the countryside to the suburbs of the city. While the eighteenth century upper classes continued to dance the minuet, bored noblemen slipped away to the balls of their servants.

Describing life in Vienna (dated at either 1776 or 1786), Don Curzio wrote, “The people were dancing mad […] The ladies of Vienna are particularly celebrated for their grace and movements of waltzing of which they never tire.” There is a waltz in the second act finale of the opera “Una Cosa Rara” written by Martin y Solar in 1786. Solar’s waltz was marked Andante con moto, or “at a walking pace with motion”, but the flow of the dance was sped-up in Vienna leading to the Geschwindwalzer, and the Galloppwalzer.

In the transition from country to town, the hopping of the Ländler, a dance known as Langaus, became a sliding step, and gliding rotation replaced stamping rotation.

In the 19th century the word primarily indicated that the dance was a turning one; one would “waltz” in the polka to indicate rotating rather than going straight forward without turning.

The Viennese custom is to slightly anticipate the second beat, which conveys a faster, lighter rhythm, and also breaks of the phrase. The younger Strauss would sometimes break up the one-two-three of the melody with a one-two pattern in the accompaniment along with other rhythms, maintaining the 3/4 time while causing the dancers to dance a two-step waltz. The metronome speed for a full bar varies between 60 and 70, with the waltzes of the first Strauss often played faster than those of his sons.

Shocking many when it was first introduced, the waltz became fashionable in Vienna around the 1780s, spreading to many other countries in the years to follow. It became fashionable in Britain during the Regency period, though the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary shows that it was considered “riotous and indecent” as late as 1825. The waltz, and especially its closed position, became the example for the creation of many other ballroom dances. Subsequently, new types of waltz have developed, including many folk and several ballroom dances.

Hummel was an early piano virtuoso to compose waltzes, and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations were on a simple waltz tune; but Schubert was the first major composer to produce music specifically described as waltzes. Weber’s piano rondo, Aufforderung zum Tanze (1819), foreshadowed the form later adopted by major dance composers: a sequence of waltzes with a formal introduction and a coda referring to themes heard earlier. This form was established in the 1830s by Joseph Lanner and the elder Johann Strauss, and from then the waltz was particularly associated with Vienna, although it was popular throughout Europe.

With Strauss’s sons, Johann and Josef, during the 1860s the waltz reached its peak as dance form, musical composition and symbol of a gay, elegant age. With Josef’s death in 1870 and Johann’s turn to operetta, the two major exponents of the waltz were lost to it. Their place was taken by minor composers, but some of the best waltzes of the late 19th century are found in the operettas of Lehár, Offenbach, Suppé and Messager. The waltz featured prominently in ballet and in such operas as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Puccini’s La bohème and, especially, Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Stylized waltzes are to be found in instrumental and orchestral works. Some of the most original are those for piano by Chopin, Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer for voices and piano duet, the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and the Valse triste of Sibelius. The waltz era is effectively summed up in the Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) and the choreographic poem La valse (1918) of Ravel.

Historical information on the history of the waltz courtesy of Wikipedia. Additional information(*) on the history of the waltz from An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray.

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