Work: Valse triste
About This Work
Despite almost a century of familiarity and unsatisfactory performances by unlikely instrumental combinations, it's easy to imagine the truly magical effect that Jean Sibelius' Valse Triste (1904) must have had on audiences of the day. The Valse was
extracted and published separately from the composer's incidental music to his brother-in-law's play Kuolema (Death). Still, the work stands quite well on its own as an orchestral poem in miniature, and it seems today as fresh, charming, and thoroughly well-crafted as it did when it single-handedly spread its composer's fame through the tea houses of Europe and America. A brief paraphrase of the Valse can even be found at the end of the composer's Symphony No. 7 (1924), perhaps in acknowledgement of the tremendous effect this composition had on Sibelius' career. Cast in a ternary dance form, Valse Triste opens with a simple utterance, but this apparently transparent statement masterfully introduces an overwhelming mood of vast, if perhaps bittersweet, melancholy. As the music unfolds, it exhibits a remarkable ambiguity of mood, reflecting both an old woman's joy at being reunited with her dead husband and the audience's knowledge that it is in fact Death himself that the mother is dancing with. Passions rise in the middle section, and as the opening material reasserts itself at the end of the dance, it is clear that the woman has died. The work draws to a somber end with three ominous chords.
-- Blair Johnston
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