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Valse très lente (Jules Massenet)




Unlike some composers, Massenet did not write too many piano waltzes; and when he did help to swell its repertory, he did so with subtly humorous detachment. So, in 1871, he had composed Simplicité, valse à ne pas danser in collaboration with Bizet (each composer having written part of this piece for four hands). One wonders whether Massenet wrote the Valse très lente of 1901 as a companion piece to the Valse folle of 1898. There is no doubt that the slow, sentimental waltz was fashionable in the early 20th century, as can be seen by the songs popularised by Paulette Darty (for whom Satie’s slow waltz, Je te veux, was written). And, in 1910, Debussy was to compose La Plus que lente. Massenet’s piece, whose success can be measured by its numerous transcriptions (the score cover mentions versions for piano four hands, violin, mandolin, cello and flute), is designed to be playable by amateur pianists: it presents no technical difficulties and C major is the principal key. It is based on the rondo form structure, since the first part serves as a refrain (cut short when it subsequently appears). The simplicity of the writing does not preclude harmonic sophistication or melodic appeal. In the refrain, the left hand maintains a steady beat while the right hand plays two simultaneous lines (one of them an ostinato phrase). The first two couplets allow the left hand to sing out like a cello. After the third couplet, softened by the minor mode, the last refrain concludes the piece in an even more languid tempo—as if to remind the listener that this is a very, very slow waltz indeed.

    Person - 1
  • MASSENET, Jules (1842-1912)
  • Themes - 2
  • Piano – La « pièce de genre » pianistique
  • Piano – Fin-de-siècle Romantic Piano Music