Between 1770 and 1780 in Vienna (a major music capitol of the world at the time), the waltz became the latest craze and remained the most fashionable society dance until the middle of the next century. The waltzes of the Johann Strauss family, both father and son, were the most popular, and it was their Viennese waltzes that were most favored by the Hapsburg monarchy. While waltzes have three beats to each measure, a special character of the Viennese waltz is a slight anticipation of the second beat and a movement of the third beat into the first beat of the next measure. Amidst their immense popularity, waltzes were written for virtually every musical venue of the day including the opera, ballroom, and concert stage. Seasoned as well as aspiring young composers sought to advance their musical careers by writing waltzes.
In 1830, a young nineteen year old composer named Chopin, moved to Vienna. Here Chopin was influenced by the very popular Viennese waltz style and began incorporating it into his own waltzes. While waltzes are usually composed for the purpose of actual physical dancing, Chopin’s waltzes were written for the salon and intended more for listening rather than dancing.
On the occasion of the publication of Chopin’s Op. 34, No. 2 “Valse Brilliante”, Robert Schumann wrote, “It is above all the three waltzes, however, that are bound to please: they strike a different note from ordinary waltzes and are such as could be found only with Chopin, whom one can imagine casting his great artist’s eye over the dancing crowd (whose very playing fires them with enthusiasm), while all the time he is thinking of other things than what they are dancing. So iridescent a life invests these pieces that they seem positively improvised in the midst of the dance floor.”
Many interpreters and scholars have described the waltzes of Chopin as either dances for the body or dances for the soul. In the dances for the body, Chopin seems to suggest a most elaborate grand ballroom resplendent with crystal chandeliers, gilt mirrors, and elegantly dressed dancers sparkling in their finery. However, the dances for the soul seem simply an expression of Chopin’s quiet reflections and emotions. He expresses extremes of sheer delight in some waltzes and utter despair in others. However, although the aforementioned seems to be the case, Chopin never intended his music to be “program music” (music that tells a story), but rather simply be music for music’s sake.
Some of the waltzes have carried nicknames over the centuries, those nicknames given to some of the waltzes by those to whom the compositions were dedicated. Chopin himself did not give these titles to the pieces. These nicknames include L’Adieu, The Cat Waltz, The Farewell Waltz, and The Little Dog Waltz. The latter is also better known as The Minute Waltz, a title that refers to the length of the composition, rather than to a prescribed playing time.
In addition to the nicknames, several of the waltzes were given auxiliary titles. Composers and publishers commonly used auxiliary titles as a mean of marketing new music to the public. Several of Chopin’s waltzes bear such auxiliary titles as Grande valse brilliante, meaning big, showy, and dazzling; Valse brilliante, moderately dazzling; or simply, Valse. In Chopin’s day, the term brilliante was used to describe a musical work written for the concert stage that demanded the skills and abilities of a virtuoso pianist.
James Jelasic, Pianist
About the Artist
Piano virtuoso, Fulbright Scholar and International Steinway Artist, James Jelasic continues the rich musical heritage established by his maternal grandfather, Jan Nemec, a
composer and playwright in Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s. In the family tradition, Mr. Jelasic began his piano studies at the age of six and, by the age of nineteen, had twice been featured as a concerto soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Jelasic, a native of Dearborn, Michigan, received his early musical training at the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts, his Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance on full scholarship from Eastern Michigan University, and his Master of Music degree in Accompanying and Chamber Music from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He has also done advanced studies at the Sorbonne in Paris and at Warwick University in Coventry, England. Mr. Jelasic’s master teachers include such distinguished artists as Joseph Gurt in Ypsilanti, Michigan; Gordon Green of the Royal Academy of Music in London, England; Eugene Bossart in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Martin Katz in Boulder, Colorado and Akron, Ohio; and Leonard Hokenson in Augsburg, Germany.
Mr. Jelasic resided for a year in Munich, Germany under the gracious patronage of the Richard Strauss Family. While there he performed extensively as both a soloist and accompanist, and conducted advanced research into the interpretation of the German lied. He then moved to Paris, having been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholar grant to research the interpretation of the French mélodie with the internationally acclaimed baritone, Gérard Souzay. At that time, in recognition of Mr. Jelasic’s remarkable abilities as a performer and his demonstrated interest in the French culture, the Government of France sponsored his residency during the international summer music festival at the Maurice Ravel Academy in St. Jean-de-Luz, France. During his residency in Paris, Mr. Jelasic was also a guest lecturer at the American College in Paris/WICE and did extensive concert touring throughout France and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Jelasic has received critical international acclaim for his appearances with numerous symphony orchestras and as a collaborative performer in concert recitals. The BBC, Radio France, WGMS in Washington, D.C., and PBS Television have broadcast several of his performances live. Mr. Jelasic has performed for U.S. presidents, foreign heads of state, ambassadors, inaugural balls and royalty. His recordings (WatersEdgeRecords.com) have garnered three semi-final GRAMMY® nominations and glowing critical reviews.
While classically grounded, Mr. Jelasic’s musical interests extend to traditional American ballroom dance music, which he often performs with his highly regarded society dance orchestra. Currently residing in metropolitan Washington, D.C., Mr. Jelasic maintains a full performance schedule as the leader of his dance orchestra as well as a classical soloist, accompanist/vocal coach, piano tutor, college lecturer and recording artist.
James Jelasic’s Critical Reviews
“Mr. Jelasic’s pianism was a sound to behold!”
-- Charles McCardell, The Washington Post --
“The performance of accompanist, James Jelasic, was shimmering throughout.”
-- Roy Guenther, The Washington Post --
***** (Five-Star) “A Masterful Performance”
“James Jelasic’s stirring performance of Chopin’s waltzes is the finest I’ve heard. His voicing technique combined with a precise execution of the music makes this one of the most listenable works I own. Open a bottle of wine, find a comfortable leather chair, and put on this CD. You won’t be disappointed.”
-- Mega Music Reviews.com --
“James Jelasic – excellent musician with a talent admired by all …impressive and securely facile.”
-- Music Critique, Journal de Blois, France --
“In his brilliant execution, Jelasic captures and transports us with his art to the imaginary musical world of Chopin, which is difficult to find in other recordings of Chopin’s music. With profound technique on the piano, when Jelasic plays Chopin, he makes us feel the composer's expression, times, passages of life, and personality.”
-- Eddie Galleno - La Nación, Washington, D.C. --