Valse triste (Sibelius)
- For other articles with similar names, see Valse Triste (disambiguation)
Valse triste (Sad Waltz), Op. 44, No. 1, is a short orchestral work by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It was originally part of the incidental music he composed for his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt's 1903 play Kuolema (Death), but is far better known as a separate concert piece.
Sibelius wrote six pieces for the 2 December 1903 production of Kuolema. The first was titled Tempo di valse lente - Poco risoluto. In 1904 he revised the piece, which was performed in Helsinki on 25 April of that year as Valse triste. It was an instant hit with the public, took on a life of its own, and remains one of Sibelius's signature pieces.
The background to the music as it functions within the original play is expanded upon by the programme notes for the production:
It is night. The son, who has been watching beside the bedside of his sick mother, has fallen asleep from sheer weariness, Gradually a ruddy light is diffused through the room: there is a sound of distant music: the glow and the music steal nearer until the strains of a valse melody float distantly to our ears. The sleeping mother awakens, rises from her bed and, in her long white garment, which takes the semblance of a ball dress, begins to move silently and slowly to and fro. She waves her hands and beckons in time to the music, as though she were summoning a crowd of invisible guests. And now they appear, these strange visionary couples, turning and gliding to an unearthly valse rhythm. The dying woman mingles with the dancers; she strives to make them look into her eyes, but the shadowy guests one and all avoid her glance. Then she seems to sink exhausted on her bed and the music breaks off. Presently she gathers all her strength and invokes the dance once more, with more energetic gestures than before. Back come the shadowy dancers, gyrating in a wild, mad rhythm. The weird gaiety reaches a climax; there is a knock at the door, which flies wide open; the mother utters a despairing cry; the spectral guests vanish; the music dies away. Death stands on the threshold.
Publication and later developments
Breitkopf & Härtel published the piece in 1905 as 'Op. 44'. However, because of the nature of the publishing contract, Sibelius saw relatively little money in terms of royalties from performances of Valse triste.
In 1906 Sibelius merged the second and third numbers of the incidental music into a single piece, which he renamed Scene with Cranes. This was posthumously published in 1973, as Op. 44, No. 2; Valse triste was retrospectively renumbered as Op. 44, No. 1.
The original version, presented in 1903 as Tempo di valse lente - Poco risoluto, has not survived.
In other media
- Wendy Carlos created a synthesizer version of Valse triste for Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining. The song was not used in the film, but it can be heard at the end of Making The Shining, a documentary by Kubrick's daughter about the shooting of the film.
- The animated film Allegro Non Troppo used Valse triste in "Feline Fantasies", a segment about the ghost of a cat roaming around the ruins of the house it once inhabited.
- Avant-garde filmmaker Bruce Conner directed an experimental film called Valse Triste (1977) using the Sibelius music.
- An a capella arrangement of Valse triste was recorded by the Finnish vocal ensemble Rajaton on the album Maa to mark the 50th anniversary of Sibelius's death.
- Wayne Shorter recorded a version of Valse triste for his 1965 album The Soothsayer. He also recorded Valse triste with his new quartet on Footprints Live! from 2002.
- Valse triste was used in the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday starring Fredric March. It was playing inside the mansion during the scene in which Death, in the form of a man, dances in the garden with a young woman named Grazia.