Imperial Waltz! Imported from the Rhine

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Fair Celia had some girlish Faults;
But then—How Celia stepp’d a Waltz!
And in that Season, it is known
Waltzing was everywhere the Ton.
Miss Caelia, though a sickly Maid,
No friendly counsels could persuade
To stay at Home, when Fashion’s call
Summon’d the Damsel to a Ball:
From Party, Opera or Play,
She might be coax’d to keep away.

William Combe’s tale of the poor dancing Celia, who “hop’d, her graceful Charms,  Would Waltz her to a Husband’s Arms,” was famously illustrated by the English artist Thomas Rowlandson with a scene of a girl whirling in the arms of a skeleton.  Combe and Rowlandson were not the first to celebrate the waltz’s gruesome charms, which in 1774 had also twirled the Young Werther, Goethe’s romantic hero, to his tragic love affair and fate.  The Hanover Royal Music Archive also holds a view of the waltz by Rowlandson in 1806, showing all the indecorous dancing and delight which had become the waltz’s scandalous trademark.   “See the waltz in page 3; and the account of it in the Xth letter of volume one of the Sorrows of Werter,” reads the caption, in case any of Rowlandson’s readers might have missed the scene’s romantic perils.

Waltz mania had struck England in 1812.  Byron’s “The Waltz: an apostrophic hymn” (1813) satirizes the dance’s popularity–and its wild adoption by the Hanoverian court, in the wake of the Regency Act of 1811.  “Blest was the time Waltz chose for her debut,” wrote Byron, “The Court, the R—t, like herself were new.” (Dyer 1997; Childers 1969).  As the gallery above reveals, waltzing played a central role in the musical life of the Hanoverian household, and particularly that of the Princess Augusta Sophia, who inscribed several volumes of waltzes in the collection and to whom several waltzes were also dedicated.   One album, consisting entirely of waltzes and other dances for two hands on the keyboard, is inscribed “Augusta, the gift of Charlotte” (OSB MSS 146, Volume 821).  A collection of William Rogers’s waltzes and other compositions, shown below, was published by Rogers’s daughter after the death of George III, and dedicated to Princess Augusta.  These and the images in the gallery above hint at the prominence of dancing and dance music in the Hanover royal family’s musical life, and represent only a selection of the dozens of albums of waltz and dance music–in print and manuscript, by British and Continental composers–to be found in the Hanover Royal Music Archive.

Imperial Waltz! Imported from the Rhine
( Famed for the growth of pedigrees and wine ),
Long be thine import from all duty free,
And hock itself be less esteem’d than thee;
In some few qualities alike — for hock
Improves our cellar —
thou our living stock.
The head to hock belongs — thy subtler art
Intoxicates alone the heedless heart:
Through the full veins thy gentler poison swims,
And wakes to wantonness the willing limbs.
Oh, Germany
! how much to thee we owe,
As heaven-born Pitt can testify below,
Ere cursed confederation made thee France’s,
And only left us thy d—-d debts and dances
Of subsidies and Hanover bereft,
We bless thee still — for George the Third is left
Of kings the best — and last, not least in worth,
For graciously begetting George the Fourth.
From Robert Byron’s “The Waltz: An Apostrophic Poem” (1813)

Works Cited
Childers, William.”Byron’s Waltz: The Germans and their Georges,” Keats-Shelley Journal 18 (1969): 81-95
Dyer, Gary. British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789-1832 (Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Oxford Music Online (Oxford University Press)

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