The Battle Coda in Viennese Waltzes of the Napoleonic Era

Publication Date


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American Musicological Society / Society for Music Theory (AMS/SMT) Joint 2018 Annual Meeting

Conference Location

San Antonio, TX


Commentators have frequently noted a tendency in some Viennese dance music of the later nineteenth century to bridge the functions of music for dancing and music for the concert hall, and of the categories of art music and “entertainment” music. Yet several waltzes composed for Viennese ballroom during and shortly after the Napoleonic Wars by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1807 and 1821) and Friedrich Starke (1815) involve similar crossovers of genre and function in their extensive battle codas. Whereas allusions to military topics were relatively commonplace in Viennese dance music of the late eighteenth century, these battle codas differ in that they cannot be danced to, and contain coherent “battle” narratives that demonstrate clear affinity with the genre of the characteristic symphony. Hummel’s 1821 coda even suggests a particular indebtedness to Beethoven’s Wellingtons Sieg in its overall design and narrative, in which French forces are pitted against the British and the work culminates with a triumphant extended fugato passage.
These little-known waltz sets cast light on several aspects of Viennese musical culture of the early nineteenth century. They mark a geographical shift in musical representations of war from East (with “alla Turca” and Hungarian idioms) to West (with depictions of the French and British), thereby providing evidence of how awareness of contemporary military events featured in everyday cultural life. As “crossover” works they can also inform our understanding of contemporary perceptions of musical functions and aesthetics. While these works clearly bridge the gap between the dance hall and the concert hall, they do not yet demonstrate a strong polarisation between the later nineteenth-century categories of entertainment music and serious music. As such, they support the notion that Viennese public concert culture was not yet dominated by an “absolute-music” aesthetic, regardless of the well-known developments in contemporary music criticism.


Music and Dance