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Dance music

People dancing

Dance music can always be played without dancers, but dance can rarely be performed without music

THERE IS a difference between real dance music, which is composed to accompany dance, and dance music which is inspired by dance, but not meant to accompany dance. Although dance music can always be played without dancers, dance can rarely be performed without music.

Here are two examples of dance music.

Which of these examples do you think is real dance music? Both examples have the same character and dance rhythm (in 3/4 time), which you can hear most clearly underneath the tunes.

The first example is from the Emperor Waltz composed by Johann Strauss for balls in Vienna and the second example is from a symphony by Gustav Mahler.

The tempo in the Strauss waltz is regular, but the example from Mahler’s symphony changes speed much more often. Strauss’s waltz is also more repetitive than the Mahler, so it is clearer and less complex to follow. It would be more difficult to dance to the Mahler than to the Strauss, but both examples are waltzes.

Here are two more examples of dance music.

Which of these examples do you think is real dance music? Both examples have the same character and lopsided, ‘dotted’ rhythm (in 4/4 time).

The first example is from a dance with a Spanish title, Quejas de Bandoneon, which is by the Argentinean bandoneon player, Anibal Troilo, and the second example is a short dance called Tango by Stravinsky.

The rhythm is very similar in both dances, but the Argentinean dance sounds more joyful and tuneful than the Stravinsky dance. Stravinsky’s Tango sounds much darker and more aggressive because it was composed not as a real piece of dance music, but as a short caricature (like a cartoon) of the real tango dances like the one from Argentina. Both examples are, however, tangos.

Here are two final examples of dance music.

Again both of these examples have the same character and dance rhythm (in ¾ time) but which one was designed to be danced to?

The first example is from the music which Lully composed for dances at the French royal court of Versailles and the second example is from a symphony by Mozart.

The Mozart minuet is more complex than the Lully minuet. Lully’s minuet is composed for fewer instruments and sounds like an accompaniment to dancers at Versailles, but Mozart’s minuet is for full orchestra and is inspired by dance rather than composed for dancers. Both examples are minuets.

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