La valse, poème chorégraphique pour orchestre (a choreographic poem for orchestra), is a work written by Maurice Ravel between February 1919 and 1920; it was first performed on 12 December 1920 in Paris. It was conceived as a ballet but is now more often heard as a concert work. Frederick Ashton also created a La valse ballet in 1958 for The Royal Ballet.
Notably, at the premiere Francis Poulenc complimented Ashton on what he thought was the first successful interpretation of Ravel’s intentions for the music.
“By the 20th century, the Viennese waltz was a fading art form. Maurice Ravel’s score was commissioned by dance impresario Serge Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes company. Although Diaghilev never used the score – claiming it was not a ballet but ‘the portrait of a ballet’ – both Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine choreographed powerful works for it. Having danced in Nijinska’s 1929 version, Frederick Ashton created his own evocative interpretation in 1958. Ashton’s La Valse depicts the distant world of 19th-century Imperial Vienna. The stage is filled with dancers in tailcoats and ball gowns, who whirl beneath golden chandeliers and elegant drapes. A driving, visceral rhythm underlies the swooping waltz melodies, gradually growing in intensity and ultimately overwhelming the music – interpreted by some critics as a representation of the destruction wrought by World War I and of the decline of the Imperial world.” [roh]