This music comes from the opera Faust by Charles Gounod, a drama in five acts; it is a version of a story done in many forms, among them Michael Carre's Faust et Marguerite, which is in turn a version on Goethe's play Faust. This opera had many obstacles to its first performance: the National Opera rejected it initially as not "showy" enough; it was delayed because a competing "Faust" drama by Adolphe d'Ennery was being performed already at Porte St. Martin; and even when it was staged, the production manager insisted on cutting parts of the opera and controlling the casting of Marguerite!
After this somewhat discouraging beginning, however, Faust enjoyed a revival in Paris in 1862, complete with an added ballet. It quickly became a part of standard repertoire around the world, as it's been translated into 25 languages. In fact, Faust was the opera that opened the Met in New York City, in October of 1883, and has become the eighth most performed opera at the Met since.
Even in places where the complete five-act opera isn't performed, you'll hear this Faust Waltz music in concert, and that's not surprising. With its catchy, melodic tune—easy to remember—and its lilting French touch, it's easy to imagine this music being played in a lavish ballroom in nineteenth-century Paris. When you play it in our century, remember to make it "dance"!