Waltz in A Flat by Johannes Brahms is one of Sixteen Waltzes for piano, four hands, of his Opus 39. After their composition in 1865, Brahms arranged these waltzes as well for piano solo in both “difficult” and “simplified” versions (with some key changes in the re-arranged solo versions). All three versions were published simultaneously, about two years later, and all three succeeded—something Brahms honestly didn’t expect!
Surprisingly enough, although Brahms loved dance music in general, waltzes don’t comprise a large portion of his compositional output. The reasons aren’t really clear; perhaps he was intimidated by the waltzes of the Strauss family. He was known to have lamented that Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz was “unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms.”
However, this particular Waltz in A-flat, no. 15, has made Brahms waltzes well-known in their own right. This Waltz in A-flat weaves its own spell of the sweet harmony of parallel sixths against a sedate, almost lullaby rhythm. Like Brahms’s waltzes as a whole, the Waltz in A-flat is unmistakably romantic in character, with a depth and nostalgia that stands in sharp contrast to the lighthearted, frothy nature of the Strauss family’s more purely dance-inspired music.
While you can easily imagine ballrooms filled with ladies in long gowns and men in military finery twirling to the Strauss waltzes, the Brahms waltzes bring to mind a more tranquil scene—perhaps a mother rocking her baby to sleep or a young couple dancing alone in the moonlight. When you play this Waltz in A-flat, though, you’ll want to stay wide awake for it…it’s too beautiful a melody not to fully savor.