The French composer, Émile Waldteufel (1837–1915), found fame relatively late in life following an event in 1874 that was attended by the then Prince of Wales (latterly King Edward VII). The Prince was so enthralled by Waldteufel’s music that he endeavoured to make his music known in the UK. A publishing contract with the prominent London-based Hopwood & Crew followed. Soon Waldteufel’s music was being played at Buckingham Palace and he very quickly dominated London’s music scene.
During this period he become somewhat of an international celebrity (and certainly a strong rival to Austria’s Johann Strauss II) and he composed his best known works – including, in 1882, Les Patineurs Op. 183 (The Skaters’ Waltz)- still his best known work. In it Waldteufel drew inspiration from the Cercle des Patineurs or ‘Rink of Skaters’ at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and his music certainly captures the atmosphere of a winter day. The piece begins calmly with slow opening passage for solo horn, which is followed by graceful, fast-moving rising and falling scales cleverly depicting the ice skaters venturing out onto the frozen lakes. Always graceful and swirling, the piece then introduces not just a single melody but a sequence of contrasting serene and waltz themes.
Les Patineurs has featured in dozens of films from the earliest ‘talkies’ right through to the present day. It has also been used countless times on TV, including in ITV’s Downton Abbey. It is also a regular offering of the hugely popular André Rieu (who some describe as the 21st century ‘Waltz King’) and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.