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OSKAR COX JENSEN First as Farce, then as Tragedy: Waterloo in British Song A moment pause, ye British Fair, While pleasure’s phantom ye pursue; And say, if sprightly dance or air Suit with the name of Waterloo? Awful was the victory! Chasten’d should the triumph be; ’Midst the laurels she has won, Britain mourns for many a Son. Shall scenes like these the dance inspire? Or wake the enlivening notes of mirth? O! shiver’d be the recreant lyre That gave the base idea birth! Other sounds, I ween were there, Other music rent the air! Other waltz the warriors knew When they closed on Waterloo. —Robert Shorter, stanzas one and five of “On Seeing in a List of New Music, The Waterloo Waltz” [1817]’ T he extracts above are from a poem published in sherwin’s political Register, a Painite weekly sold for two pence and therefore aimed at a mass market. The journal was published in Fleet Street by William Sherwin and Richard Carlile and would be forcibly closed by the adminis­ tration in the wake of Peterloo two years later.2 Shorter’s title makes clear that he has neither read nor heard the waltz in question; the mere fact ofits existence is enough to move him to versification. His ire, and the reasons The writing of this article was made possible by the funding of the European Research Council, through the research project “Music in London, 1800—1851.” 1. Sherwin’s Political Register 1 (1817): 303-4. 2. Michael Scrivener, Poetry and Reform: Periodical Perse from the English Democratic Press, 17)2—1824 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 201. SiR, 56 (Fall 2017) 341 342 OSKAK COX JENSEN behind it, bear a good deal of scrutiny if we are interested in how people from the general mass of society responded to Waterloo in Britain, espe­ cially via the medium of popular song. But before considering the sig­ nificant implications of Shorter’s apparent indignation at so slight a thing as the title of a dance tune, I would like to consider what other ears, less stoppered by outrage, might have heard in a “Waterloo Waltz.” There is a piece by that name of far more recent vintage: it is part of Nino Rota’s soundtrack for the 1970 film Waterloo, available on YouTube.3 The orchestra strikes up exactly three minutes into the clip and does not down instruments until 8:25, when the serious business of men looking at maps demands silence and a closed door. The scene enacted is of course the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, June 15, 1815—though the surroundings imagined here by the director, Sergei Bondarchuk, are rather grander than the probable reality of a low-ceilinged coach house. The five minutes in question are quite literally melodramatic, the waltz’s sprightly A-section ac­ companying sweeping shots of dancers and frivolous discussion of French­ men’s helmets, with the turn to the more troubling B-section timed to soundtrack somber discussion ofdeath and bloodshed. When battle literally intrudes in the form of the mud-spattered General Muffling, the Duchess remarks to Wellington, “that gentleman will spoil the dancing,” and, as tension mounts, the music slurs to a halt. Wellington requests that it con­ tinue and a sweeping, turbulent C-section follows, whilst candles gutter in an equally intrusive thunderstorm, and officers mill about in disarray. It is to my mind a perfectly conceived and exceedingly silly piece of cinema, but more to our purpose is its proposition that waltzes and warfare are fun­ damentally incongruous and may thus be juxtaposed to considerable dra­ matic effect. Rota’s composition, crafted to serve these ends, is a complex piece of music embedded with a very obvious succession of meanings; it returns later in the film as a sonic ghost, the ironic and pathetic echo of a very cor­ poreal tragedy. If, by contrast, we go hunting for the waltz that upset Shorter, we find no such sophistication of intent. At least three plausible candidates are extant: a “Waterloo Waltz” that was “composed expressly” for the women’s magazine La Belle Assemblee by a Charlotte Reeve, and in­ cluded...

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