The Minute Waltz

THURSDAY, August 27, 2020 – 2:43 AM

(Update: there were only two recordings when I did this, and I added two more. Some of my students saw this post and listened, but many did not.)

A nice, gracious waltz…

This is Chopin’s famous Waltz in C# Major, Op. 64 No. 1. The nickname “Minute” was not from the composer, and no one in the world could possibly play it in a minute. I often teach this in my lessons. Now, which recording do you prefer? And why?

Claudio Arrau is one of the most famous pianists of the 20th century…

His playing is always musical. In my opinion this is the best performance available anywhere. It takes him about 2:30 to play it.

Utterly distorted, ruined by excess speed…

In comparison, this performance is mostly played as fast as possible and utterly destroys the music.

I’m putting it here to make a point. The exact same piece of music can sound utterly different when played by two people who have a very different approach. This is not a waltz. It’s a mindless race.

And now Lang Lang..

This is just awful. He has the sensitivity here of a total idiot.


This is so incredibly different from everyone else that when I heard it I just said: “Wow!” He changes some notes, and I’ve actually notated what he did. It’s very fast, but unlike others who make it a race his is light and playful.


10 thoughts on “The Minute Waltz

  1. This song was one of the first songs that I familiarized myself with when I first started out with piano. I loved the speed and the melody and did not realize how unmusical it actually was. Now listening to the Arrau performance, I finally realized how nice this piece can actually be.

  2. I adored Rachmaninov’s rendition but I also surprisingly liked Lang Lang’s. I’m not sure how his playing was on a technical level, but it made the piece sound very playful and I liked that. It felt like he was having fun with it.

  3. Claudio’s rendition has more a feel to it than Valentina’s . Valentina’s was very fast… while Claudio’s sounds like a real piece. The minute waltz ( as Inge found out too) doesn’t sound as good for speed. This fact states that minute in minute waltz doesn’t mean 60 sec, but something else.

    1. Michael, Arrau was without doubt one of the really great interpreters of the 20th century, know around the world for the depth his feeling and the quality of his playing. In fact, he’s the only person I’ve ever heard who played the ending the way Chopin wrote it, but I’d have to show that to you in a lesson. 🙂

  4. I agree with your comment about The Minute Waltz. Arrau’s rendition was lovely. Lisitsa’s version was showing how fast she could play but the feeling was lost.

  5. Listening to Arrau’s performance, for the first time I actually like this waltz. I have always not liked it because invariably it’s a meaningless race. How refreshing to hear how it can sound at the hands of a sensitive musician.

    I just learned that “minute” is not the 60 second “minnit” but the one that sounds like “my newt” meaning “little” waltz. 🙂

    1. The idea that “minute” means ‘small” is a stretch. It’s a convenient theory but it does not match the facts. There is another story that says a dog was chasing his tail, and that is the source of the idea of the Waltz, but there is no evidence for that either.

      The main problem is the tempo marking, “Molto vivace”. On the surface that means “very lively”, but of course we do not know how fast that is. Other Waltzes with that marking go quite fast, but they have different moods.

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