To those who know Massenet as the composer of Manon
and the ‘Méditation’ from Thaïs
, his Valse folle
is the aural equivalent of being hit in the face with a brick. Composed in 1898 (by which time Massenet had become wildly wealthy and famous from his success as an opera composer), the ‘Mad Waltz’ was dedicated to his friend Raoul Pugno (1852–1914). Pugno himself, one of the first internationally acclaimed lions of the keyboard to commit his art to disc, recorded the work in April 1903 for the Gramophone and Typewriter label. Its innocent main theme contrasts with abrupt changes of tempo and (for Massenet) unexpected discords and harmonies, to say nothing of the violent ending, providing a brief glimpse of an unexpected side to the elegant, urbane Massenet.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2001