Some Background Stuff paraphrased from Wiki:
Ravel originally wrote La Valse as a ballet piece that celebrates Johann Strauss and the waltz form. Unsure what to say of its new and radical form, critics described the piece as a metaphor, one that made socio-political statements about deconstruction and decline. Ravel said otherwise, that “one should only see in it what the music expresses: an ascending progression of sonority, to which the stage comes along to add light and movement.”
The composer’s preface notes say: “Through swirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter…one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo…”
Some Stuff from Me:
I imagine to hear it played live by a symphony in New York or Paris or Vienna must be an out of body experience. I can only speak to the one time I saw it live, which was on a summer evening in Houston. I was still a young man then, and an even younger woman was in my company. We were one of the couples, for a brief time existing more in the swirling clouds than grounded.
The music at first had a traditional aesthetic and was beautiful and idyllic. Then rebellion seized the melody. The rhythm halted and skipped, and an unexpected dissonance took hold. The sections of order and beauty volleyed with sections of discord.
During the concert, an explosive electrical storm took place over downtown Houston. Lightning flashed through the concert hall windows. If the chandeliers inside amped up, I doubt anyone noticed. When all the high musical tension was over, I felt a sense of relief. Through the doors the air smelled of fresh rain.
A version by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France: