Light the candles, cut the cake, and sing a lusty Happy Birthday (but in triple time, of course). André Rieu, aka ‘The Waltz King’, is seventy this year, and celebrating not just his birthday but his ever-growing success. His discs still keep flying off the shelves (40 million sold, and still counting), and the broadcast of his 2018 Maastricht Concert was the biggest cinema music event of all time. So as the Maestro of the Masses steps into his eighth decade and prepares to release his first ever ‘best of’ album My Music – My World, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of his extraordinary career.
Listen to My Music My World – The Very Best Of André Rieu right now and scroll down to explore our selection of the essential top ten André Rieu tracks.
Best André Rieu Tracks: The Essential Top Ten
10: ‘Tales From The Vienna Woods’
Where better to start this round-up than on Rieu’s home turf with a cast iron hit by Johann Strauss II? This fantastic waltz, recalling the folk music of the inhabitants of the Vienna Woods, features a virtuoso part for zither and has bags of energy.
9: ‘Highland Cathedral’
By all rights, this piece shouldn’t really work at all. A bagpipe melody, composed by two German musicians, for some Highland Games held in their native land… it’s all rather confusing in geographical sense. But the majestic simplicity of the tune, and the opulent arrangement played by André Rieu’s orchestra, somehow combine to give it that magical and irresistible oomph which he conjures so often.
8: ‘Waltzing Matilda’
Despite the title, the unofficial national anthem of Australia is not a waltz at all. The phrase ‘to waltz’ means ‘to travel on foot’, and a ‘matilda’ is a swag-bag. But André Rieu brings all his charm to bear on the simple tune, which is one of his best tracks, and when he performed it in Australia he had the audience in floods, waltz or not.
7: ‘The Radetzky March’
Although Johann Strauss Senior (father of ‘Blue Danube’ Strauss Junior) was the Waltz King of his day, he proved he could turn his hand to works in duple-time sometimes too. ‘The Radetzky March’ was written in 1848 to celebrate a military victory by Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, and instantly became an enormous smash hit. The swagger and high spirits seem to suggest high-kicking chorus girls more than soldiers on a parade ground, but that doesn’t seem to faze Rieu.
An Austrian friend of mine once marvelled at how perfectly the American musical partnership of Rodgers (composer) and Hammerstein (lyricist) had captured her compatriots’ national sensibility in The Sound Of Music – but most especially in the folk-like number ‘Edelweiss’. André Rieu turns the Von Trapp family hit into a violin solo, but it loses none of its charm on the way.
5: ‘Les Patineurs’
From one set of skaters to another. ‘Les Patineurs’, or ‘The Skaters’ Waltz’, by Émile Waldteufel is another of those once-heard-never-forgotten waltz melodies, with which Rieu has a particular affinity. The bells suggest a winter wonderland, the upward swoops conjure ladies being lifted into the air, and the propulsive tune has all the energy of gliding on ice.
Rieu doesn’t just play waltzes. A bolero is a slow-tempo eighteenth-century Spanish dance, but since it is in triple time just like a waltz, it seems to fit right up André Rieu’s street and is one of his best tracks. Ravel’s ‘Boléro’, composed in 1928, is probably the most famous bolero of all time – especially after it was used by Torvill and Dean for their unforgettable 1984 Olympic routine.
3: ‘And The Waltz Goes On’
The tale behind this charming, bittersweet little waltz is almost too Hollywood to be true. The actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, who had learned the piano as a boy, wrote the melody in his mid-twenties while doodling at the keyboard, but having something of an academic inferiority complex, he shut it in a drawer and forgot about it. Years later he saw Rieu on television, and told his wife it would be a dream come true if Rieu’s orchestra could play it. Unknown to him, his wife duly sent off the score. Rieu was amazed, loved it at first hearing, and immediately put it in his repertoire. Aaah.
2: ‘The Blue Danube’
The proper German title of this waltz is ‘An Der Schönen Blauen Donau’, which literally means ‘on the beautiful blue Danube’. The Danube is actually rather hideous and muddy-brownish as it flows through central Vienna, but who cares? Strauss’s evergreen melodies and infectious rhythms create the ideal Danube of one’s dreams. It’s possibly the most famous waltz of all time, and one of the best André Rieu tracks, so it’s no surprise that our modern Waltz King named his orchestra after its composer.
1: ‘The Second Waltz’
This is the work that suddenly shot Rieu’s career meteoric overdrive in 1995 and one of the best André Rieu tracks. He’d booked some live airtime during the break of a Champions League football match, and strolled into the middle of the pitch to play this piece. It had just been used on a television advert, so the audience knew it well and decided to sing along, with Rieu conducting. It’s one of those magical crowd moments that happen only once in a lifetime, and it turned him into an overnight megastar. He sold 200,000 CDs immediately afterwards. The full title is Waltz No. 2 from the ‘Suite For Variety Orchestra’ by Shostakovich – but thanks to Rieu, everyone now calls it simply ‘The Second Waltz’. Happy Birthday André!
My Music My World – The Very Best Of André Rieu can be bought here.