Three-Quarter Time

The Amarillo Symphony had a pops concert this past weekend, and featured movie music, some very familiar, some not so. (No Mancini or they would have hit all the biggies, but there was a limit to concert length.) One thing I noticed, or I should say really paid attention to, for the first time was just how much movie music is in 3/4 time. I knew “The Black Pearl Theme” from Pirates of the Caribbean was, because watching the Flat State U marching band rehearsing it for the first time on the marching field reduced me to tears of laughter. Marching to a waltz is a bit challenging, especially for the first time, with a new piece of music. It was also hilarious to watch, from a safe distance.


But the first time I noticed you could also have fight music in 3/4 time was on Two Steps From hell’s first album:

I had a mental image of Rada and Joschka, back to back, fighting off a variety of enemies as explosions went off in the background.

Which, considering what else is in 3/4 time, is rather interesting. If you go back to the Baroque and up through the 1700s, the minuet was the best known dance that used 3/4 time.

If you count the pulses, the stress feels as if it falls on the second beat, one-TWO-three.

In the Bach minuet, the pulse is lighter, but you still have that slight feeling of a hesitation within the motion of the music. Very dignified, graceful, light, and certainly not suitable for most combat, unless it is a combat of wits a la some of the scenes in Dangerous Liaisons.

From the minuet came the waltz, a bit scandalous at the time because the gentleman put his hand on the young lady’s low back – and left it there. The stress is ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, with a slight hesitation between three and one, although not always. It feels smoother than the minuet, most of the time.

This is a choreographed version, but fast-forward to 1:00 and you’ll see how it works. There are a number of different waltzes, and this is the slow form of the Viennese version (my favorite.) “Skaters’ Waltz” is more of a concert waltz, like Strauss’s most famous waltzes (“Imperial Waltz”, “Roses of the South,” and of course “An der schönen blauen Donau”).

Below is closer to the original tempo, although with music by a 20th century Russian composer:

Today you tend to find the waltz rhythm in some interesting places, as the first two selections above show. John Williams seems to avoid it, at least in most of the soundtracks of his that I’m familiar with. Other composers have more fun with it, and Two Steps from Hell seems to use it pretty frequently.