Antonín Dvorák's Serenade, Op. 44 for winds, cello, and bass is yet another standard of the wind band, although it belongs to the smaller (in terms of ensemble size) "wind orchestra" repertoire as opposed to the larger "band" repertoire.
Antonín Dvorák, Serenade, Op. 44
1. Moderato quasi Marcia
2. Menuetto & Trio
3. Andante con moto
4. Allegro molto
Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfuks, Rafael Kubelik, conductor
Below, you will find program notes on the piece from UMWO's performance in December of 2008.
Serenade, Op. 44
In May 1879, Johannes Brahms wrote to his friend, the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim: “Take a look at Dvorák’s Serenade for Wind Instruments; I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do...It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent. Have it played to you; I feel sure the players will enjoy doing it!” Only one year earlier, Brahms had recommended the music of Dvorák to his publisher in Berlin, Simrock, who accepted Dvorák for publication and suggested that he compose a set of Slavonic Dances as Brahms had composed Hungarian Dances. Dvorák’s newfound recognition came during a prolific period in his life.
The Wind Serenade was written in two weeks in January 1878, and during the rest of the year Dvorák composed the Slavonic Dances (for piano duet), several other orchestral works, a set of five folk choruses, two songs, a Capriccio for violin and piano, and some minor piano works. He also found time to orchestrate the Slavonic Dances when they became wildly popular throughout Europe.
Often called the “wind” serenade, to distinguish it from the slightly earlier E-major work, the Serenade, Op. 44 employs a foundation of cello and string bass beneath the upper and middle voices assigned to the wind group of pairs of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, plus three horns. This general approach had been used previously by Brahms (who was, by 1878, much admired by Dvorák) in his Serenade in A, Op. 16, although Dvorák dispensed with Brahms’s violas, and used solo cello and string bass. In contrast to his elegant string serenade, Dvorák wrote the D minor work in a fervently Czech nationalistic vein, and certainly the predominantly wind-instrument tone colors effectively reinforce that feeling.
The opening march pays tongue-in-cheek homage to the serenades of Mozart and central European wind-band music, “Harmoniemusik.” (Mozart often provided a march to introduce many of his serenades. While Mozart’s marches usually were formally separate from the actual serenade, the associations seem clear.) The second movement is actually comprised of two Czech folk dances, the “sousedska” (similar to the Austrian “Ländler”) and a “furiant” as the “Trio” section. In the third movement, Dvorák pays homage to the beautiful slow movement of Mozart’s Gran Partita. The finale begins with a polka-esque theme, the successive returns of which are separated by contrasting new material each time, until the first-movement march recurs just before the last appearance of the polka.
The new Serenade was very well received. The year after its premiere, Hermann Krigar wrote, “What fine artistic expression, what compelling melodies and touching harmonic progressions the composer has at his disposal.” It continues to be one of the most beloved works in the wind repertoire by both players and listeners.