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Strauss: "Serenade for Winds, Op. 7"

Richard Strauss wrote several pieces considered to be among the finest ever written for winds, among them Suite, Op. 4, Sonatina No. 1, The Invalid's Workshop, Sonatina No. 2, The Happy Workshop, and the Serenade, Op. 7. Last season, UMWO performed the second Sonatina and next year, we will perform the Suite, Op. 4. There is quite a bit of information on both these pieces in past posts on this website. This post will focus on the Serenade, Op. 7.

Scored for exactly the same instrumentation as the Suite, Op. 4, the Serenade, Op. 7 was written between 1881 and 1882. On an interesting side note, the Suite was written in 1884, but has an earlier opus number because of publication concerns. The piece has enjoyed a great deal of popularity since its first performance and it has become a centerpiece of the wind repertoire since. It is widely recognized as one of the finest pieces ever written for winds.

Richard Strauss, Serenade, Op. 7

Below you can find program notes by Geoff Kuenning on the Serenade.

Richard Strauss, 1864-1949. Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, Op. 7. Completed 1881 or 1882, first performance November 27, 1882, in Dresden. Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 horns, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon or tuba, and (in the final two measures) contrabass.

In 1863 the horn player Franz Strauss, having lost his first wife and two children in the cholera epidemic of 1853, remarried Josepha Pschorr, daughter of a well-to-do Munich brewer. Only a year later Josepha gave birth to a son, Richard. The father was a strict and inflexible man who detested the "modern'' works of Wagner, yet who possessed such a high sense of honor that he was renowned for his performances of Wagner's music. But he was also a loving parent, and encouraged his son to study music, beginning with the piano and violin.

At 6, Richard wrote a Christmas carol and a polka, followed by a number of other works which, though immature, allowed the boy to practice the craft of composition. At 8, he was "terrified'' by his first opera, Weber's Der Freischütz. By the age of 12, he had written a Festival March which was eventually published as his Opus 1---but only because the cost of printing was subsidized by his wealthy uncle, Georg Pschorr. Yet by the time he had written a second publishable work, he had advanced enough that no subsidy was necessary.

The Wind Serenade is also a youthful work, as can be seen from the opus number. It was composed around the time Strauss entered the University of Munich, though the exact date is uncertain. Featuring jaunty themes and a relatively simple form, it was the first Strauss piece mature enough to withstand regular performance (although it shows his lack of experience in the use of the double bass to support the final chord, an insertion that is always ignored in performance). The work quickly caught the attention of the prominent conductor Hans von Bülow, who had previously dismissed Strauss' abilities ("We have here to deal not with genius, but with the kind of talent that comes ten a penny,'' he had sniffed when shown the Op. 3 piano pieces). Bülow not only performed the work, but encouraged the young composer in his efforts, launching him on a career that would carry the flag of 19th-Century Romanticism throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

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