SPOTLIGHT ON REPERTOIRE
Anton Dvorak, Serenade for Wind Instruments, Cello and Bass op.44
Continuing the theme of works which were inspired by Mozart’s “Gran Partita” for 13 winds and following on from Richard Strauss’ Serenade and Suite in Bb, I thought we could look at Dvorak’s Wind Serenade, one of the finest works for wind from the 19th century, Dvorak’s work is scored to include a cello and a bass, and just three horns, two pitched in F/Eb and one in Bb basso.
There are many great recordings of this work, but I have included a recording of a live performance by the London Symphony Orchestra led by clarinettist Michael Collins.
At the beginning of 1878, during a trip to Vienna, Dvorak attended a concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic which included Mozart’s Serenade in B flat major for wind instruments. He was so taken with the work that, as soon as he arrived back in Prague, he began a work of the same genre and completed it within fourteen days.
Despite the fact that the introduction to the third movement is clearly inspired by the Adagio of Mozart’s serenade, that is where the musical similarity ends. Whilst being very classical in form, Dvorak’s Serenade is thoroughly Czech in character and looks back to the tradition of music-making in Czech castles and palaces.
The first movement is an example of the traditional introductory march. The second movement is a minuet, in the classical tradition, but is a more like a slow Czeck dance called the “sousedska”, which is a slower dance also in ¾ time. The third movement is a lyrical nocturne with a broad melodic arc rising above a “barrel organ” accompaniment (another similarity to the Gran Partita), with a contrasting trio in a more lively tempo. The closing movement is reminiscent of a polka and, thanks to its marked rhythm and inventive thematic treatment, brings the work to its stunning climax. As in the Serenade for Strings, here, too, Dvorak cements the cycle with a quotation of the introductory march motif at the end of the movement.
Here is a picture of the handwritten manuscript for first page:
The composer dedicated the work to Berlin music critic Louis Ehlert who promoted his Slavonic Dances, which of course made him a lot of money and cemented his fame as a composer, particularly in Germany. Johannes Brahms familiarised himself with the piece and subsequently described it as Dvorak’s finest work to date. It’s interesting to note in passing that Brahms later composed his own set of Slavonic dances in the form of the “Hungarian Dances”, no doubt inspired by the fact that Dvorak did so well out of his Slavonic Dances.