Friday, September 14, 2007

Serenade for Winds, Cello, and Bass

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

Dvorak’s composing career was given a huge boost in 1877 when Johannes Brahms recommended to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock, that he would do well to look into the young composer’s Moravian Duets. Once the duets were published, it also helped that the German critic Max Schutz weighed in as follows: “Only a master writes like this; only a poet by God’s grace has such inspiration.”

The Serenade for Winds was written in 1878 in just two weeks! During that same year Dvorak also wrote his famous Slavonic Dances (which brought him immediate international success), several orchestra works, five folk choruses, two songs, and various piano works. The Serenade was well received, and garnered another glowing review--from Hermann Krigar, who wrote “What fine artistic expression, what compelling melodies and touching harmonic progressions the composer has at his disposal.” Brahms himself expressed delight in the piece to his violinist friend Joseph Joachim, saying “It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent. It must be a pleasure for the musicians to play!”

Amply endowed with the spirit of Czech folk music, the piece begins with a tongue-in-cheek homage to the serenades of Mozart. The second movement includes two Czech folk dances: the sousedska (neighbor’s dance) and a furiant. A lovely melody graces the third movement, while the finale bubbles with high spirits. A reminiscence of the opening march theme brings the work to a jubilant close.