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serenade for Wind Instruments, cello and double bass

COMPOSED 4 January - 18 January 1878
PREMIERE - DATE AND PLACE 17 November 1878, Prague
PREMIERE - PERFORMER(S) members of Provisional Theatre Orchestra, conductor Antonin Dvorak
FIRST EDITION Simrock, 1879, Berlin
MAIN KEY D minor
INSTRUMENTATION 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon (ad libitum), 3 horns, 1 cello, 1 double bass
1. Moderato quasi marcia
2. Menuetto. Tempo di minuetto
3. Andante con moto
4. Finale. Allegro molto
DURATION approx. 24 min.

composition history and general characteristics

At the beginning of 1878, during a trip to Vienna, Dvorak attended a concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic whose programme 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. Following Mozart’s example, Dvorak used, in addition to wind instruments, a cello and double bass line. Despite the fact that the introduction to the third movement is clearly inspired by the Adagio of Mozart’s serenade, Dvorak wrote a remarkable work, in its overall expression quite unlike his original source of inspiration. While preserving Classical temperance, Dvorak’s Serenade is wholly Czech in character and looks back to the tradition of music-making in Czech castles and palaces. The work represents a fine synthesis of the “retro” style and Dvorak’s typical musical invention. The first movement is an example of the traditional introductory march; the second movement – the minuet – also honours Classical traditions (in this movement, however, certain scholars pick up traces of the Czech folk dance “sousedska” – a slow dance in 3/4 time). The third movement is a lyrical nocturne with a broad melodic arc rising above a “barrel organ” accompaniment, 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.  

first page of the score
The composer dedicated the work to Berlin music critic Louis Ehlert in recognition of the latter’s promotion of his Slavonic Dances, which helped considerably to advance Dvorak’s music in Germany. As soon as the Serenade came out in print, Johannes Brahms familiarised himself with the piece and subsequently described it as Dvorak’s finest work to date.

premiere and subsequent performances

The premiere of the Serenade took place at Prague’s Zofin on 11 November 1878 with Dvorak conducting. The following April it was published by Simrock in Berlin. Dvorak conducted the work once again many years later, on 28 April 1892 at a “farewell” concert in Prague before his departure for the United States. The Serenade was first performed outside his native country in Dresden, on 12 November 1879, then a week later in Wroclaw (18 November), in Wiesbaden (28 November) and in other cities.