Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22, B52
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
3 May – 14 May 1875 (revision 1878)
Premiere - date and place
10 December 1876, Prague
"Filharmonia" Orchestra, conductor Adolf Čech
Bote & Bock, 1879, Berlin
violins, violas, cellos, double basses
Parts / movements
2. Menuetto. Allegro con moto
5. Finale. Allegro vivace
approx. 27 min.
composition history and general characteristics
The Serenade for Strings in E major was completed within a fortnight in the spring of 1875. Its atmosphere reflects an auspicious time in the composer’s life: Dvořák was enjoying his first successes on the concert platform, and he had also succeeded in acquiring a state scholarship for the first time. The work is a document of the composer’s exceptional sense of small forms. In five short movements, clearly constructed around a three-part song form, he exposes solid thematic material with the aid of rich imagery. The music of the Serenade flows easily and naturally with a sense of immediacy, its character idyllic and peaceable. A typical trait of the composition is its frequent imitation of themes in various voices; Dvořák reinforces the cyclical nature of the form by quoting the main theme of the first movement before the coda of the final movement. The Serenade in E major is one of the composer’s most popular and most frequently performed works.
premiere, subsequent performances and publication
Back in the summer of 1875 viola player in the Vienna Philharmonic Alois Alexander Buchta attempted to include the Serenade in the programme of one of the orchestra’s concerts, but to no avail. Dvořák was still unfamiliar in Vienna at that time. The premiere of the work, held on 10 December 1876 at Prague’s Žofín Palace, was such a success that the Serenade was immediately put forward again for the programme of the following Slavonic Concert, as it was known. Soon afterwards it was presented in Brno on 22 April 1877 by Leoš Janáček. That same year, on the initiative of music critic Václav Vladimír Zelený, a group of Dvořák’s friends got together to raise money for the publication of the piano score of the Serenade with Prague publisher Emanuel Starý. The full score and parts were published in 1879 by Berlin publisher Bote & Bock. Dvořák thought very highly of the Serenade and so, in 1877, he enclosed it with his fourth application for a state scholarship. He conducted the work himself six times: for the first time in August 1877 in Lipník nad Bečvou (the first documented instance of the composer as conductor), then in Prague on 17 November 1878, in Chrudim on 24 April 1879, in Mladá Boleslav on 27 October and subsequently in Prague on 17 April 1887 and 13 October 1894.
period press review
From a review of the premiere by Ludevít Procházka (Národní listy, 16 December 1876):
“Antonín Dvořák gave us a pleasant surprise with his serenade for string orchestra, showing decisive progress in the evolution of his artistic development towards greater stability and independence. It would indeed be difficult for us to decide which of the movements would deserve the prize. They are all so interesting in overall thought conception and in thematic work, and also clear in their overall design, that they will surely be received as favourably everywhere as each of them was on this occasion. Dvořák's great and very uncommon gift deserved that the path be blazed for it into the large musical world, and we have no doubt that with works like this, whose real artistic value cannot be denied in any way, he will also find greater favour everywhere than for example in our conservatoire, which turns its nose up at our domestic composers.” (translation: David R. Beveridge)