Serenade for Winds in D Minor, Op. 44, B77
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
4 January – 18 January 1878
Premiere - date and place
17 November 1878, Prague
members of Provisional Theatre Orchestra, conductor Antonín Dvořák
Simrock, 1879, Berlin
2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon (ad libitum), 3 horns, 1 cello, 1 double bass
Parts / movements
1. Moderato quasi marcia
2. Menuetto. Tempo di minuetto
3. Andante con moto
4. Finale. Allegro molto
approx. 24 min.
composition history and general characteristics
At the end of 1877, during a trip to Vienna, Dvořák 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, Dvořák 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, Dvořák wrote a remarkable work, in its overall expression quite unlike his original source of inspiration. While preserving Classical temperance, Dvořák’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 Dvořák’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 “sousedská” – 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, Dvořák cements the cycle with a quotation of the introductory march motif at the end of the movement.
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 Dvořák’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 Dvořák’s finest work to date.
premiere and subsequent performances
The premiere of the Serenade in D minor took place at Prague’s Žofín Palace on 11 November 1878 with Dvořák conducting. The following April it was published by Simrock in Berlin. Dvořák 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.