Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, was well-known for his orchestral compositions. His initial popularity came with the performance of his Slavonic Dances for piano four hands, which he later orchestrated for symphony orchestra. Louis Elhert, a well-known Czech music critic, loved the dances so much, and spoke very highly of them, that Dvorak dedicated a piece to him. This piece was his Serenade in D minor, Op. 44, B.77, better known as Serenade for Winds, which recalls the charm and entertaining music of Mozart and the Classical era.
The serenade, written in just two weeks in January 1878, was originally composed to be played by two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and three French horns. After the first performance of the work, Dvorak added cello, double bass and contrabassoon to reinforce the bassline. Since the contrabassoon was not easy to obtain back in his time, Dvorak attributed this part as “ad lib” (to use it whenever available). Dvorak also decided to add a third horn, which allows the horn trio to play full chords and fill out the texture of the whole orchestration.
The work is divided into four movements:
Moderato, quaci marcia
Beginning in D minor, this opening movement sets the tone of the entire work. Starting with march-like rhythms and the unusual combination of instruments, it creates a very interesting timbre. It is the only movement in the minor key, complementing the overall good-natured qualities of the serenade.
Although titled minuetto and sounding like a Classical minuet, this movement is based on a Czech dance called sousedka, while the energetic trio section is based on another Czech dance, furiant.
Andante con moto
For most of the movement, it is pastoral and lyrical, with moments of intense passion created in arcing lines for the oboe and the clarinet. This movement triggers thoughts of Dvorak trying to paint a picture of his beloved Czech countryside.
The finale is a rondo, playfully structured, extremely lively and technically challenging. It recalls the theme from the first movement towards the end, bringing the work to a satisfying conclusion.
- He suffered from agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). It was so bad that he missed the debut performance of his own New World Symphony.
- He was obsessed with trains. He was known to have spent hours at the Franz Josef railway station in Prague, known the train schedule by heart, and even asked students to describe their train journey.
- He was an extremely early riser. When Dvorak and his wife stayed at Cambridge, the host was surprised to find the couple sitting under a tree in the garden at 6am.
- His grandmother called him “My Little Toothy” because he had good teeth.
- It was said that Dvorak was so critical of himself that he burned his early works.
LONDON WINDS & RUSSIAN NATIONAL ORCHESTRA JOINT ENSEMBLE
Performed on 2012 at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Russia