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About this performance:
This program includes one of Dvořák’s most memorable melodies, evoking the old world atmosphere of musical performances in the castles of the Rococo period, where the worlds of the aristocracy and the common folk merged. Richard Strauss had just turned seventeen when he composed his Serenade for 13 wind instruments. The work is much more than simply a deft imitation of Mozart and Mendelssohn. The contour of the melodies easily identifies Strauss as the future composer of works filled with moments of achingly beautiful lyricism.
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Michael Stern, conductor
Members of the Stamford Symphony
Dvořák Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44
I. Moderato, quasi marcia
II. Minuetto. Tempo di minuetto
III. Andante con moto
IV. Finale. Allegro molto
Strauss Serenade for Winds in E-flat major, Op. 7
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Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44
Given his place as one of the foremost composers of the nineteenth century, Antonín Dvořák was something of a late bloomer, but not for want of musical talent and promise. Dvořák’s father was a butcher and had expected his son to go into the family trade. Only after his uncle had agreed to finance the boy’s musical education was he able to follow his passion for music. Trained as a church organist, his first job was as a performer, playing principal viola in Prague’s new Provincial Theatre Orchestra. During this time, he practiced composition, producing songs, symphonies and entire operas but achieved no recognition until he was in his 30s.
Beginning with the 1870s, under the influence of the emerging Czech demand for self-rule and Bedřich Smetana’s nationalistic music, Dvořák’s music took on a decidedly nationalistic tone. In 1875, Dvořák met and became a disciple of Johannes Brahms while Vienna’s famous curmudgeon music critic, Eduard Hanslick, also encouraged him and gave him prominent billing in his reviews. That year Brahms and Hanslick supported him when he entered – and won – the competition for the Austrian State Prize in music for young, poor and talented musicians. The committee report stated that “…the applicant, who has never yet been able to acquire a piano of his own, deserves a grant to ease his strained circumstances and free him from anxiety in his creative work.” Although Dvořák sensed condescension in the support and encouragement of the Austrian musical establishment, economic necessity forced him to accept the stipend, one of its first products being the Serenade in E, Op. 22, for Strings.
The eighteenth century witnessed the birth of many of the important genres in classical music, with the symphony, the string quartet and the piano trio, among the most prestigious. The instrumental serenade was another, written in a light vein designed primarily for entertainment and, frankly, background music for social gatherings and dinner parties. It developed as a hybrid of chamber and orchestral music, as well as the dance suite, with three to ten relatively short movements. The serenade often involved unusual instrumental combinations, as in Mozart’s Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments (the Gran Partita), which served Dvořák as a model for his Second Serenade. Wind ensembles (or, in German, Harmonie bands) were particularly suited to outdoor entertainment.
Dvořák’s second venture into the Serenade came in 1878. This one he scored for two each of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, one contrabassoon, three horns, cello and double bass. The Serenade was premiered in Prague the same year and published less than a year later. Brahms again served as guardian angel, promoting Dvořák to his own publisher, Simrock. Dvořák quickly became a sought-after composer, courted by publishers, performers and audiences.
The D-minor Serenade is a skillful handling of contrasting moods, opening with a somewhat gloomy military march, followed by a minuet featuring a beautiful clarinet solo, framing a lively trio. The third movement Andante con moto, a dark pastoral idyll, is the longest and weightiest movement but blows the clouds away with a lightweight coda. The work concludes with an energetic Finale, with a second section recalling the Slavonic Dances.
Serenade for Winds in E-flat major, op. 7
Richard Strauss came from an extremely conservative family. His father, Franz Joseph Strauss, was the principal horn player in the Munich Court Orchestra, a post he held for 49 years. He played Wagner superbly, but detested the man and his music. The young Strauss was forbidden to listen to Wagner’s music and when, to the disgust of his father, he finally discovered it, he was overwhelmed.
Strauss composed the Serenade Op. 7 in 1882 while still a student. A performance later that year brought him to the attention of famed conductor Hans von Bülow, who encouraged him to continue in composition. Scored for double woodwinds, four horns and contrabassoon, the Serenade demonstrates that even at that early age Strauss already knew well the particular character of the individual wind instruments.
In trying to find his own voice, Strauss assimilated the music of the late nineteenth century; his early works, especially the chamber music, showed the strong influence of Brahms. With his tone poem Don Juan in 1888, Strauss finally found his own voice; after that point his career as composer took off.
The unusual scoring of the Serenade most likely reflects the Strauss family’s predilection for wind instruments. Serenade was also the traditional designation for wind bands (Harmonie) during the eighteenth century. Strauss’s composition is a passionate work in which the emotional intensity builds gradually, employing different small instrumental groupings almost in conversation with each other. The intensity of mood is reminiscent of Mozart’s wind serenades that were certainly more ambitious than the occasions for which they were written.
Program notes by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn
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