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Program Notes & Synopses

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Dvořák: Serenade in E major

Dvořák: Serenade in E major


380 words
program notes by Chris Myers

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Copyright © 2014 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution or reproduction prohibited.

Serenade in E major, op. 22
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Composed 1875. First performance: December 10, 1876, Prague. Adolf Čech, conductor.

I. Moderato
II. Tempo di Valse
III. Scherzo: Vivace
IV. Larghetto
V. Finale: Allegro vivace

Antonín Dvořák was enjoying life. He and his wife, Anna, were married in 1873 and celebrated the birth of their first son the next year. Despite the poverty in which they lived (he had never owned a piano!), the composer was on the verge of success. In 1874, he won the Austrian State Prize thanks to the influence of Johannes Brahms, and his music began to be recognized throughout Bohemia.

These happy and optimistic circumstances made 1875 a very productive year for the young composer. The stipend from the prize allowed him to concentrate more fully on composing, and in the span of a few months, he composed his String Quartet No. 2, Symphony No. 5, Piano Trio No. 1, Piano Quartet No. 1, the opera Vanda, his opus 20 Moravian Duets, and the Nocturne in B major. This body of work solidified his reputation as a composer, and when he won the Austrian Prize yet again, the renowned music critic Eduard Hanslick of the Vienna Neue Freie Presse announced his intention to help the young composer develop an international following beyond the Czech-speaking community.

In the midst of this creative outpouring, Dvořák composed a Serenade for string orchestra between May 3 and 14 of 1875. The Serenade is a charming and joyful work infused with the profound happiness and optimism pervading his life at the time. Each of the movements has a unique character, including a lilting waltz, a playful scherzo, a passionate and lyrical larghetto, and concluding with something rather unexpected after the courtly elegance we’ve experienced so far: a lively folk dance in the style of those heard throughout villages in Dvořák’s native Bohemia.

Dvořák maintains a sense of unity throughout the work by retaining bits of melodic material between movements—the larghetto quotes from the waltz, for instance, and the folk dance finale revisits themes from each of its predecessors before concluding with a restatement of the work’s opening theme, bringing the work full circle with the same three repeated E major chords that concluded the first movement.

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