- Serenade in C major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 10 (1902)
Romanza: Adagio non troppo, quasi andante
Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto
Rondo: Allegro vivace
Arnaud Sussmann, violin • Paul Neubauer, viola • Paul Watkins, cello
- Italian Serenade for String Quartet (1887)
Orion String Quartet (Todd Phillips, Daniel Phillips, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; Timothy Eddy, cello)
—INTERMISSION (Discussion with artists)—
by Federico Andreotti
Ernő Dohnányi (Pozsony, 1877 – New York, 1960)
When Hungarian pianist, conductor, composer, and arts administrator Ernő Dohnányi chose to write this serenade, it was a nod back at tradition within a modern sound. At 25, he had just fully established himself as an internationally renowned virtuoso and composer in 1902. He wrote this piece in Vienna and on tour in England, where he often traveled to perform and conduct. Unlike Dohnányi’s first major chamber work, the First Piano Quintet, Op. 1, the serenade doesn’t include his instrument. Members of the Fitzner Quartet premiered it in Vienna in 1904, nearly two years after it was written. It inspired favorable reviews, with critics judging it “highly recommended” with “splendid, rhythmically and harmonically striking themes.”
Dohnányi’s unusual choice of the serenade form may have been inspired by Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for String Trio, Op. 8. While a number of composers wrote serenades in late-19th-century Vienna, string trio serenades were relatively uncommon. Dohnányi took the old form and adjusted it to suit his needs, making the first movement and the coda of the final movement a march reminiscent of outdoor serenades where the musicians would accompany their own arrival and departure. Between the march sections, the piece visits many interesting places—the second theme of the first movement is a rustic Hungarian tune, while the second movement Romance recalls the earliest serenades, songs with guitar accompaniment sung outside a lover’s window. The scherzo snaps us back to Dohnányi’s present—angst-ridden, fin-de-siecle Austria—while the hymnal theme and variations, the longest movement, provides some more contemplative moments. The final movement brings back the work’s high spirits and when the march returns, it completes a multi-century exploration of the time-honored, much-evolved genre of the serenade.
Dohnányi’s unusual choice of the serenade form may have been inspired by Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for String Trio, Op. 8.
Hugo Wolf (Windischgraz, Austrian Empire, today in Slovenia, 1860 - Vienna, 1903)
Wolf wrote the Italian Serenade quickly and decisively in just three days, May 2-4, 1887. He intended to add two more movements but he never completed them despite various efforts during in the 1890s. The title seems to have been inspired by Romantic writer and critic Joseph von Eichendorff, whose writing Wolf had a practically lifelong fascination with. Wolf completed five Eichendorff songs in spring 1887, including Der Soldat I, which bears some musical similarities to the serenade, but he may have had another Eichendorff work in mind while composing the serenade: the 1823 novella Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts (From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing). The work tells the tale of a young violinist whose father, a miller, kicks him out to find his way in the world. The violinist goes on various adventures in Austria and Italy, including hearing a mysterious serenade at his window while locked in a room of an Italian palace. Wolf’s Italian Serenade bears some similarities to Eichendorff’s Italy. It is not the weighty Italy of ancient art and history but rather a foreign place full of half-serious people darting in and out of the story while doing unpredictable things and speaking in an unintelligible language. Wolf’s comic serenade takes us to this imagined land of beauty, song, and jest with a playful, folk-like main rondo melody in the first violin that is at times interrupted by commentary from the other instruments.
Ludwig van Beethoven (Bonn, 1770 – Vienna, 1827)
Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 at the age of 21, and he quickly established himself as the next rising star in the music scene. While he wasn’t yet the living legend he would eventually become, he had generous patrons (like Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who gave him lodging early on and was the dedicatee of his Op. 1) and great connections (among them Haydn and the celebrated violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh) that helped his career immensely. He dazzled audiences with his ferocious piano playing and beat his rivals in virtuosic piano duels. New compositions came slowly at first (he brought with him a number of works composed in his native Bonn) but after a few years he was consistently publishing sets of chamber music. The future looked bright.
As soon as he arrived in Vienna, Beethoven began studying with Haydn, then the most famous composer in Europe. Haydn was well-known for his string quartets, and Beethoven put off writing quartets in order to delay direct comparisons between them. In fact, just as the aristocracy enjoyed Beethoven’s piano duels, they also relished a sort-of quartet composition duel—when Beethoven finally agreed to write six quartets, the commissioner, Prince Lobkowitz, commissioned a set from Haydn at the same time. Haydn’s health was starting to fail, however, and he only completed two. To prepare for the eventual scrutiny his quartets would see, Beethoven wrote five string trios in the 1790s.
Beethoven was careful to position his works within the existing musical tradition. His first string trio, Op. 3 in E-flat major, was closely modeled on Mozart’s famous six-movement Divertimento, K. 563, in the same key. He followed it nearly five years later with this trio, Op. 8 in D major, which covers a wide emotional range over its seven movements. Beginning and ending with a march, which would have accompanied the musicians’ entering and exiting the hall in an earlier time, the piece traverses a fantasy-like adagio and then a second adagio in a dark D minor. These slow passage are broken up by a minuet, a scherzo, and a Polish dance before Beethoven sets his focus to a long-breathed theme and variations at the heart of the piece. This early work shows us what amazing emotional contrast the young Beethoven was capable of creating with just three string instruments.
Notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager
© Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
By the mid-1700s, [serenades] had become large ensemble works without voice, still often performed outside for special occasions.
By the early 1800s, the serenade was an older form, still popular and carrying a deep history. Serenades started out as sung pieces accompanied by guitar or other plucked instruments that were performed outside a person’s home or to greet an important person. By the mid-1700s, they had become large ensemble works without voice, still often performed outside for special occasions. They also frequently (but not always) included winds—Mozart’s three mature serenades from his years in Vienna were for 8-12 winds, with the addition of a double bass part in the Gran Partita. Beethoven’s only other serenade was for the unusual combination of flute, violin, and viola but his wildly popular septet, premiered just a year before the Op. 25 Serenade, was in a serenade-like style, with a mix of winds and strings and in six movements.