Dvorák (1841-1904) - Serenade in D Minor Op.
44, for Wind, 'Cello and Double Bass
Dvorák's music have been like if he'd joined the Wagner/Liszt camp?
While I love their music, I must admit they are prone to pomposity. As
a youngster, playing in his local village band must have obviated any such
tendencies, and planted the seed which was fertilised by Smetana's exemplary
use of Czech folk idioms. Fed by admiration for Schubert, and watered by
Brahms' immediate influence, Dvorák's talents blossomed: his symphonies
combined vital folksiness, daisy-fresh tunes, and structures as tight as
drumskins. But, like his heros, Dvorák could also turn out beautifully-crafted
lighter works, brilliant gems like the Slavonic Dances, Rhapsodies,
and the two Serenades.
of the fertile years following his marriage, Opuses (“Opera”?) 22 and 44,
separated by just three years, positively buzz with invention. The earlier
strings fitted Dvorák's lyrical predisposition like a glove, but
in the sturdy Wind Serenade he set himself a challenge. In opting
for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, double bassoon, 3 horns, 'cello and
double-bass, and omitting that brightest, most agile of wind instruments,
the flute, he'd assembled the ingredients for potentially a very stodgy
pudding. So, how does he start? Demonstrate his culinary skills, whipping
up some feathery meringue? No! Possibly recalling that village band, he
ladles out the thickest of goos! This, probably the nearest Dvorák
got to pomposity, is a joke, but one with a particular purpose, by contrast
illuminating his deft touch. Now, that's “cooking with gas”.
by definition, a “serenade” isn't supposed to stretch its audience, Dvorák
couldn't resist flexing his symphonic muscles, often toying with thematic
fragments where you'd otherwise expect a new tune.
Moderato quasi marcia: It's hard to resist the comic image of the arrival
of a rotund dignitary, complete with watch-chain looped across his formidable
frontage. If so, then so is a vision of fawning lackeys in the central
section, which builds in excitement for the reappearance of the said dignitary.
Make up your own picture for the wistful, fading finish.
Menuetto: Not a minuet, but a sousedská, a laid-back,
bucolic “neighbour's dance”, revelling in its playful little cascades of
notes. The contrasting trio section is in the style of a deliciousy vivacious
Andante con moto: Prepare to be astonished! These variations on a gorgeous,
romantic theme sail into troubled waters: half-way through, over an insistent
pulse an episode of uncommon intensity develops, from which the music never
quite recovers, even, near the end, straying into territory that Mahler
was already starting to claim as his own.
Allegro molto: The relative gloom is dispelled by a rude, robust rondo
with four varied episodes, romping and crooning its merry way until, on
the summit of a big build-up, the comic dignitary returns in all his pomp.
Naturally, he doesn't get the last word - behind his receding back the
party resumes, only now an inhibition-free zone.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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