Archived Concert Footage
Andante Festivo (1922/1938)
Serenade for Strings, Op. 20 (1892)
I. Allegro piacevole
Serenade for Strings, Op. 22 (1875)
II. Tempo di Valse – Allegro – Tempo di valse
III. Scherzo: Vivace
V. Finale: Allegro vivace – Moderato – Presto
Will Peltz Smalley
The general definition of a “Serenade” is a type of song, usually of a romantic nature and typically sung in the evening. During the Classical Period, the genre grew to include slightly larger, multi-movement works similar to the ones you will hear tonight. Throughout the 20th century, they expanded even further to take on a more symphonic form; they were commonly used by composers as a type of “training ground” for symphonic writing. For instance, Brahms wrote two serenades for chamber orchestra before completing his first symphony.
The pieces chosen for this afternoon’s concert were chosen in part because of their harmonic connection to each other. Andante Festivo is in G major, one of the most vibrant keys for strings to play in. Elgar’s Serenade is in E major, which would normally be a jarring transition from G major, but the beginning is actually in E minor, which is a closely related key to G major. The Elgar ends in E major, which leads nicely into the E major beginning of Dvorak. There are a lot of other interested places that these pieces travel to harmonically – if you’re curious, just ask Nathaniel after the concert!
All three composers this afternoon are recognized as “nationalist,” meaning their music represents in some way the identity of their respective countries. While often connected to a specific nation state, nationalism in music more often refers to a desire by the composer to connect with the historical experience of a people, regardless of who maintained political power. For instance, even before Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia in 1917, Sibelius was labeled a Finnish nationalist composer due in part to his frequent use of Finnish Folk-lore as inspiration for his music.
Andante Festivo was originally written for String Quartet in 1922, but Sibelius re-orchestrated it in 1939 for a radio broadcast. The recording from that broadcast is the only recording we have of Sibelius conducting his own music.
Elgar’s Serenade for Strings was first performed by the Worcester Ladies’ Orchestral Class in 1892.
Elgar played violin under Dvorak’s baton in 1884, when Dvorak visited Worcester Cathedral to conduct his cantata, Stabot Mater. It is unclear whether Elgar knew Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings or what influence it could have had on Elgar’s own Serenade.
Dvorak wrote this Serenade for Strings while on holiday shortly after the birth of his first son.