Wind Serenade

Programme note

Antonín Dvořák (1841-10904)
Wind Serenade in D minor, Op 44 (1878)

Moderato, quasi Marcia
Andante con moto
Finale: Allegro molto

Of Dvořák’s two serenades – another was started but emerged as his colourful Czech Suite – the second, in D minor, Op 44,  is the potent obverse of the first.  Sunlit string tone is transformed into pungent wind tone.  The vein is robustly outdoor rather than delicately indoor (members of the SCO played it one summer in the shade of a fountain at the Aix-en-Provence Festival).  Radiant major keys become starker minor ones.  Five movements are compressed into four.  The sound of Mozart’s wind serenades, with their marches and minuets voiced by pairs of oboes and clarinets, audibly lurks in the background, but this is music with a nineteenth-century savour and a Czech accent.  The depths of double bass and double bassoon tone may evoke Mozart’s Gran Partita for thirteen instruments (Dvořák here employs twelve, including a cello as ballast) but the strains of the music, shot through by a trio of horns, are largely Bohemian.

Completed within a fortnight in 1878, the work is exuberantly Czech in spirit, yet for all its joie de vivre there is a rigour about it that Dvořák did not display in all his works.  True to classical tradition, it opens with – and ultimately returns to – a march, one of the traits of eighteenth-century entertainment music.  But it is more succinct than its classical predecessors in that it curtails the two minuets and two slow movements – Dvořák deemed one of each to be quite sufficient – that were considered desirable in some of the more leisurely scores of an earlier era.

In fact Dvořák’s single minuet turns out in its central section to be a stampingly fast and not at all minuet-like Czech furiant, with exhilaratingly cross-accented syncopations.  The slow movement is a tenderly pulsating nocturne, warmed by clarinet and oboe on a bed of cello and bass tone.  At times exquisitely ornate, it is eventually displaced by the dapper finale, incorporating a repeat of the opening march before bubbling to its close.  John Clapham, the distinguished Edinburgh-based Dvořák authority, appreciatively called it – in one of his books on the composer – a “unique work, rewarding to both audiences and performers”

© Conrad Wilson