The Op. 8 Serenade for string trio, published in 1797, is music for a light evening's entertainment in a social setting, or for amateurs to play. Carloads of such serenades, cassations, divertimentos, Nachtmusiks, and notturnos were published and played in the late 1700s, but they are little known today. Aside from a few repertory staples by Mozart, most of them are charming but unmemorable, and the only ones that get played in concert now are by composers who are famous for other reasons. Beethoven composed less light music, and enjoyed it less, than most composers. The Serenade is graceful, attractive music, but lacks the gripping musical ideas that make so much of Beethoven's music unforgettable.
There are nonetheless some of the features that got Beethoven a reputation for trying too hard to be novel and unusual, and clever touches that mark the Serenade as the product of a giant at play. In the March that begins and ends the work, the cello occasionally finds itself playing four 16th notes against three 8th notes in the upper parts, which is more rhythmic complexity and ambiguity than a march needs. The Minuet begins with a bang and ends with a few plucks, and the slow movement is interrupted by a half-minute-long scherzo in which the violin and viola scamper daintily while the cello pounds away impatiently.
There are foreshadowings of the later Beethoven. The Andante quasi allegretto is a set of variations on a theme that he later turned into a song titled "Sanft wie die Frühlingsohne" (Soft as the Sun in Spring), and the short-short-short-long motif that Beethoven used so often in his "Middle period" works - most famously in the Fifth Symphony - makes an early appearance in the March.
- Lawyer and lutenist Howard Posner also annotates programs for the Salzburg Festival, among others.