Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), and 4 horns
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 19, 1927, Georg Schnéevoigt conducting
It was this brief Serenade, rather than the more ambitious first symphony of a year earlier, that marked a turning point in Strauss' development and allowed conductor Hans von Bülow to appreciate the full measure of his apprentice's promise. Perhaps this was a matter of chronology, but in the Serenade there is a sense that Strauss has found a style, if not a genre, that suited him: one that depends more on atmosphere and character than development. The opening chorale's classically-balanced phrases soon yield to a dotted-note figure and a more animated theme. Though the tempo remains relaxed, a sense of momentum owes not only to the dotted rhythm but also to the handling of texture, with moving parts threaded into more static ones. This mutual reinforcement of rhythm and texture is further emphasized by the young composer's growing mastery of timbral nuances. And finally, this major step toward maturity is revealed in form; the piece is not just a succession of pleasant moments, but rather emerges as a coherent artistic whole. When the chorale returns it is, for the listener, the completion of a short journey; for the young composer, the beginning of a long and fruitful one.
- Susan Key is a musicologist and frequent contributor to Los Angeles Philharmonic programs.