"Carl Nielsen, Denmark's great son, was a born composer of symphonies, although his work embraced all forms of music," Jean Sibelius wrote to the 1953 Nielsen Festival in Copenhagen. "Through his great intelligence he developed his genius, in order to attain the aims which were - as I see it - clear to him from the beginning. Through his strong personality he founded a school and greatly influenced composers in many countries. One speaks of head and heart; Carl Nielsen had both in the highest degree."
Nielsen developed his gifts as a working musician. In 1889 he joined the orchestra of the Royal Theater as a second violinist, and even as he advanced his career as a composer, he maintained his position in the orchestra for many years, becoming its associate conductor in 1908.
Among his friends in the orchestra was the principal bass player, Ludvig Hegner. In the summer of 1914, Hegner and some of his colleagues decided to tour with a chamber music program featuring the Beethoven Septet. Hegner asked Nielsen for a piece that would use some of the same instruments, combining strings and winds. Since Nielsen had resigned from the orchestra in June and was now facing life as a freelancer for the first time in 25 years, he readily accepted and quickly completed a light-hearted programmatic quintet. It is cast in a single movement, but with three sections clearly depicting the scenes of his little serenade.
"Serenata in vano is a humorous trifle," the composer wrote. "First the gentlemen play in a somewhat chivalric and showy manner to lure the fair one out onto the balcony, but she does not appear. Then they play in a slightly languorous strain (Poco adagio), but that hasn't any effect either. Since they have played in vain (in vano), they don't care a straw and shuffle off home to the strains of the little final march, which they play for their own amusement."
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.