Magazine article Gramophone

GRAMOPHONE GUIDE TO ... Serenade: David Threasher Traces an Evolution from the Balcony to the Concert Hall

Magazine article Gramophone

GRAMOPHONE GUIDE TO ... Serenade: David Threasher Traces an Evolution from the Balcony to the Concert Hall

Article excerpt

A lovelorn youth, perhaps with a guitar, but certainly with a song in his heart. A balcony. A fervent wish to entice the object of his desire from her boudoir, however briefly. That's the archetype of the serenade, and it's one that translated to the opera stage most famously in Don Giovanni, as the luckless libertine attempts his seduction of Elvira's maid.

The nocturnal implications of the term gave rise in the late 16th century to the serenata, a sort of solo cantata sung outside by artificial light, but also transferred in the 17th century to the instrumental sphere, originally signifying a musical greeting performed in the open air at evening-time. By the 18th century it had become a catch-all term for a piece in one or more movements, usually of a light character. Serenades came after divertimentos and before notturnos--their place in the evening's entertainment was at about 9pm, while the nocturne was heard at 11.

Such timetabling was only loosely adhered to, of course, and the term migrated from works with plucked accompaniments mimicking the serenader's guitar, as does Schubert's famous example, 'Standchen', from Schwanengesang--to multi-movement works combining aspects of march, symphony and concerto. Mozart contributed generously to the Salzburg tradition, joining his father and their colleague Michael Haydn in composing a collection of such works for particular events or noble families. He continued in his Viennese maturity to compose a series of richly scored woodwind treats, the greatest of which is the Gran Partita for no fewer than 12 wind players and double bass. …

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