Dvořák – Serenade in D-minor, Op. 44, for Winds, Cello and Double Bass

by Max Derrickson

Antonin Dvořák   (b Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, September 8, 1841; Prague, May 1, 1904)

Serenade in D-minor, Op. 44, for Winds, Cello and Double Bass
1. Moderato quasi marcia
2. Menuetto
3. Andante con moto
4. Allegro molto
[. . .]

We have Johannes Brahms to thank for essentially launching Dvorák’s career.  In 1878, Brahms was a judge in a composition contest that awarded Dvorák honor as a contestant.  Brahms then continued to champion the young Czech composer, and helped him land his first publishing contract.  The contract asked of Dvorák a Symphony, which we know now as No. 5, and, as well as some other works, including the delicious Serenade for Winds (and strings).


The Serenade offers us Dvorák in youthful invention, as well as at his best in beautiful melodies and luscious harmony.  That he chose to write this work for the winds that he did (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns) together with cello and bass, while omitting the flute, reveals the intention and fabric of this Serenade: darkly rich sonorities, chocolate-like lines, echoing the lovely Serenades of the Mozart of Old, while creating a uniquely Czech-sounding work.  It is indeed exquisitely done, and one of the most glorious chamber-works ever written.


The satirically pompous first movement is at once arresting with its dotted rhythmical patterns and its delightful conjuring of the famous European/Czech village wind bands, or “Harmoniemusik.”      [. . .]    Finally, the Allegro molto arrives to bring all ‘round right with a stout rondo and certain glee.  And, for good measure, themes from the first movement are brought back in this finale to give the piece a lasting counterbalance.  The overall result is as creative and brow-raisingingly clever as Dvorák could be, and immensely fun to hear.