Program Notes

Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

  1. Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia / May 7, 1840; d. St. Petersburg, Russia / November 6, 1893

Tchaikovsky composed this richly textured and supremely melodious work in 1880, virtually simultaneously with the bombastic 1812 Overture, a commissioned work that he had written hastily and with little enthusiasm. “But the serenade,” he confided to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, “I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth.” Completed on 4 November, it had only a month to wait for its first performance, given by students at the Moscow Conservatory on 3 December as a surprise gift to the composer. Eduard Nápravnik conducted the public premiere, in St. Petersburg on 30 October 1881. It won a huge success.

Tchaikovsky intended the opening movement as a tribute to Mozart. A stately introduction in slow tempo leads to a vigorous and charming allegro. A gracious waltz, one of Tchaikovsky’s best, follows, then a sweet, heartfelt elegy. The finale makes use of two Russian folk songs. The first is treated as a slow, wistful introduction. The second kicks off the ensuing allegro with mischievous charm, a quality abetted by a gracious second theme of Tchaikovsky’s own invention. Near the close, the return of the first movement’s opening theme brings the serenade full circle.

This piece is scored for strings only.


Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 11

Richard Strauss

  1. Munich, Germany / June 11, 1864
  2. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany / September 8, 1949

Between 1880 and 1885, when Strauss was in his late teens and early twenties, one sizeable composition after another flowed swiftly from his pen. They included two symphonies; a serenade and a suite for large wind ensemble; chamber works; numerous songs and piano pieces; and the sketches of the Burleske for piano and orchestra.

He composed Horn Concerto No. 1 in 1882 and 1883. The first performance took place in Meiningen, Germany on March 4, 1885. It was inspired by the sovereign talents of his father, Franz, the Principal Horn in the Munich Court Orchestra. Richard’s unsurpassed understanding of this instrument (as a component of the orchestra as well as a solo instrument) may be traced to his daily exposure to it from infancy. Father Strauss wore strongly conservative colors, greatly preferring the tradition-oriented music of Brahms to the radical works of Wagner. Still, his professionalism enabled him to overcome his personal feelings to perform Wagner’s music with great skill.

Horn Concerto No. 1 is the boldest, most individual work that Richard had created up to that time. Its three compact movements are played without pause. They offer an appealing balance of heroic and lyrical elements, and reflect the interest in thematic cross-referencing and integration that Strauss would intensify in numerous later compositions.

This piece is scored for solo horn, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trombones, timpani and strings.


Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Johannes Brahms

  1. Hamburg, Germany / May 7, 1833; d. Vienna, Austria / April 3, 1897

Brahms’ highly dramatic first symphony premiered successfully in 1876, after 20 years of intermittent labor. In sharp contrast, Symphony No. 2, which followed just one year later, is relaxed and lyrical. He composed Symphony No. 3 in 1883. Hans Richter conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in the premiere on December 2, 1883. It is a more individual and characteristic symphony than its two predecessors. In its striking mixture of passion and pessimism, of restlessness and serenity, Brahms offers a compelling, highly revealing musical self‑portrait. “What harmonious mood pervades the whole!” his close friend, Clara Schumann, wrote to him after playing through the symphony at the piano. “All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart, each one a jewel.”

One of its most striking features is that all four movements end quietly. Such an unusually reserved practice reveals the degree of confidence that Brahms had attained by this point in his career, and also perhaps a growing pessimism. The opening movement is rich with incident and feeling. Surges of emotion, positive and doubting alike, roll across its richly textured surface. The following two movements are peaceful interludes. Only at the climax of the second movement does the overall atmosphere of almost rustic gentleness give way to a more heated style of utterance. The third movement is a dance: slow, melancholy, hauntingly beautiful. The symphony’s emotional conflicts are resumed in the finale, only to dissipate, unresolved, as the music winds down to a resigned, almost exhausted coda.

This piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.

Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2019