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Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)

Nineteenth-century Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky found inspiration for his elegant Serenade for Strings in the work of eighteenth-century Viennese master Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  The Classical serenade in Mozart’s day typically included several movements, featuring marches and dances among them. 


Tchaikovsky infused this earlier genre with his own harmonic innovations, formal twists, and even a Russian theme in the finale.  Composed in 1880, the Serenade for Strings received its first performance in 1881 in St. Petersburg.


Pezzo in forma di sonatina opens with the sumptuous beauty of a stately chorale.  Following this slow introduction, two contrasting melodies alternate with each other: the first features a sustained melody in the upper strings with the energy of motion sustained in the lower instruments; the second is a fast, rhapsodic passage that passes throughout the orchestra.  Just as it seems that the movement should end, the stately chorale returns to close it.


The lilting second movement Valse certainly captures the cheerful mood of a waltz, though it would be a little difficult to actually dance to this music.  Tchaikovsky infuses it with delightfully unexpected harmonic twists as well as several surprising pauses before resuming the flow of the dance.


The emotional and heartfelt Elégie presents continuously lyrical melodies passed through the various instruments, from rich violas and cellos to soaring violins.  The movement quietly fades to the end.


After a brief slow introduction, the Finale bursts into a fast dance based on a Russian melody.  Just as the movement seems to reach a climactic close, the stately chorale from the first movement returns, quite unexpectedly, then moves seamlessly into a return of the Russian dance to close the work.

Flute Concerto, Op. 37

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)


French composer Jacques Ibert was quite well respected in his day.  As a student at the Paris Conservatory he won the prestigious Prix de Rome, enabling him to spend time studying and composing in that great capital.  He later returned to Rome as the director of the French Academy. 


His compositional output was quite eclectic, including such diverse genres as operas, ballets, stage and film music, and radio scores, in addition to works for orchestra and for various solo instruments.  The Flute Concerto, originally composed for virtuoso Marcel Moyse, has become an important contribution to flute literature.


The first-movement Allegro bursts forth with a brilliant flurry of runs and passage work, occasionally interrupted by a quieter and more lyrical contrasting melody.  In sharp contrast, the second-movement Andante is filled with calm lyricism, providing a much gentler character than the opening movement.  The Allegro scherzando returns to the flamboyant passage work of the first movement, punctuated by several brief moments of off-beat rhythms.  An extreme contrast is provided by the introspective lyricism of the middle section, followed by a return to the brilliant passage work.  Bold and decisive chords conclude the movement.

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 26

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


Young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792, eager to establish himself as a composer and pianist in that great cultural center.  Though the early works composed during his first decade in that cosmopolitan center were highly influenced by the Classical style brought to maturity by Haydn and Mozart, many of those compositions, including the Symphony No. 1, already show signs of the budding independence that would characterize his musical revolution of the symphony genre.  The C-Major Symphony, dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, one of Beethoven’s early patrons, was premiered in 1800 and later published in 1801.


Adagio molto—Allegro con brio.  The slow introduction of the first movement unfolds as a type of musical joke since it consists of a series of chords that lead away from the home key instead of securely establishing it, as custom would have dictated.  Thus begins Beethoven’s radical approach to the genre.  The bold and emphatic opening theme of the movement finally enters.  With the arrival of a contrasting and somewhat more lyrical melody, Beethoven integrates the winds with the strings more notably than in most previous symphonic writing.  After developing his musical ideas, Beethoven returns to these two contrasting themes to close the movement.


Andante cantabile con moto.  The opening of the second movement resembles a round; that is, beginning in the second violins, each instrument enters in its turn with the same melody.  A very light and elegant contrasting theme follows.  As the movement progresses, these same melodies appear, along with some abrupt shifts in the harmony.


Menuetto:  Allegro molto e vivace.  With this movement, Beethoven again hints at his transformation of the symphony.  The Classical minuet was an elegant dance in triple meter.  However, the Allegro molto e vivace tempo is so much faster than a minuet that it is really more of a scherzo, or joke, a label Beethoven used in his later symphonies.  The contrasting middle section again makes notable use of the woodwinds.


Adagio—Allegro molto e vivace.  The last movement returns to the idea of a musical joke for the slow introduction.  The first violins gradually build an ascending scale, only to stop just before reaching the final anticipated high note.  The complete scale then sweeps quickly into the opening theme of the finale.  This movement includes additional details characteristic of Beethoven’s rambunctious revolution from Classical style, including robust off-beat accents, bold shifts in the harmony, and numerous repetitions of the final chord in the home key.


With this symphonic introduction to the Viennese music-loving public, Beethoven surely established himself not only as one fully fluent with the Classical style, but one also fully capable of imposing his own independence and creative energy into those conventions.

               Renee McCachren

               Professor of Music, Catawba College