Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings: Nocturnal Melodies

The word serenade brings to mind serene music of the evening.

In the Middle Ages, the serenade was a musical greeting performed for a friend or lover. Later, it evolved into a divertimento with a series of contrasting movements. Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik may be the most famous example of this kind of light party music. Brahms’ two serenades were more weighty. They served as stepping stones for a composer who was dedicated to perfecting his craft before taking on the daunting challenge of writing a symphony.

In his Serenade for Strings in E Major, Antonin Dvořák continued where Brahms left off. Composed in just twelve days in May of 1875, Dvořák’s Serenade is filled with shimmering melodies and the infectious rhythms of Czech folk music. Radiant joy blends with an underlying sense of wistful nostalgia. Melodies and countermelodies weave into a sensuous drama of conversing voices. We hear this from the first bars of the opening Moderato, where a nocturnal dialogue between the second violins and cellos emerges over a pulsating “heartbeat” in the violas. By the fifth measure, all five voices blossom, carrying distinct lines and interacting as equals. The second movement, Tempo di Valse, is a lilting waltz set in the veiled key of C-sharp minor. The Scherzo which follows teems with bright, dancelike exuberance. Yet even this joyful music soon drifts into lament. The Larghetto enters a tender and intimate dreamscape. We hear distant recollections of the second movement’s third theme. The fifth movement, Finale: Allegro vivace, moves into the Bohemian countryside with a jubilant peasant dance. Amid all of its motion, there is a return of the main theme of the Larghetto. In the final moments, all of the unrelenting forward motion dissipates and we return home with the music which opened the first movement. The Serenade closes with a final, exhilarating flash of energy.

This performance featuring the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra was recorded at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2016:


Featured Image: Prague’s Old Town Square

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings: Nocturnal Melodies”

  1. I read that this work was a wedding gift Dvorak composed for his bride and it explains its lovely sweetness, lilting waltz, serene romance, and passionate vow that the composer attentively invented to signify his romantic love. It’s truely an exquisite musical wedding ring!

    I have CD of Marriner and ASMF from Philips which is one of the best renditions of this work (coupled with the equally enjoyable Serenade for Winds). Karajan with Berlin from DG is disappointingly less so mainly due to strange tempo and phrasing choice of the first movement (but the coupling of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is superb). Prague Chamber orchestra (no conductor) from Supraphon is admirable in a different soundscape that is of smaller orchestra than Merriner’s and it is coupled with one of superb renditions of Czech Suite. Another CD gem is by Boughton with English String Orchestra from Nimbus (coupled with also superb Tchaikovsky’s). These two serenades for strings are the best of their kind that passionate listeners will cherish forever and more.


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