Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings, Op. 48

April 25, 2018

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 (1880)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky had such an intuitive gift for melody, rhythm and musical expression in general that many of his compositions have become enduring popular classics including the beloved Serenade for Strings. Unlike many of his contemporary Russian composers who eschewed the Western European classics in an attempt to write music that was genuinely Russian, Tchaikovsky was more than content to emulate the masters, particularly his favorite: Mozart. Tchaikovsky specifically stated that his Serenade was a deliberate imitation of Mozart’s style even though it is more Tchaikovsky than Mozart. The notion of a serenade as generally pleasing evening music often as a tribute to a person or celebration of an event was definitely a Viennese tradition of Mozart’s era and Mozart himself left multiple serenades suitable for either a string orchestra or a more intimate chamber ensemble. While graceful, inspired charm and masterful craftsmanship are qualities both Tchaikovsky and Mozart share, the Serenade features several aspects unique to Tchaikovsky.

The music begins with an introductory chorale, a stirring hymn instantly evocative of noble Russian character. The chorale is both a framing device and a kind of inspirational mother lode: it will appear again at the end of the first movement, and towards the end of the finale while its melodic shape will strongly influence both themes in the finale as though they were derived from or perhaps gave birth to it. After the chorale, the first movement features a sonatina (“little sonata”) with two contrasting themes and skillful contrapuntal textures featured throughout the Serenade. The second movement is a delicious waltz in Tchaikovsky’s famous manner eventually inspiring choreography from George Balanchine. The third, slow movement is titled "Élégie" and it begins and ends (somewhat like the first movement) with a slower paced section featuring muted strings and a similarly stirring affect. The finale, subtitled "Tema russo", features two different themes of a clearly Russian character intimately related to the initial chorale that, in a pleasing artistic symmetry, will surface towards the end before a rousing conclusion of sweeping elegance.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.