Serenade for string orchestra (dir. Krzysztof Penderecki)
the serenade genre with a young man’s declaration of love under his beloved’s
window, sung to the accompaniment of some portable instrument. As an
instrumental genre, it flourished during Classicism, when it became a
multi-part composition written for special occasions, frequently for
performance in the open air. The most famous string serenade is Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart, who
elevated this genre to the status of high art.
The Romantics, in their turn, converted the serenade into a concert piece rather more serious in expression. In the 20th century, the serenade continued to inspire composers, with serenades written by Britten, Stravinsky and Schönberg. Penderecki’s catalogue of includes an interesting attempt at “reviving and refreshing the genre”.
Originally the composer planned independent pieces for string orchestra for two occasions. The work became a bipartite whole in 1997, when it was performed under Rudolf Baumgartner at the Lucerne Festival. The first part is a Passacaglia with a consistently repeated melodic motif, at first placed rather teasingly in the high register of the strings, and moving to the double basses only toward the end. The second part, the Larghetto, is twice as long as the first.
This moving composition borrows its head motif from Et incarnatus est, a section of Penderecki’s vocal-instrumental Credo composed at the same time. The musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski suggests a similarity between the Larghetto’s main melodic idea and the initial phrases of Lacrimosa and Agnus Dei from the Polish Requiem, as well. Still, with respect to its character, expressive quality and function, Penderecki’s Larghetto has more in common with the analogically titled sections in serenades by Elgar or Dvořák than with his own compositions.
We know that the present form of this composition is not final. The composer soon envisaged the Passacaglia and Larghetto as the second and third sections of a four-part work in progress, and in 2012 he revised the score, as noted on the website of Schott Music, his publisher. The world premiere of the full version will be presented by Beethoven Academy Orchestra in 2014.