Dvořák Serenade in D-minor for Winds, Raff Sinfonietta
Antonin Dvořák (b Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, September 8, 1841; d Prague, May 1, 1904)
1. Moderato quasi marcia
3. Andante con moto
4. Allegro molto
We have Johannes Brahms to thank for essentially launching Dvorák’s career. In 1878, Brahms was a judge in a composition contest that awarded Dvorák honor as a contestant. Brahms then continued to champion the young Czech composer, and helped him land his first publishing contract. The contract asked of Dvorák a Symphony, which we know now as No. 5, and, as well as some other works, including the delicious Serenade for Winds (and strings).
The Serenade offers us Dvorák in youthful invention, as well as at his best in beautiful melodies and luscious harmony. That he chose to write this work for the winds that he did (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns) together with cello and bass, while omitting the flute, reveals the intention and fabric of this Serenade: darkly rich sonorities, chocolate-like lines, echoing the lovely Serenades of the Mozart of Old, while creating a uniquely Czech-sounding work. It is indeed exquisitely done, and one of the most glorious chamber-works ever written.
The satirically pompous first movement is at once arresting with its dotted rhythmical patterns and its delightful conjuring of the famous European/Czech village wind bands, or “Harmoniemusik.” [. . .] Finally, the Allegro molto arrives to bring all ‘round right with a stout rondo and certain glee. And, for good measure, themes from the first movement are brought back in this finale to give the piece a lasting counterbalance. The overall result is as creative and brow-raisingingly clever as Dvorák could be, and immensely fun to hear.
Joachim Raff (1822-82) Sinfonietta for double wind quintet, Op 188 (1873)
II. Allegro molto
Joachim Raff was born in Switzerland. As a child, he showed great natural talent as a pianist, violinist and organist, and taught himself the rudiments of harmony and composition. In 1840 while working as a teacher and composing music in his spare time, he sent some of his piano works to Mendelssohn, who was impressed and recommended them to his publisher. Encouraged by this and other favourable reviews, he moved to Zürich in 1844 to start a career as a composer. His horrified father wrote “he has made nothing of himself but a begging musician”. His fears were proved correct: Raff was shortly after declared bankrupt.
While living in poverty in Zurich, Raff walked 80 kilometres to Basle to hear the famous Franz Liszt play. He arrived in the pouring rain to find that all the tickets were sold. However, just before the concert began Lizst was told the extraordinary story of Raff’s determination to hear him play and insisted that he should be given a seat on the stage. This incident was the start of a long relationship between the two in which Lizst employed Raff on a meagre wage as a secretary and copyist, but also helped him to promote his own music. The relationship was never easy. Lizst was a tyrannical employer, making Raff work hard, and Raff resented his subservient role. He was very poorly paid, and on one occasion, being committed to prison for debt, wrote that his cell was far more comfortable than his lodgings. Gradually Raff’s reputation grew, and in 1851, his first opera “King Alfred” was performed three times in Weimar’s Hoftheater with Liszt’s help.
Raff was the first composer to use the name “Sinfonietta” for an orchestral work in several movements similar to a symphony, but shorter and lighter in content. His single example of the genre he created is indeed symphonic in style with seriousness of purpose and technical brilliance. The work however has a relaxed sunny nature and a lightness of touch in the scoring for a small wind band. It was unique and popular in its time, and was clearly intended by Raff to be regarded as something greater than the wind serenades, which had been popular since Mozart’s time.
Oboe Aldus Whitfield, Alison Street
Clarinet Barbara Stuart, Miranda Davies
Bassoon Simon Payne, Chris Grovenor
Contra Carol Brooks
Horn Jenny Steele, Jenny Morgan, Edvin Laci
Cello Emma Chamberlain
Double Bass Chris Seddon