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Antonín Dvořák - Serenade for strings in E major (1876)

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Published on Jul 20, 2011

Antonín Dvořák - Serenade for strings in E major (1876) - II. Tempo di valse
The 1990 Philips recording of both Dvorak's String and Wind Serenades is an elegant venture for Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields under Neville Marriner.

Music: While the whole serenade is a unified stream of the utmost gentility, I've ultimately decided to post solely the second movement - a particularly handsome waltz - which constitutes, for me, the height of Dvorak's inspiration in the piece. The movement is remarkably simple in execution yet all the more striking in its freshness. From a dramatic point of view, it is a series of elegant dances, suggesting, in its juxtaposition of emotional unsteadiness and genuine ardor, a meeting between two lovers on the dance floor. The piece is built around the familiar ABA construct with a few surprising touches. The A section is divided into two contrasting segments. First, an elegant, vaguely agitated and even melancholic principal motive that is stated by the first violins and then repeated three times with light ornamentation (in particular, its second half is elaborated by the progressive addition of a new note, moving from duplet to quadruplet), while the remaining forces play the booming bass line, suggesting the dancers' feet clicking on the floor (0:08). The section is restated complete (0:28), overflowing into the second segment which opens with broad descending passages (0:48) before moving, after a playful violin rise (1:01), to a charming (though a hint frantic) polka, played by the second violins and the cellos (1:04) with the remaining instruments slowly adding their voices, gradually elaborating and augmenting the material. Just as earlier, the segment is repeated without changes (1:13). A series of bold violin runs lead into a repeat of the first two phrases of the principal waltz (1:36) which is then slowly deconstructed by the violins and cellos in the subsequent coda (1:50). Two fortissimo chords herald the beginning of the B section, an altogether more introverted experience, a trio for violins, playing extended lyric lines, violas and cellos, doubling and echoing the violins' ardent cantabile (2:05). The music slowly grows into an impassioned romanza, delicately contrasting the pizzicatos of the cellos and the high-flying line of the violins (2:25), an episode very much in the style of Tchaikovsky. Once again, the section is restated complete (2:47). This moment of pure serenity is set against a much more emotionally unhinged agitato, moving from ornamental lines passed between the various strings (3:29) to a surprising return to the thematic material of the A section in the quadruplets of the first violins over the long lines of violas/cellos (3:57), ultimately reaching a restatement of the main lyric theme of the B section (4:24). Finally, we return to the principal waltz for just one statement of each musical segment (5:05). Though perhaps one does wish for a certain variety in the recapitulations of the main themes, Dvorak's creation is one of the loveliest waltzes that I've had the pleasure of encountering for a while.

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