Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Serenade in C minor, K. 388

I - Allegro; II - Andante; III - Menuetto in Canone - Trio in canone al roverscio; IV - Allegro

Serenades were traditionally performed in the evening, usually outdoors, to mark a particular occasion or honour a specific person. Mozart composed three such works for wind ensemble, all in the early 1780s, and largely in Vienna: the work performed tonight, the Serenade in B flat, K. 361 for thirteen instruments, and the five-movement Serenade in E flat, K. 375 (originally for a wind sextet, to which a pair of oboes were later added). The three serenades all exemplify Mozart's fine writing for wind, and represent a substantial contribution to the wind chamber repertoire.

The Serenade in C minor, K. 388 was written in late 1782 or 1783, and little is known about the reasons for its composition, other than that, according to Mozart, it was produced in a hurry; the composer subsequently arranged the work as a string quintet, K. 406 (1788); the fact that an eight-part piece could be feasibly reduced to just five parts. Described as a serenade in the original score, Mozart elsewhere refers to this piece as "Nacht musique" (sic), a term that might instead imply performance later in the evening.

The Allegro opens dramatically with a unison arpeggiaic ascent, and the ensuing music explores the emotive, chromatic possibilities of its minor tonality. Then follows a delicate oboe melody, to which a horn is later added, and the first section ends after a passage characterised by use of double-dotted rhythms. The music of the next passage is more sparsely scored, opening with a dolce clarinet tune, and increasing in intensity with the addition of a reiterated quaver accompaniment, before the dramatic material of the opening returns.

The bucolic melody of the slow movement is presented at the outset by the clarinets in thirds. A subsidiary tune, heard on solo clarinet, then follows, and is repeated, embellished and chromatically enhanced, by the oboes. Another melody, for solo oboe, ensues, before the principal theme of the movement returns, first on oboes, then on horns, and finally on clarinets, inaugurating the recapitulation of the music of the beginning of the Andante.

The third movement is notable for sheer contrapuntal ingenuity; the Minuet contains a strict canon between oboes and bassoons - that is, between the highest and lowest voices - breaking only to end phrases, and to include a contrasting middle passage. The Trio, scored for double reeds only, is written in "reverse" canon: the music of first oboe and second bassoon is an inversion of that presented two bars earlier by second oboe and first bassoon respectively. The result is truly remarkable.

The Finale is a theme and variations whose principal melody is initially presented on oboe. In the ensuing music, the theme may clearly be heard despite its embellishment: in unison bassoons in the first variation, in the oboe triplet quavers of the second, and in syncopated oboe and bassoon in the third. The fourth variation features semiquaver passages for the bassoons, and the fifth, in the relative major key, is introduced by a prominent horn-call. Unusually, the music of the theme then returns, with different accompaniment; and, following a slow-paced passage characterised by sustained chords, the last variation presents the theme in the tonic major to end the work. CMW

© 2001 The Arethusa Ensemble