Programme notes

Serenade No 12 in C minor, K.388, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

The serenade as a musical form began in medieval times as a musical greeting to a friend or lover, sung to an instrument, but by Mozart’s time it was generally instrumental, and often performed outdoors. Wind instruments, less susceptible to the effects of weather than strings, and easier to hear outdoors, were often used, as they are here.

Written in 1782, this serenade was possibly written as music for outdoor entertainment at a time when wind instruments were becoming more flexible and more able to play solo parts. Notice in this piece how the oboes generally take the lead, and the horns always work together, while other instruments take different roles. Look out for the athleticism demanded of the first oboe and first bassoon in particular throughout the Serenade, though the second clarinet has to play the most difficult music of the piece, and make it sound as simple as it would be as a left hand figure on the piano.

Key themes in the first movement keep recurring, sometimes passed between instruments, sometimes with one instrument leading while others amiably support, at other times in a sudden burst of unison, as though all the instruments want equal shares of a particularly good moment. Throughout the Serenade, Mozart has an extraordinary skill in creating shades and moods using different groupings of instruments, from two or three on their own to the full ensemble. The Menuet and Trio, movement 3, is a playful and technically complex investigation of canon, that is music where the melody played at first is then copied in various ways by the instruments that follow. On one occasion, the current canon  is an upside down version of the original: see if you can spot it.

Mike Torbe

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