No strings today! Winds only to celebrate a lovely autumn day. This piece is a firework of creativity, unbridled enthusiasm and utmost beauty: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in B-flat Major, KV 361 (KV 370a). Mozart wrote it in Vienna together with two other serenades for winds between 1781 and 1784 while he was working on his opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio“, that I have presented in an earlier post. He scored it for two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, four horns, two bassoons and “Contra Basso”, which suggest a double bass, but the double bass is often replaced by the double bassoon. The excellent recording by the Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer has opted for this version.
Improved technology of winds and the development of the clarinet made it possible for composers to write pieces for winds only from the middle of the 18th century on. Mozart’s serenade certainly is a milestone in this evolution as the composer wrote a piece with an explicit symphonic character considering its length and its harmonies. It served Johannes Brahms as a landmark when he wrote passages for winds, enhanced or moderated by violas and cellos. The piece puts the clarinets in the center and has 13 sections: a largo, minuet, an adagio, a second minuet, a romance, finally a theme with six variations and a finale.
Several pieces of the serenade were presented to the Viennese audience on March 23, 1784 when Mozart’s friend, the clarinetist Anton Stadler, organized a concert at the Burgtheater. The music critic J. F. Schink would later write: “A master [sat] at each instrument – and with a stupendous effect! Magnificent and grandiose […] Mozart. Such is life over here, like in the world of the most fortunate men, like in the world of music.”
The German musicologist Thomas Schipperges is completely right when he says that words are inadequate to describe the beauty of the adagio, and I would like to add that it is impossible to describe the beauty of the serenade as a whole. You will have to listen it for yourself. I imagine two options: Download it on your music player and go for a walk with Mozart’s serenade into the woods. Or put the CD in your player at home, brew yourself a cup of tea and look outside: the sky, the leaves of the trees, the fading sunlight…
© Charles Thibo