About this work
Nothing disturbs the graceful amiability of this early work, begun a year before Elgar's marriage in 1889. These "little tunes," as the composer called them, are about as far as one can get from the patriotic fervor of the Pomp and Circumstance marches and the emotional intensity of the larger orchestral works.
All three movements, Allegro piacevole, Larghetto and Allegretto, are enchanting: the first liltingly rhythmic, the second a meditation of serene beauty on a melody similar to that of the Lento movement in the Symphony No. 1, the third a genial reworking of first-movement themes.
The opening movement, in 6/8 time, is based around an opening theme which is suffused with the feel of English ballad; perhaps some snatch of West-Country melody caught the young composer's ear and worked its way into his creative process. It weaves in and out of minor and major before yielding to the no less serene second theme, bearing Elgar's trademark interval of a seventh leap. This same thumbprint figure can be found in the sensitive following movement, in which there is a constant unfolding of melody rather than contrasting themes. A Tristan-like turn, as well as a phrase which seems to be a quotation from that opera (Elgar was an unashamed admirer of Wagner's music), are worked up to a crest which subsides; overall, though, the music is purged of excessive chromaticism, and any Wagnerisms used in a very different and sensitive context. The closing movement uses a sunny and winsome theme also in 6/8 and returns to the seventh leap of the opening movement, the theme in its final resolution bearing a curious resemblance to the trio of the last Pomp and Circumstance nearly 40 years later. Coincidental? Perhaps, but also indicative that nothing is incongruous within one's own frame of reference.
Elgar, himself a violinist, was sensitive to the coloration of the string orchestra, and his touch does not falter throughout a work which he described as being "real stringy." There is no straining after effect and no obvious personal or pictorial associations -- all is pure music as well as pure poetry. Yet anyone who knows the English countryside around Hereford where Elgar lived can hardly fail, especially in the second movement, to be reminded of that peaceful, solitary landscape.
The composer made an arrangement of the Serenade for piano duet, though it is now difficult to think of it other than in its original form.