Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Serenade in C major

Op. 48, TH48

Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Fresh from having completed his thunderous and shallow 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky set about crafting a gentle, musical work which would provide for him once again the comfort of alluding to his musical idol, Mozart, in form and spirit. This is not to say the Serenade for String Orchestra apes Mozart, for it does not. But it seems to have been in the composer's mind a work in the vein of a classical piece, with four sections which contrast musically, but together form a suite of contrasting but complimentary structures that do not depend upon each other as do, for example, the movements of a symphony. The second movement Waltz and, occasionally, the third movement Elégie are played alone as concert pieces. Nonetheless, taken together the four sections form a powerful and convincing work, and Tchaikovsky's consistency of form and scoring link them inexorably together.

The Serenade opens with "Piece in the form of a Sonatina" which has more passion than you would expect in a sonatina. In the furor and popularity of the second section waltz is sometimes lost the incredibly serene beauty of the lengthy third section elegy. It emerges as the longest of the four parts and contains typically wonderful, expressive writing, the type of which Tchaikovsky was a master. A perfect transition passage at the beginning of the fourth section leads to a crisp finale. Here, the composer proves yet again that he could write powerful and stirring music without resorting to sheer volume of sound or brute bombast. The objective listener realizes that the work is for string orchestra only; but the sensation is one of accumulating energy and even if there is no blazing brass, crashing cymbals, or thundering timpani, the piece nonetheless sweeps the listener to a breathless conclusion.

The work is significant in Tchaikovsky's output as an example of the composer writing from inspiration and employing the depth of his genius but without the heavy, sometimes overpowering emotional baggage which pumps up and stretches some of his work out of shape.