ANTONIN DVORAK (1841-1904)
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 22 (1875)
Tempo di Valse
Scherzo: Vivace
Finale: Allegro vivace

Just like delivering good news to someone has a positive rub-off effect on the messenger, performing Dvorak's Serenade is really a very therapeutic endeavor for performers. There is so much "pure goodness" in it. Somehow even the moments which could cast a gloomy shadow - light melancholy of the Waltz, or the fragility of the opening of Larghetto - retain the wonderfully cloudless atmosphere. Usually large scale compositions have drama, tension, conflict -- the tools which help the performer "to take a position", interpreting work from his/her unique angle. If to compare a dozen great performances of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony with another dozen of equally great performances of his Nutcracker Suite, the range of differences in interpretation will be far greater in the former. ("Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Lev Tolstoy, the opening sentence of "Anna Karenina"). The remarkable thing about Dvorak's Serenade - this "cloudless goodness" is fully sufficient for sustaining meaningful communication for nearly half an hour of music.

While the circumstances surrounding creation of the work and the emotional content of the resulting composition far not always go hand in hand, in this particular instance they do. In the summer of 1874 the recently married Dvoraks were expecting their first child. Dvorak was employed as the organist at one of Prague's churches - a position which did not create any problems for getting qualifying papers from the City Hall, documenting his poverty. With these papers, and a healthy stack of his recent scores (which included two symphonies, orchestral overtures, songs and some chamber music), he applied for a government grant. A distinguished jury, which included Johannes Brahms, did not fail to recognize the "genuine and original gifts", and on their recommendation, the Minister of Culture presented Dvorak with the highest stipend available under this program. Little wonder that the announcement of this grant stimulated an outburst of creativity. And it was in this happy wave, that Serenade for Strings was completed in just 11 days.