Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts

Twin Cities Organ Concert Series
AU Sinfonietta and Soloists

January 29 , 2006

Elgar: Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Op. 20 | Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D, BWV 1050

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Op. 20

Known primarily as a composer of choral and orchestral works, Sir Edward Elgar was noted for being the first British composer since Purcell to gain international status. The son of a provincial piano tuner, church organist and music shop owner, the young Elgar aspired to greatness as a musician, first as a violinist. When a career as a virtuoso failed to develop, he devoted himself to musical composition and conducting, working his way from leading amateur musical societies to the great ensembles of the world. Largely self-taught, he began composing by taking his notebook down to the Severn River to record the “singing of the reeds.” Indeed, much of his music is imbued with the atmosphere of the natural world. The Serenade for Strings may have had its genesis as a group of three pieces composed in 1888 for the Worchestershire Musical Union, a women’s orchestra that he led. The manuscript of this piece has been lost, but four years later in May of 1892, Elgar completed the charming Serenade for Strings (which some believe was a reworking of the earlier pieces) for his wife Alice on the occasion of their third wedding anniversary. Referring to his wife, who throughout their married life was a great inspiration to his creativity, he said, “[she] helped a great deal to make these little tunes.” While the composer went on to become famous for his larger, more complex works, this early piece remained one of his favorites throughout his life.

Though brief, the Serenade is a delight and shows the composer’s early mastery of writing for strings. The lilting first theme – marked “piacevole” (Italian for pleasing or agreeable) – is introduced by a gentle insistent motive by the violas; the second movement, Larghetto, is heartfelt, elegiac, the melody shaped by what became known as a characteristic Elgarian seventh– a melodic pattern rising, pausing, then falling. The final brief movement returns to the spirit of the opening, including calling upon the violas to introduce the closing section.


Back to Top

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D, BWV 1050

Bach's years as the Cöthen court conductor were in many ways very musically rewarding. The Prince had established a first-rate chamber orchestra and had acquired some fine instruments. Bach’s position gave him great artistic freedom to create a vast quantity of chamber, orchestral, and keyboard works and also the opportunity and incentive to perfect the art of instrumental music, particularly the Italian concerto form. While technical brilliance is certainly an important element of Bach's concerti, his emphasis is clearly weighted toward conversation between soloist(s) and orchestra rather than sheer virtuosic display.

Although the six Brandenburg Concertos were dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg in Berlin, 1721, the set seems to have been compiled of works composed earlier in the composer's tenure at the court of Cöthen. The instrumentation required fits precisely that of the court orchestra. By 1721, Bach was looking around for a new position, and remembering an earlier request for new works made by the Margrave, Bach sent him these works. This offering not only fulfilled the earlier request, but may also have served as an exploration of the possibility of a position in Berlin. Bach did not receive an offer of employment in Berlin, but the Brandenburg Concertos arguably have become his most loved orchestral works. Audiences warm not only to their exuberance but also the variety of instrumental colors used in each concerto. These works are not solo concerti, but of two distinct types of ensemble concerto. Nos. 1, 3, and 6 are structured as two evenly balanced instrumental choirs in conversation and Nos. 2, 4, and 5 are more typical concerti grossi, works for a small group of soloists (concertino) in dialog with the full orchestra (ripieno or tutti) but with Bach's unique twist. Rather than just a two-tiered hierarchy, concertino and ripieno, there is another layer. Each concerto gives a single concertino instrument the most responsibility for virtuosity (no. 2, trumpet; no. 4, violin; no. 5, harpsichord).

In a sense Concerto No. 5 in D Major is the most unusual of the set. The keyboard is not only a member of the concertino (along with flute and violin), but is the lead member. In the conventional Baroque orchestra, the harpsichord normally performs the lowly role of filling in the harmonies of the basso continuo. In this concerto, Bach not only gives the harpsichord the major virtuosic work, but also an extensive cadenza at the end of the first movement, as well as providing continuo for the tutti sections. In addition, the inclusion of the harpsichord in the concertino makes it possible for this group to perform the entire central Affettuso movement alone. The inspiration for this concerto may have come from Bach's delight in the 1719 purchase of a marvelous new harpsichord for the Cöthen court.


Back to Top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2006.
Send me e-mail.
Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts