Published in 1892, the Serenade for Strings is amongst the composer’s most popular works. It is believed though, that it was a rework of a suite Elgar had written some years earlier.
Elgar was a violinist himself, and speaking of the serenade, much later in life, he wrote to a friend that the work was ‘real stringy in effect’. Certainly, despite its brevity, it shows Elgar’s mastery of string writing.
Edward Elgar, likely in the early 1900s.
The serenade – which suggests something to be played in the evening – is divided in 3 movements connected by harmonic and motivic elements.
The return of the first movement’s theme in the last one, for example. Something that suggests how Elgar conceived this as one long piece.
Elgar: an analysis of the Serenade for strings
First movement: Allegro piacevole
In case you don’t have it at hand, here’s a quick link to the score.
Let’s start with the tempo marking: Allegro piacevole. Piacevole does not have any meaning of slower or faster: it can be translated as “pleasurable” or “enjoyable“. It has the inner idea of something without too much tension, if at all. In turn, this tells you something both about the tempo – which shouldn’t be too nervously fast – and the general idea of the movement, which is not overly-romantic.
Pastoral in style, the movement starts with the violas, alone. Two bars of a rhythmic figure that will accompany us all the way to the end of the serenade
As a conductor, you have more than a decision to make in the first 2 bars. There is a sforzato marking but there is no dynamic. Is it a sforzato in forte? Or in mezzoforte?
There’s also a difference in weight between the sforzato and the accent on the second bar.
Watch the video for 3 different ways of conducting the opening.
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