Brahms's first attempts at symphonic writing, but he dared not call it a symphony.
Brahms was ambitious, and had set himself a goal of reaching Beethoven’s level as a composer of symphonies.
But it took him until he was 43 years old before he was ready with his first symphony. Before that, his earlier preparatory work in symphonic writing went back nearly 20 years, with the composition of two Serenades in 1857 and 1858.
The Serenade No 1 began life as a nonet, that’s to say a piece of chamber music for nine players: a flute, 2 clarinets, bassoon, horn, and string quartet.
Then the violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim advised Brahms to re-score the piece for full orchestra, and the final version of this was premièred in Hanover in 1860. It was Brahms’s first orchestral work to be published.
And so the Serenade feels a bit like a precursor of Brahms’s full-scale symphonies. Here we have an opening allegro, an adagio, a minuet and a finale, much as we’d expect in a symphony, but Brahms drops in two extra scherzos, giving us six movements in all, a sort of descendent of Mozart’s Serenades.
Recorded by RNZ Concert, Auckland Town Hall, 5 November 2020
Producer: Adrian Hollay; Engineer: Rangi Powick