Morning names: divertimento, serenade

Morning names from quite some time ago, prompted by my iTunes, playing overnight (then and again last night), and running through the full set of Mozart divertimenti and serenades, which I have long enjoyed. So there’s going to be a lot of Mozart in this.

Divertimento. From Wikipedia:

Divertimento (… from the Italian divertire “to amuse”) is a musical genre, with most of its examples from the 18th century. The mood of the divertimento is most often lighthearted (as a result of being played at social functions) and it is generally composed for a small ensemble.


So: light, diverting music, accompanying banquets or other social events, as after-dinner music, as pleasant outdoor music. Notably composed by Mozart, Stamitz, Haydn, Boccherini.

Some of Mozart’s divertimenti are string compositions, for instance the Divertimento K. 136 (K. 125a) in D major for string quartet (or string orchestra) – really a string symphony, the first of the “Salzburg” symphonies. The 1st movement, played by the Mito Chamber Orchestra (of Japan), can be viewed here.

A great many of Mozart’s divertimenti are for wind ensembles, and these are some of my favorites. Picked more or less out of a hat, here’s the wonderful Divertimento K. 270 in B flat major for wind instruments (2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 bassoons), which you can listen to the Collegium dell’ Arte perform here.

Then of course there are mixed strings and winds, especially in the weird Musical Joke, which is usually taken as meant to be bad in various ways. From Wikipedia:

A Musical Joke (in German: Ein musikalischer Spaß) K. 522, (Divertimento for two horns and string quartet) is a composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the composer entered it in his Verzeichnis aller meiner Werke (Catalogue of All My Works) on June 14, 1787. Commentators have opined that the piece’s purpose is satirical – that “[its] harmonic and rhythmic gaffes serve to parody the work of incompetent composers” – though Mozart himself is not known to have revealed his actual intentions.

… The title A Musical Joke might be a poor rendering of the German original: Spaß does not necessarily connote the jocular, for which the word Scherz would more likely be used. In Fritz Spiegl’s view, a more accurate translation would be Some Musical Fun.

Here’s a performance of the 1st movement (Allegro) by the University of Montreal Chamber Student Orchestra (Orchestre Simphonie).under Silvia Tabor. Warning: the relentless repetition in this movement merely drives some people crazy, but others find it turns into a gripping earworm.

Serenade. Another straightforward etymology, which might nevertheless not be obvious. From NOAD2:

mid 17th cent.: from French sérénade, from Italian serenata, from sereno ‘serene’

But the etymology isn’t much of a guide to its usage. From Wikipedia:

In the oldest usage, which survives in informal form to the present day, a serenade is a musical greeting performed for a lover, friend, person of rank or other person to be honored. The classic serenade usage would be from a lover to his lady love through a window. It was considered an evening piece, one to be performed on a quiet and pleasant evening, as opposed to an aubade, which would be performed in the morning. The custom of serenading in this manner began in the Medieval era, and the word “serenade” as commonly used in current English is related to this custom. Music performed followed no one particular form, except that it was typically sung by one person accompanying himself on a portable instrument, most likely a guitar, lute or other plucked instrument. Works of this type also appeared in later eras, but usually in a context that referred specifically to a past time, such as arias in an opera (there is a famous example in Mozart’s Don Giovanni).

This is the Canzonetta, “Deh, vieni alla finestra” for the baritone playing Don Giovanni, with a string accompaniment, often a mandolin, as in a clip in my 8/16/15 posting on mandolin; and in another concert performance, by José Van Dam with Philippe Bermond on mandolin, which you can watch here.

 … Among the most famous examples of the serenade from the 18th century are those by Mozart, whose serenades contain a multiplicity of movements ranging from four to ten. His serenades were often purely instrumental pieces, written for special occasions such as those commissioned for wedding ceremonies. Famous serenades by Mozart include the Haffner Serenade, the Serenata notturna, and one of his most famous works, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

From Wikipedia:

Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), K. 525, is a 1787 composition for a chamber ensemble by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German title means “a little serenade,” though it is often rendered more literally but less accurately as “a little night music.” The work is written for an ensemble of two violins, viola, and cello with optional double bass, but is often performed by string orchestras.

It’s probably the most popular of Mozart’s works.

Here’s a performance by Les Dissonances of the 1st movement (Allegro) for you to watch.

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