Serenade for Ten Instruments (1999)


Serenade for Ten Instruments (1999)


  • Premiere: 3 October 1999  / First Unitarian Society, Madison, Wisconsin  / Oakwood Chamber Players / James Smith
  • Instrumentation: 
  • Duration: 25'
  • Dedication: Commissioned by the Oakwood Chamber Players, Madison, Wisconsin, and dedicated to David Del Tredici
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  1. Waves
  2. Variations: Donde esta mi querida?
  3. Intermezzo
  4. Mixed Doubles

Program note

If abstract, so-called "pure" music can be said to take place anywhere, Serenade for Ten Instruments (composed at Yaddo during July of 1999), is surely set in Madison, Wisconsin during the early 1980s. Inasmuch as there is a program, I imagine it performed outdoors on a beautiful, cool, late-summer evening on the rolling lawn of a prairie-style home somewhere along the shores of Lake Mendota, the smell of grilling brats, newly-cut grass, lake water, and Leinenkugel beer in the air -- perhaps with the now-abandoned Mendota Asylum for the Insane indistinctly in sight across the water?

The summer before I moved to the east coast to pursue my life there as a composer, I sailed nearly every day (just as my father had before me when he was in law school) on Mendota. I grew to know it, to love it, and to fear it a little. The first movement, Waves, is a musical portrait of Lake Mendota in the late afternoon inspired by Joseph Rusling Meeger's 1870 painting Lake Mendota. This musical memory-portrait is shaped structurally like an arch. The pitches are organized into three groups. The middle section features a melody in the horn ornamented with elaborate runs in the winds. The closing section combines the ornamental runs of the second section with a recapitulation of the opening canons. 

Variations: Donde esta mi querida? (The second movement) is a set of eight variations on an original melody (Where is my beloved?) from my opera Bandanna. In the opera, a man (Jake) standing out in the street in front of his home at dusk, watching his wife through the window as she brushes her hair in the warm light of a single lamp sings this melody. He's remembering it as though it were an old, familiar tune. I always wanted to spend more time on this moment. Unfortunately, the demands of the drama at hand forced me to move on, to follow his thoughts elsewhere. It was a pleasure to return to this situation and to give Jake all the time he needed to progress through his many feelings about his wife. Accordingly, the variations are marked, in order: Gently, Urgently, Agitated, Still on Edge, Driving, Brutal and Crass, Broad and Sad, Tenderly.

Intermezzo, the movement that follows, is set just after dusk. It is a conversation in three parts between old friends (first in the strings, then in the winds) - each of whom mulls over the same melody before handing it off fugally to the next. The middle section gives each player an opportunity to sing out over a new melody in the horn. The closing section takes place even later in the evening. Night has fallen. The first melody returns in monologues for the flute and the violin. There's a brief coda where the five couples bid one another goodnight and head for home.

The final movement, Mixed Doubles, is a fun, fast rondo in which every instrument has a musical doppelganger, which shadows it either rhythmically or melodically. Maybe it takes place in bed? The half steps that organized the first movement return, while the first idea of the rondo is based on the Intermezzo theme.

Commissioned by the Oakwood Chamber Players and first performed on 3 October 1999 at the First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin, the Serenade is dedicated to my good friends in the Oakwood Chamber Players. The ensemble recorded the work under the baton of James Smith for Arsis Audio in 2000.

-- Daron Hagen, 1999

(Banner photo: Oakwood Chamber Players)

JOSEPH RUSLING MEEGER  Lake Mendota , 1870-71,  oil on canvas , 45 x 76.

JOSEPH RUSLING MEEGER Lake Mendota, 1870-71, oil on canvas, 45 x 76.

The Oakwood Chamber Players recorded the Serenade for the Arsis label under the baton of James Smith.

The Oakwood Chamber Players recorded the Serenade for the Arsis label under the baton of James Smith.