Ernst von Dohnanyi

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Serenade in C Major for String Trio, Op.10

Of Dohnanyi's Serenade in C Major, Op.10 for String Trio, composed between 1902 and 1904, the Chamber Music Journal has this to say:


It was not true, as CD jacket note writers have consistently suggested, that Beethovenís Op.8 Serenade served as Dohnanyi's model because no other worthy trios had been composed after Beethoven. There were many--from such fine composers as Herzogenberg, Reinecke, Fuchs, and Berens to name but a few. Dohnanyi, unlike those writers and many of today's musicians, was almost certainly familiar with them. Therefore, it is fair to say that Dohnanyi intentionally chose Beethovenís Op.8 because he had a specific goal in mind: To produce an updated version of the classical serenade for string trio. Beethoven begins his Op.8 Serenade quite ceremoniously, as was the custom, with a relatively short march. So does Dohnanyi. Beethovenís movement marking is Marcia. Allegro. So is Dohnanyiís. Traditionally, of course, a march has a contrasting trio section which serves as the middle portion of the movement after which the march reappears and is used to conclude the movement either with or without a coda. Beethoven follows this procedure. Dohnanyi does not. Instead of simply repeating the march of 21 measures in its entirety, he compresses it into five bars by means of representing the original 16th note runs that lead to the main dotted rhythm of the march into a run of only three notes while retaining the dotted rhythm. This compression creates a heightened tension which is missing in the original march. Although Beethoven did not call his second movement a romance, he could have, for his Adagio is clearly that. Dohnanyi entitles his second Romanza. To the off-beat pizzicati in the violin and cello, the viola, in a long solo, presents a calm main theme. It has a folk tune quality to it. Beethoven follows his Adagio with a Menuetto, allegretto before inserting a scherzo. Dohnanyi, not feeling himself slavishly beholden to Beethovenís model, skips the minuet and uses a Scherzo, vivace for his third movement.  The playful main theme is introduced in a fugal fashion. After his scherzo, Beethoven produces what is probably the most memorable movement of his Serenade, an Allegretto alla Polacca. This was a novelty and perhaps a concession to popular taste (late 1790ís) as polaccas had become the rage in Vienna. He follows this with an Andante quasi Allegretto, which is a theme and set of five variations. Dohnanyi apparently saw no reason to insert a polacca or any other kind of dance movement and makes his next movement, Andante con moto, a theme with a set of five variations. This is the most serious movement of his Serenade. The theme itself , which all three instruments present together, is reflective and elegiac in nature but full of harmonic surprises. These carry over into the variations which are one of the most extraordinary sets ever composed, and characterized by a very high degree of craftsmanship. Beethoven concluded his Serenade simply by reinserting the opening Marcia in its entirety. Dohnanyi does nothing of the kind, instead using a Rondo. The main theme is really only a short kernel of four measures. It is frenetic and full of nervous energy. Although it begins as an entirely independent theme, it starts to bear a distant relationship to the thematic material in the opening movement as the movement progresses. The Serenade is without question one of the great masterpieces of the string trio literature and should not be missed by anyone who has the opportunity to play string trios.


Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960 ErnŲ DohnŠnyi in Hungarian) is generally regarded, after Liszt, as Hungaryís most versatile musician. He was active as a concert pianist, composer, conductor and teacher and must be considered one of the chief influences on Hungaryís musical life in the 20th century. Certainly, his chamber music is very fine, with most of it being in the masterwork category. Yet, sadly and inexplicably, it has virtually disappeared from the concert stage. Dohnanyi studied piano and composition in his native Pressburg (Bratislava) before entering the Budapest Academy. His first published work, his Piano Quintet No.1, was championed by no less an authority than Johannes Brahms. Upon graduating in the spring of 1897, Dohnanyi embarked on a dazzling career as a concert artist, often playing in chamber ensembles. Later, he also devoted considerable time to teaching and conducting. 

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