Elgar Serenade for strings [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Dec 3, 2020

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
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Table of contents

Introduction

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.

Scheherazade by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter (1844-1913)

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

Elgar - Serenade for strings - analysis - ex1

Technical tip

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.

Elgar - Serenade for strings - analysis - ex2

For a full technical analysis of the 2nd movement, look up the video in the repertoire section

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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