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This article is about the musical form. See Serenade (disambiguation) for other meanings.
"Serenade" by Judith Leyster

In music, a serenade (or sometimes serenata) is a musical composition, and/or performance, in someone's honor. Serenades are typically calm, light music.

The word serenade is derived from the Italian word sereno, which means "calm".[1]

Early serenade music[edit]

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). Carl Maria von Weber composed his serenade for voice and guitar, "Horch'! Leise horch', Geliebte!" (1809).

Baroque era[edit]

A young woman is sung to from the street

In the Baroque era, and generally called a serenata (Italian "serenade"—since this form occurred most frequently in Italy), a serenade was a type of cantata performed outdoors, in the evening, with mixed vocal and instrumental forces. Again, most likely a guitar or lute was used to accompany the voice. Some composers of this type of serenade include Alessandro Stradella, Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Joseph Fux, Johann Mattheson, and Antonio Caldara. Often these were large-scale works performed with minimal staging, intermediate between a cantata and an opera. According to some commentators,[who?] the main difference between a cantata and a serenata, around 1700, was that the serenata was performed outdoors and therefore could use instruments which would be too loud in a small room—for example trumpets, horns and drums.

Classical and Romantic eras[edit]

The most important and prevalent type of serenade in music history is a work for large instrumental ensemble in multiple movements, related to the divertimento, and mainly being composed in the Classical and Romantic periods, though a few examples exist from the 20th century. Usually the character of the work is lighter than other multiple-movement works for large ensemble (for example the symphony), with tunefulness being more important than thematic development or dramatic intensity. Most of these works are from Italy, Germany, Austria and Bohemia.

The most famous examples of the serenade from the 18th century are undoubtedly[according to whom?] the ones by Mozart, which are works in more than four movements, and sometimes as many as ten. His serenades were often purely instrumental pieces, written for special occasions such as those commissioned for wedding ceremonies. The most typical ensemble for a serenade was a wind ensemble augmented with basses and violas: instrumentalists who could stand, since the works were often performed outdoors. Frequently the serenades began and ended with movements of a march-like character—since the instrumentalists often had to march to and from the place of performance. Famous serenades by Mozart include the Haffner Serenade and one of his most famous works, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which is atypical for only containing string instruments.

By the 19th century, the serenade had transformed into a concert work, less associated with outdoor performance for honorary occasions, and composers began to write serenades for other ensembles. The orchestral serenade began to dominate over the wind ensemble form. The two serenades by Brahms are rather like light symphonies, perhaps more closely related to suites, except that they use an ensemble Mozart would have recognized: a small orchestra (in the case of the Serenade No. 2, an orchestra entirely without violins). Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Josef Suk, Edward Elgar and others wrote serenades for strings only, as did Hugo Wolf, who wrote one for string quartet (the Italian Serenade). Other composers to write serenades in a Romantic style include Richard Strauss, Max Reger and Jean Sibelius.

20th century[edit]

Some examples of serenades in the 20th century include the "Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings" by Benjamin Britten, the serenade for piano by Stravinsky, serenade for baritone and septet Op. 24 by Arnold Schoenberg, and the movement entitled "Serenade" in Shostakovich's last string quartet, No. 15 (1974). Vaughan Williams wrote a Serenade to Music (for 16 solo voices and orchestra) that premiered in 1938, while Leonard Bernstein composed his Serenade after Plato's "Symposium" (for solo violin, strings harp and percussion) in 1954. These modern serenades are freely explored adaptations to the serenade’s original formal layout and instrumentation.


A serenade is commonly of a multi-movement structure, ranging anywhere from four to up to ten movements. They usually are constructed with a fast opening movement, followed by middle slow movements that alternate with fast ones and close with a fast presto or allegro movement. There are strong influences from chamber music, and serenades can be subtly inserted into a chamber music program. A serenade can be considered somewhere in between a suite and a symphony, but is usually of a light and romantic nature—casual and without too many overly dramatic moments.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hubert Unverricht & Cliff Eisen. “Serenade”. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 8 December 2009.". 
  2. ^ Lynan, Peter. “Serenade.” The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. 8 December 2009.


  • The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5
  • Articles "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart", "Serenade," "Serenata," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Serenades at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of serenade at Wiktionary