Brahms had a goal of reaching Beethoven's level in writing symphonies, and worked long and hard on his First Symphony, completing it only in 1876. As preliminary steps in composing for orchestra, he chose early on to write some lighter orchestral pieces, these Serenades.
Serenade No. 1 in D, Op. 11
The first serenade was completed in 1857. At that time, Brahms was also working on his First Piano Concerto. Originally scored for wind and string octet and then expanded into a longer work for chamber nonet, the serenade was later adapted for orchestra; Brahms completed the final version for large orchestra in December 1859. In the orchestration of the Concerto Brahms had solicited and got a great deal of advice from his good friend Joseph Joachim. For this Serenade Joachim also gave advice, although to a lesser extent. The first performance of the Serenade, in Hamburg 28 March 1859, "did not go very well" in Brahms's opinion, but evidently the unusually large audience of 1200 overlooked any faults of the performance. At the end applause "persisted until I came out and down in front." After every piece in the concert "the audience was shouting." This was a vastly better reception than the Piano Concerto had in either of its first two performances. But at its third performance, 24 March, also in Hamburg, it had been a success, perhaps not to the same degree as the Serenade.
The Serenade consists of six movements and lasts slightly less than forty minutes.
- Allegro molto (D major)
- Scherzo. Allegro non troppo (D minor) – Trio. Poco più moto (B-flat major)
- Adagio non troppo (B-flat major)
- Menuetto I (G major) – Menuetto II (G minor)
- Scherzo. Allegro (D major) – Trio
- Rondo. Allegro (D major)
Serenade No. 2 in A, Op. 16
The second serenade was written in 1859 and dedicated to Clara Schumann. It was revised in 1875. It is scored for a chamber orchestra, including double woodwinds but omitting violins, trumpets, trombones, and percussion. The five movements take approximately thirty minutes to perform.
- Allegro moderato (A major)
- Scherzo. Vivace (C major) – Trio (F major)
- Adagio non troppo (A minor, ending in A major with a Picardy third)
- Quasi menuetto (D major) – Trio (F-sharp minor)
- Rondo. Allegro (A major)
- Geiringer, p. 55
- Geiringer, pp. 249–250
- "Program Notes – Last Night of the Brahms". Riverdale Ensemble performance, 2002-11-16.
- Avins, Styra, Ed. (1997), JOHANNES BRAHMS: Life and Letters, Oxford University Press, ISBN=0-19-816234-0, p. 193, footnote
- Avins, Ed., p. 180
- Avins, Ed., p. 193
- Geiringer, p. 250
- "Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Serenade No. 2". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2009-06-29. The Haitink LSO recording
- Geiringer, Karl (1984). Brahms: His Life and Work – Third Enlarged Edition. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80223-2.