Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: strings, harp, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, Chinese blocks, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambourine, tenor drum, triangle, xylophone), and solo violin
First performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic: August 16, 1955, with soloist Isaac Stern
Leonard Bernstein conducting Bernstein’s Serenade was written on a commission from the Koussevitzky Musical Foundation and is dedicated “to the beloved memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky.” (Bernstein had studied conducting with Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in the summers of 1940 and 1941.) He wrote the following description of it:
“There is no literal program for this Serenade. The music, like Plato’s dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love. The ‘relatedness’ of the movements does not depend on common thematic material, but rather on a system whereby each movement evolves out of elements in the preceding one, a form I initiated in my Second Symphony.
“I. Phaedrus; Pausanias (Lento; Allegro). [The movements are named for the speakers in Plato’s symposium.] Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of Love. (Fugato, begun by the solo violin.) Pausanias continues by describing the duality of the lover as compared with the beloved. This is expressed in a classical sonata-allegro, based on the material of the opening fugato.
“II. Aristophanes (Allegretto). Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of the bedtime storyteller, invoking the fairy-tale mythology of love. The atmosphere is one of quiet charm.
“III. Erixymathus (Presto). The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love patterns. This is an extremely short fugato scherzo, born of a blend of mystery and humor.
“IV. Agathon (Adagio). Perhaps the most moving (and famous) speech of the dialogue, Agathon’s panegyric embraces all aspects of love’s powers, charms, and functions. This movement is simply a three-part song.
“V. Socrates; Alcibiades (Molto tenuto; Allegro molto vivace). Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. Love as a demon is Socrates’ image for the profundity of love, and his seniority adds to the feeling of didactic soberness in an otherwise pleasant and convivial after-dinner discussion. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements, and serves as a highly developed reprise of the middle section of the Agathon movement, thus suggesting a hidden sonata form. The famous interruption by Alcibiades and his band of drunken revelers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended Rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig-like dance music to joyful celebration. If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration, I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner party.”