Serenade, "Happy Days are..."
Serenade, "Happy Days are..." is the product of many disparate influences.
The title refers to fragments of "Happy Days are Here Again," the emblematic
Depression-era song which mocked its present and pointed to its future under Roosevelt's "New Deal." The instrumentation copies the Dvorak Serenade No. 2" in D minor (Op. 44), a piece whose gritty, rustic intensity I have long admired. Here, the pair of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, with three horns, violoncello and contrabass are joined by piano. Unlike in the Dvorak, cello and piano are more prominent than the rest of the group and function like the Baroque Concertino to the band's Ripieno. In general, the compositional technique used here is the
progression of a fixed set of modules which may or may not be stylistically related. The "Happy Days" fragment is heard at the outset, immediately followed by
module no. 2, which introduces module no. 3, which occurs in the horns. These modules alternate until primary violoncello material emerges. This material is
literally interrupted by the 7/8 meter module No. 4. Juxtaposed and sequential
developments of the four modules are the architecture of the first movement, and really for the other two movements as well, with thematic substitutions.
Movement II is built on the slow movement of my saxophone quartet, Dvorak, Anyone? which features extended melodic passages for the soprano sax, here performed on oboe (I). For this movement, Oboe II, horns, and contrabass are tacet. Movement III begins with a new module no. 1 and substitute piano fragments. Here, many of the compositional devices of Movement I are employed with the new modules. The spirit of this movement is a lot like the Finale of the Dvorak Op. 44. While new modules are created, the last section of piece features opposing fragments of the "Happy Days" material are given an unconventional fugal treatment. Be warned: students of Baroque counterpoint can learn what not to do from this treatment. It's a little like the candy bars made by R. Crumb that brag that "they are bad for you."
Boulez titled his famous article, "Schoenberg is Dead." With this irreverence I say, "they're all dead, along with modernism itself."
P.R. Winter, 2008