Fuchs, Robert


Fuchs, Robert

Serenade No. 5 in D Op. 53 for orchestra

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Fuchs, Robert – Serenade No. 5 in D Op. 53 for orchestra

(b. Frauenthal, 5 February 1847 – d. Vienna, 19 February 1927)

Serenade No. 5 in D major

Today’s music-lovers automatically associate the serenade, or at least its 19th-century version, with the name of Johannes Brahms. Yet it was not Brahms who stood at the fountainhead of the Viennese serenade tradition, but the three string serenades of Robert Volkmann. It was these highly popular contributions to the genre that served as guideposts for Robert Fuchs (1846–1927), a much-respected teacher at Vienna Conservatory whose pupils included composers of such contradictory natures as Jean Sibelius, Franz Schmidt, Alexander Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker. In the annals of music history Fuchs’s name has become virtually synonymous with the serenade; even during his lifetime he was widely known as ‘Serenade Fuchs’, a nickname that pinpoints not only the starting point of his success as a composer (the First Serenade, op. 9), but his adroitness in this particular genre. But the same nickname has pejorative overtones, namely, the deprecating tag of ‘light music’ often attached to the serenade in its dual function as an ‘evening’s musical entertainment’ with artistic pretensions. The stereotype of a specialist intent solely on a charming civility hounded Fuchs to the end of his days. Eduard Hanslick, already departing slightly from this broad-brushed image, spoke of him as a ‘sensitive nature concerned more with lyricism than with drama’, a composer whose ‘musical tact invariably appeals to our sympathies in his serenades, suites and piano music’. 1# Even Brahms, whom Fuchs met in his early years, primarily noted a so-called lyrical talent in his younger colleague: ‘Fuchs is a sterling musician; everything is so polished and skilful, so charmingly invented! One is invariably delighted!’ 2 But there was a dark side: Fuchs was rarely conceded to have a gift for the dramatic. In any event his two symphonies have never received the same attention as his five serenades.

Looking at the evolution of Fuchs’s serenades with an eye to their orchestration, we straightaway notice a gradual expansion of resources. If the first three were written for an orchestra consisting entirely of strings, the fourth adds two horns, and the fifth, as we are informed on the title page, was conceived for a ‘smallish orchestra’. Here Fuchs offsets the strings with a corresponding body of winds consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, with the two horns serving as a linchpin between the two sections. That Fuchs was primarily concerned with balance is suggested by a note on the score to the effect that, in performances with a large string section, the winds should be doubled in the forte passages (see p. 3).

Though the slow opening movement of the Fifth Serenade might be mistaken for a memorial dirge, the dedicatee, the ‘Waltz King’ Johann Strauss the Younger, was in the pink of health at the time it was written. Opinions vary as to the reason for this dedication. Anton Mayr, Fuchs’s biographer, relates the piece to Strauss’s 70th birthday on 25 October 1894. Here Mayr’s memory seems to have played tricks on him, for Strauss only celebrated his 70th a year later, in 1895. We are thus on safer ground with Max Kalbeck, who, in his Brahms biography, reports that the work was connected with the anniversary celebrations surrounding the 15th of October, ‘the day on which, 50 years earlier, Johann Strauss first raised his bow in Dommayer’s in Hietzing, a famous pre-revolutionary entertainment hall, and beat the time for his own orchestra’. 3 Whatever the case, both writers agree on the site of the première: it was given at the dedicatee’s Viennese home in the Igelgasse by 19 conservatory students conducted by the composer. Fuchs had completed the score in late September 1894 after working on it for a mere two months. Yet, in the Fifth Serenade, he did more than produce an otherwise impersonal piece of celebratory music: he cited its dedicatee by developing two themes from Die Fledermaus in the final movement. Strauss was enthralled: ‘I feel honoured and delighted that my modest themes were found worthy of serving as the basis of such an artistic arrangement.’ 4 Later Fuchs regarded the Fifth Serenade with some restraint; only the finale with the Strauss quotations left him satisfied, Mayr informs us, and he otherwise preferred the Fourth.

The virtues so frequently encountered in Fuchs’s music – the richness of its harmony and its fresh profusion of tuneful melody – come fully to the fore in the Fifth Serenade. Mayr records that Fuchs’s ‘restless spirit […] could not tarry for long in a single key, and compositions that seldom modulated soon left him bored’.5 The slow opening movement offers a prime example of this very point, but the other movements likewise reveal similar propensities, now cheerfully contemplative, now deliriously triumphant. This is only partly explained by the work’s late date at the end of the 19th century: even Fuchs’s early works of the 1860s and 1870s have ear-catching instrumental movements that belie the ‘conservative’ label customarily attached to this composer – a label for which the major sticking-point, according to the ‘progressives’, was the element of harmony, especially chord structure. And if we take compositional fabric as the basis of our categorisation rather than ties of personal acquaintance, then Fuchs was not a Brahms imitator at all but a composer with a voice all his own. That he remained forever attached to the musical capital of Vienna receives eloquent confirmation in the Fifth Serenade.

Markus Gärtner, 2008

1 Eduard Hanslick: Am Ende des Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 21899), p. 261.
2 Richard Heuberger: Erinnerungen an Johannes Brahms, ed. Kurt Hofmann (Tutzing, 1970), p. 48.#
3 Max Kalbeck: Johannes Brahms, iv/2 (Berlin, 1921), p. 367.#
4 Translated from Anton Mayr: Erinnerungen an Robert Fuchs (Graz, 1934), p. 70.#
5 Ibid., p. 81.#

For performance material please contact the publisher Kistner & Siegel, Frankfurt.

Deutsches Vorwort > HERE

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer






160 x 240 mm



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