Carl Nielsen’s whimsical Serenata in Vano (serenade in vain) depicts a failed musical seduction. Written in three continuous movements, it gently pokes fun at the conventions surrounding traditional serenades.

Of the work, Nielsen wrote: “Serenata in vano is a humorous trifle. First the gentlemen play in a somewhat chivalric and showy manner to lure the fair one out onto the balcony, but she does not appear. Then they play in a slightly languorous strain (Poco adagio), but that hasn’t any effect either. Since they have played in vain, they don’t care a straw and shuffle off home to the strains of the little final march, which they play for their own amusement.”

Serenata in Vano was written shortly following Nielsen’s resignation from the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen; an institution with which he had been closely associated over many years, first as second violinist and then as assistant conductor. The orchestra’s double bassist, Ludvig Hegner, was soon to embark on a regional tour with a small chamber group and requested from Nielsen a work that could be performed alongside Beethoven’s Septet. Less than a week before the first concert was to take place, Nielsen reportedly had not yet put pen to paper. It is characteristic of Nielsen’s energy and drive that the work was ready and rehearsed by the due date. And nor did the lukewarm reviews from that first concert series deter the composer from championing the work: even years later he chose this work to send to a casual acquaintance who had expressed interest in works the composer had written for winds.

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