Derived from the Italian wordsereno(which means "calm"),serenataoriginally referred to an evening song or performance for purposes of courtship. By the late 18th century, however, the term serenade denoted a chamber work typically intended for light entertainment. As a musical form, the serenade grew increasingly popular and important especially during theClassicalandRomanticperiods.
Out of all the beautiful serenades originating from the 18th century, some of the most remarkable and famous ones are beyond doubt those byW.A. Mozart. His serenades, which include such magnificent compositions as the Haffner Serenade or the Serenata Notturna, were often entirely instrumental pieces with several movements, usually written for some special social occasion (e.g. a wedding ceremony).
Mozart’s most famous serenade, known asEine kleine Nachtmusik(Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525) was completed in Vienna in August 1787, around the time he was busy working on the operaDon Giovanni. The serenade was originally written for an ensemble of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass, however today it is typically performed in orchestral arrangement.
Ironically, nobody knows exactlywhyMozart’s famous work was composed. Since most serenades were written on commission, some scholars have suggested that this one too must have been a commission, but its origin and premiere were somehow not documented. What is more, and perhaps even more surprisingly, the work was actually not published until 1827, long after the composer’s untimely death in 1791. This was after the manuscript was sold to the publisher Johann André in Offenbach am Main in 1799 by Mozart's widow Constanze, as part of a large bundle of Mozart’s compositions.
Its obscure origins aside, there’s also some confusion on the work’s title. The name of the piece actually comes from an entry Mozart made in his personal catalogue, which began with: "Eine kleine Nacht-Musik." In all likelihood, this was not meant to be a special title for the work, but merely an entry in Mozart’s records that he had completed a new serenade. In any case, the title stack and Mozart’s world-renowned piece came to be known asEine kleine Nachtmusik(although in German this means "a little serenade" it is often translated as "a little night music" which is not entirely accurate).
Nowadays, Mozart’s celebrated composition is widely performed and recorded throughout the globe. As a matter of fact, many agree it is the single most popular composition among the whole of Mozart’s –admittedly quite extensive– oeuvre.
Along withBeethoven’s9thSymphony orVivaldi’sFour Seasons, Mozart’s little serenade has become one of those absolute classics, an actual synonym for classical music itself. And what joy and exaltation this lively, wonderful music still brings, no matter how many a time it is being performed and experienced.