String music is safer than music with winds and brass.
One of the issues orchestras is facing is brass and wind instruments.
Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings
A Far Cry performs in forma di Sonatina - from memory.
Brass instruments have “water keys” to drain the accumulated moisture from the instrument. Another, and more accurate, term for water key is “spit valve.” The term spit valve might be debated. It could be said that the fluid being drained isn’t spit. Technically that is true. The fluid being drained is accumulated moisture from the brass player’s breath.
Dvorak, Serenade for Strings
4th Movement, larghetto
Whatever the case, the issue is that the fluid could be crawling with COVID-19. Orchestras will need to figure this out.
All the string sections need do is spread out a little bit as there is no one forcefully expelling his or her potentially Covid-laden breath through a violin. Since string music is safer than music with winds and brass, let’s take a look at some music written only for strings. It’s the responsible classical musical choice to make.
Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Karl Bohm, Wiener Philharmoniker
The gold standard for string music are the Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky and the Serenade for Strings by Dvorak. If we take a brief survey of string serenades these two appear to be the masterpieces.
Oh, but we would be mistaken in that brief survey. String music doesn’t always tell you that it is string music.
The most famous string music ever composed is Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. You wouldn’t know it from the title but Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a serenade for strings. Sorry Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, now Mozart is in the game.
Edvard Grieg: Holberg Suite
Op. 40, Praeludium, by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is something of an homage to Mozart, according to the composer himself. In the same vein, Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite is a 19th Century suite for strings based on the 18th Century style of dances. He wrote it to celebrate the 200th Birthday of Dano-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg. The Holberg Suite is another piece that doesn’t declare it is for strings only.
Elgar: Serenade for String
Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra
Early 20th Century British music produced a load of string music. There are two composers who dominate this genre.
One of them, Edward Elgar, tells us that he is writing string music with his Serenade for Strings and Allegro and Introduction for Strings both of which are amongst my favorite compositions of all time.
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker
The other composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, does not tell us he is writing for just strings in his fantastically famous Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Record producers used to sneak other pieces by Vaughan Williams, such as The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on Greensleeves, onto records of “English String Music”.
Suk - Serenade for Strings
New York Classical Players. Andante con moto
The Fantasia on Greensleeves is scored for two flutes while The Lark Ascending has two flutes, one oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, triangle. Both these pieces are potential Covid threats and should not be confused with the safer string music in this article.
The last piece I want to mention is a Serenade for Strings by Josef Suk. Suk’s Serenade for Strings was premiered in 1895, and he married Dvorak’s daughter in 1898. It is a wonderful piece of music. It doesn’t live up to the Serenade for Strings by his father-in-law, Dvorak.
Suk’s Serenade for Strings was premiered in 1895 and he married Dvorak’s daughter in 1898.