Victor Herbert’s Serenade for String Orchestra
Notes by Steve V. Sinclair
Irish-born American composer and cellist Victor Herbert, a founder of ASCAP, is primarily known for his many successful Broadway operettas, including Naughty Marietta, The Red Mill, and Babes in Toyland. But he was a prolific composer of many types of music, having completed two operas, a cantata, and numerous compositions for orchestra, chorus, piano, violin, and cello, among others. Composer Antonín Dvořák was so wowed at the premiere of Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 2 that he was inspired to write his own now-famous concerto for the instrument. Herbert and his wife, the soprano Therese Herbert-Förster, moved to New York City in 1886, where she sang with The Metropolitan Opera and he performed as a cellist in the company’s orchestra. He quickly became very active in the New York music scene and taught at the National Conservatory of Music.
The Romantic five-movement Serenade for String Orchestra was well received at its debut at Steinway Hall in New York City in December of 1888, where it shared a program with works by Vincent d’Indy and Peter Cornelius. The piece was published in the following year and was performed to great acclaim in concerts throughout the U.S. Of particular note is the passionate “Love Scene” movement, which was praised by The New York Times as “a particularly good piece of writing, being warm in theme and forceful in expression, and showing the results of careful study of Wagner’s wonderful treatment of strings.”