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[Ital. sera=evening], term used to designate several types of musical composition. Opera and song literature yield numerous examples of the serenade sung or played by a lover at night beneath his beloved's window; outstanding is Deh, vieni alla finestra from Mozart's Don Giovanni. In the late 18th cent. the serenade became a light instrumental suite, whose movements were numerous and short and usually included a march and a minuet. The lover's song is known in German as Ständchen, while the suite is usually designated Nachtmusik, an example being Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The Italian serenata, while the equivalent of the French term sérénade, had an additional usage in the late 18th cent. in designating a short opera or dramatic cantata written to celebrate a special event in the household of the composer's patron.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A love song addressed to a woman, usually containing the theme of an invitation to a rendezvous. The serenade, which developed out of the serain or evening song of the Provençal troubadours, was popular among the southern Romance peoples. Fixed verse forms of the serenade did not develop. The singer usually performed a serenade under his beloved’s window, accompanying himself on the lute, mandolin, or guitar. Eventually, the serenade was used in operas, including Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. It also became a genre of vocal chamber music (for example, works by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, M. I. Glinka, A. S. Dargomyzhskii, and P. I. Tchaikovsky).

(2) An instrumental piece, usually for a soloist and more rarely for an ensemble, with the same features as the vocal serenade. Instrumental serenades were composed by Mendelssohn, A. Dvořak, and A. S. Arenskii.

(3) A cyclic work composed for an instrumental ensemble and similar to the cassation, divertimento, and nocturne. Until the end of the 18th century, compositions of this type were written in honor of a particular person and designed for open-air performance. Unlike the symphony, the cyclic serenade usually consists of a minimum of seven or eight movements. It combines movements typical of the symphony and the suite. Among the composers who have written cyclic serenades are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, H. Wolf, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Glazunov.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a piece of music appropriate to the evening, characteristically played outside the house of a woman
2. a piece of music indicative or suggestive of this
3. an extended composition in several movements similar to the modern suite or divertimento
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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