While Mozart’s Wind Serenade in C minor is a much more serious affair than Nielsen’s, in its own way it is just as radical. Listeners at the time would have been primed for light-hearted, ephemeral music; serenades were typically performed at festive occasions, where they provided pleasant and straightforward entertainment. Instead, this serenade is more substantial – demanding of the listener a greater intensity of emotional investment than mere enjoyment.
The stern opening theme – announced by the instruments playing in unison – together with the choice of a minor key, make Mozart’s ambitions for the work clear from the outset. Dramatic and stormy, the opening movement juxtaposes the somber and the sublime, while the simpler beauty of the Andante movement is more in keeping with conventional serenade style. In the third movement’s dance, Mozart expertly employs canonic devices to develop the main theme, while in the final movement he draws on more diverse techniques to present eight variations on the main theme, the last of which brings the work to a positive resolution in C major.
While very little is known about the genesis of this work, it was written at around the same time the recently empowered Emperor Joseph II had formed a Harmoniemusik – a chamber group comprising in this case eight, rather than the usual six, performers. Perhaps intentionally, this work employs the same instrumental forces; commentators have speculated that it may have been created in an attempt to impress a possible patron. Whether or not he succeeded is unknown, but that Mozart later transcribed the work for string quintet indicates the composer himself believed his efforts worthy of preservation.