Composed for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion, Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade was inspired by Plato’s famous dialogue about love, Symposium. The work received its premi?re in 1954 in Venice, with the composer conducting and Isaac Stern playing solo violin. The work is a musical setting of the sequence of eulogies to love, in the original order. In Plato, each new speaker reflects on the merits and flaws of the speech delivered by the previous speaker. Accordingly, in Bernstein the new musical elements are developments or elaborations of the music of the previous movement.
The following men deliver speeches at the symposium (or drinking party): I. Phaedrus and Pausanias; II. Aristophanes; III. Eryximachus; IV. Agathon; and V. Socrates and Alcibiades. The work can be regarded the composer’s musical self-portrait, with its generous and noble first movement, its puerile second, unbridled and playful third, serene and tender fourth movement. The final movement features a fate-stricken prophet and an irreverent iconoclast.