Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts
AUSO "Love in Music"
March 5, 2006

Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni | Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy: Overture

Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Overture to Don Giovanni

Today’s concert is comprised of music depicting love–love both passionate and tragic. The overture to the concert is indeed itself an overture to an opera depicting love– satirical, passionate, and tragic--Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Following the great success of The Marriage of Figaro at the National Theater in Prague, Mozart received a commission for another opera buffa for that house. The resulting work, Don Giovanni, develops the legend of the rakish nobleman Don Juan, his sidekick Leporello, the Don’s various conquests, and other characters that weave in and out of the plot. In the end the work is neither opera buffa nor opera seria, and so received the designation dramma giocoso. The work was completed and premiered in Prague on October 29, 1787. The National Theater where Don Giovanni was first preformed still holds a place of honor in that city and numerous performances of the work are given each year. Although the opera itself was completed before the premiere, the overture remained incomplete until the last moment. Legend has it that the night before the performance (or dress rehearsal) Mozart attended a party. Upon returning home, his wife kept him awake throughout the night with stories as he wrote down the notes to the overture, finally providing the score to copyists at 7 o’clock the next morning. As Mozart’s compositional method most often comprised of completing a work in his head and then writing it down, and as he was a known procrastinator, the veracity of this story is quite believable.

The opening of the overture gives a premonition of Don Giovanni’s final fate. The ominous treading of the stone statue from the last scene of the opera is heard in the somber opening section. What follows is nothing less than a magnificent mini-symphonic movement. The various musical motives create an ambivalent atmosphere directly related to the opera’s conflicted characters and themes. The original opera version of the overture leads directly into the action of Act I, but the piece with its concert ending, as heard today, has proved to be also immensely popular.


Back to Top

Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy-overture

Considered by many to be one of the composer's greatest and most beloved orchestral works, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy-overture) after Shakespeare did not come easily or quickly to the form we hear this afternoon. In 1869, fellow Russian composer Balakirev suggested to the young Tchaikovsky the idea of creating a concert piece based on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Balakirev even went so far as to give Tchaikovsky a possible theme, keys he should use, and many other details–in essence attempting to dictate the shaping of the work. Balakirev, however, was not happy with the first drafts that Tchaikovsky sent him. By the time the piece received its first performance in 1870, the composer wasn't satisfied either and withdrew it for major revisions, finally publishing it the following summer. Ten years later, Tchaikovsky revised it again and finally published the piece in its final form.

Rather than a programmatic tone-poem attempting to outline the plot of Romeo and Juliet, the Fantasy-overture is a piece in sonata form highlighting three easy-to-follow themes of the play. The introduction, stating a chorale-like tune on the clarinets and bassoons, represents Friar Lawrence. The first main theme, complete with scurrying scales, brass and percussion, brings the deadly feud of the Montague's and Capulet's to the musical stage. The lovers’ passionate theme enters, followed by another bout of feuding between the families. The love theme returns with heightened intensity, at which point the coda is presented as a funeral march marked by the timpani, along with Friar Lawrence’s theme representing the character whose attempts to help have turned into disaster. What Shakespeare achieves in the play, Tchaikovsky also accomplishes in the music: balance between the hatred of the clans and the passion of the young lovers.


Back to Top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2006.
Send me e-mail.

Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts