Don Giovanni Overture

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1756-1791

Orchestration

2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings


notes by James Keays

Composed October 1787.
First performance: October 29, 1787, Teatro di Praga, Prague. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conductor.

When Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781 to live out what would be the last ten years of his life, he had every reason to believe that fame and fortune would come his way. Vienna was, after all, the musical capital of Europe. One could expect to find there the most discriminating and intelligent of audiences. Unfortunately for Mozart, they were also fickle audiences, sensitive for the most part to only the politically-influenced preferences of the court. Dramatic state music, the genre in which Mozart had the greatest potential to excel, was the most difficult to conquer without the aid of those in charge of the official court theater.

Fortunately for Mozart – and the world of music to follow – opportunities to reverse this trend began to present themselves in 1785, when Mozart was approached by court poet Lorenzo da Ponte, who suggested that the two collaborate on an opera based upon Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro. The success of Figaro, particularly when it was repeated in the more congenial atmosphere of Prague, led to two further creative efforts on the part of Mozart and da Ponte: Don Giovanni in 1787, and Così fan tutte in 1790. Never in the history of dramatic stage music has there been a more perfect collaboration between poet and composer.

Around New Year’s of 1787, Mozart was welcomed to Prague like few others before him. He heard a production of Figaro _and conducted a second one. The premiere on January 13, 1787, was such a success that the impresario Bondini immediately commissioned an opera to be performed the following autumn. Before returning to Vienna, Mozart conducted his new symphony (K. 504 “Prague”). Once he talked to da Ponte in Vienna, the poet immediately dropped two other projects to begin work on what would become _Don Giovanni. Mozart left for Prague on October 1 with most of the music completed. The first performance was to be October 14, but the date had to be postponed to the 29th due to the illness of a singer. Once settled into comfortable boarding houses, the two worked feverishly. Mozart would write the music as fast as da Ponte could write the text. Sometimes, Mozart would write the music before da Ponte was finished.

On the evening of the 27th (or possibly the 28th), it was mentioned to Mozart that there was no overture. He reportedly said “Don’t worry. It is here,” pointing to his head. He went to his desk well after midnight and spent the entire evening composing, as his wife helped to keep him awake with punch and poetry readings. There was no time to write a score, so he wrote out the individual parts without one! A copyist had been ordered at 7a.m., and at 7a.m., the overture was finished. The work is virtually the first movement of a symphony and contains no themes from the opera. At the end, the music quietly glides into Leporello’s first aria. For the benefit of concert performances, Mozart provided a louder ending in the correct key of D major.

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