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Learn about the piece:

Overture to The Magic Flute

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

Composed 1791.
First performance: 30 September 1791. Theater auf der Wieden, Vienna.

notes by Katherine Baber

The overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute also seems weighted with purpose. The hammer blows from the tutti orchestra and the sincerity of the string chorale are a somber beginning to what is an often light-hearted piece, informed by the folk songs and popular idioms of German Singspiel. Indeed, once the orchestral curtain is up, the fleet-footed theme in the strings, with its rambunctious rhythmic drive, and delightfully curling lines from the woodwinds invite us into a fairytale world. But the sober fanfare intrudes again, this time in the winds, as if to remind us that all is not as it seems in any idyll. The Magic Flute is unabashedly popular in many ways, particularly in the cheeky escapades of Papageno and the straightforwardness of Tamino and Pamina’s love story. But the mystical forces arrayed against their selfless love are common in another sense — they hint at a universal message, whether we read it as an Enlightenment discourse on the qualities of a good ruler or a Masonic treatise on the equality of men (and men only). And so the overture continues in two veins: the lyric, earthy, and comic versus high-minded seriousness, two halves of a cosmic whole.

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