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Prelude to Apollo et Hyacinthus, K. 38

Composed by

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



2 oboes, 2 horns, strings

Composed 1767.

note by Katherine Baber

The Prelude to Apollo et Hyacinthus introduces what most consider to be Mozart's first opera. While the composer's young age (11 years) was unusual, Apollo et Hyacinthus was entirely typical of sung dramas in the Italian style. The overture, like all portions of the work, is easily detached from the rest. In this way, the opera was closer to its Italian cousins, the intermedii, which were meant to be performed between the acts of a play. In Mozart's case, he was writing for a production at the Benedictine university in Salzburg, founded in 1622 by the Prince-Archbishop Paris Lodron. From Lodron’s time through Mozart’s, the city of Salzburg was profoundly influenced by Italian art, architecture, and music. The Prince-Archbishops were bound more closely to Rome than to the seat of Hapsburg power in Vienna, and this trend continued under Sigismund Schrattenbach, who appointed both Leopold Mozart and his son to courtly positions and encouraged their travels throughout Europe.

Like many Italian operatic composers, Mozart took his cue from Greek and Roman mythology, choosing a libretto that adapted the myth of Apollo and his lover, the youth Hyacinthus, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In deference to churchly sensibilities, the story was amended to include a more traditional love triangle between Hyacinthus’s newly-invented sister Melia, the god, and Hyacinthus’s friend Zephyr. The tragic ending was also edited, in another move typical of Enlightenment-era operas. Hyacinth is still killed by a discus to the head, but Apollo appears to reclaim Melia’s hand and flowers spring from her brother’s grave as the god promises to watch over the land. The buoyant prelude gives no hint of the troubles to come, foreshadowing instead the triumphant ending under Apollo’s benediction. In a bright D major key, each half of the straightforward binary form begins with a pastoral horn call. The rising arpeggiations yield to a dignified gallop, perhaps recalling Apollo’s chariot, symbol of his role as god of the sun. With respect to the god’s patronage of music, it is not difficult to imagine that many viewed the miraculous young Mozart, precocious composer of operas, as a new Apollo.

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