Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture
Composed in 1787, Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts. Its popularity when it premiered shot it into immediate success, and in the modern day it still remains as one of the most popular operas of all time. Don Giovanni cleverly intertwines both serious drama and comedy to create this multifaceted piece of drama. The music is similar, with the overture setting the scene for the whole opera.
Often, overtures contain melodic material from arias and other parts of the opera. Mozart did not always adhere to this, with his overture to The Marriage of Figaro being a standalone piece of music. However, in Don Giovanni, Mozart does open the overture with fragments from the Commendatore’s theme. The ominous and foreboding opening to the overture sets the scene for the contrasting moods of serious drama and comedy. The slow introduction soon turns into a lively allegro section. The dichotomy between these two sections packs a punch and heightens the intensity even more within the music.
Mozart cleverly uses silence between certain bars to heighten intensity and create strangely sinister passages of music. The opening D minor chord is spine-tingling and the different melodic fragments that are dotted around it only amplify the change in tone when the allegro section begins. The general structure of this overture is a classic three section (but technically four) sonata form, with a slow introduction, exposition, development and recapitulation section.
There is a clear boundary where one section stops and another begins. Mozart’s seamless transitions are developed with the use of dynamics, expression and orchestrations. Largely, the overture is bouncing between being very loud and very quiet, thus to portray the dramatic vein effectively. Moreover, the sudden changes in dynamics could also be there to subtly hint at the comedic aspects within the opera.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the overture is the story behind it. It was the night before the Don Giovanni premiere in Prague, and Mozart still had not composed the overture. That night Mozart got his wife to keep him up all night with fantasy stories so that he could compose a fitting overture, and what we have is just that. Due to time constraints, Mozart ended up not writing a full score, but instead wrote the individual parts out and then quickly hired a copyist to move the music over into a full score for the conductor.