Leonard Bernstein: Overture to Candide


Leonard Bernstein composed the music for the operetta Candide in 1955-56. The operetta is based on the 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire. The premiere was unsuccessful and after some revisions and creative changes, Candide has become a very popular show. 

The overture to Candide has earned its place in concert hall repertory and is still performed often. The first concert took place in January 1957 with Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Within the next two years the overture was performed by over 100 orchestras world wide. It also earned the title of being the most performed piece that Bernstein composed. 


The Music

The overture gives you a glimpse of the music to come in the show and incorporates tunes from the songs ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’, ‘Battle Music’, ‘Oh Happy We’ and ‘Glitter Be Gay’. Bernstein also mixes in melodies composed just for the overture, creating a truly spectacular opening to this show.

Opening with a brassy flourish the music soon settles into a pacy tempo with a melody from the strings. An interjection from the brass stops the melody in its tracks, but soon lets it pass again and a reprise of the opening melody is played once more. A jubilant atmosphere is created in this opening section and the extensive use of percussion and brass only add to the excitement. 

Conversations between the woodwinds and brass creates a fluctuation in texture which keeps the music exciting and unpredictable. As the dynamic begins to drop a piccolo flute plays the melody again before a smooth transition into the next section happens. More lyrical in style, this rich string melody is decorated by the woodwind. The orchestra unite to play through this lyrical melody and the change in intensity paired with the rich texture creates a central climatic section.

The opening brass flourish returns again and the opening theme is played once more. The jubilant atmosphere returns with the help of the bombastic percussion. A return of the lyrical theme returns again, this time even more richly orchestrated. After a short transition section the final jaunty theme begins. 

Led by the woodwinds in the first instance this new theme is then counter-acted by syncopated brass. This celebratory theme shines and begins to pick up speed. The last 30 seconds of the overture sees a culmination in all of the themes played in chaotic fashion. The music races towards the finish line before the final horn feature leads the orchestra to the last big chord. 

Final Thoughts

Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide is still one of his most treasured works. From the memorable melody writing to the genius orchestrations, the overture is one you’ll have in your head for days!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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