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Mozart: Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna, Austria on December 5, 1791. He composed the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) in Vienna between 1781 and 1782. The Overture runs approximately 6 minutes in performance and is scored for piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion, and orchestral strings.
In May 1781, Mozart was unceremoniously discharged from the service of Hieronymus Colloredo, Archbishop of Salzburg. Delighted to be free from this unappreciative and demeaning relationship, he relocated from the cultural backwater of Salzburg to the bustling musical metropolis of Vienna. Gottlieb Stephanie, playwright and stage director at Vienna’s German Opera, admired Mozart’s operas so strongly that almost immediately after Mozart’s relocation to Vienna he promised to write a new German-language libretto expressly for him. He gave it to him in July. It delighted Mozart so much that he began to work with it at once. He and Stephanie hoped to have their opera ready to be premièred during a visit by Grand Duke Paul of Russia in September. After that event was delayed, they gave themselves more time to work on it.
The plot follows the adventures of the lovers Konstanze and Belmonte, who have been shipwrecked in Turkey and are being held prisoner by a nobleman, Pasha Selim. After numerous farcical complications, he sets them free.
The opera proved hugely successful. It firmly established Mozart’s reputation not only in Vienna but in the many other centres where it rapidly saw production. One person it didn’t overwhelm was Emperor Joseph II. “Too fine for our ears, and an immense number of notes, my dear Mozart,” he stated. The composer replied cheekily, “Just as many notes, your majesty, as are required.” It remained Mozart’s most popular stage work during his lifetime.
Turkish armies had laid siege to Vienna in the 1680s. Their military orchestras, which included cymbals, triangles, bass drums, and other percussion instruments, caught the fancy of the Viennese and remained popular until Mozart’s day. Their influence can be heard in the finales of his Violin Concerto No. 5 and Piano Sonata in A Major, K. 331. This opera marked the introduction of actual Turkish percussion into central European art music. Its playful jingling heightens the merriment of the Overture. “I don’t believe anyone will doze through it,” Mozart wrote gleefully to his father, “even if they’ve missed an entire night’s sleep.”
Programme Note by Don Anderson
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