Overture to abduction

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Overture to The Abduction from Seraglio, K. 384

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria

Marsh Symphony on the Prairie Program Notes 
By Caitlin E. Brown, Doctoral Candidate in Musicology
Indiana University Jacobs School of Music


In 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had already achieved considerable fame for his talent as a pianist and violinist; he spent much of his youth touring Europe with his mother, father, and sister performing recitals and concerts for nobles. After spending a few years in the service of Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg, Mozart left to pursue a career as a freelance performer and composer in Vienna. What followed was a period of great productivity and success. His opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was written at the request of the Austrian emperor Joseph II. It premiered in 1782 and quickly enhanced Mozart’s reputation across the Continent. Amidst this whirlwind of success, Mozart also married Constanze Weber.

The Abduction takes place in sixteenth-century Turkey and concerns the efforts of Belmonte to find his lover Konstanze who has been abducted by pirates and sold to a Turkish Pasha named Osmin. All ends well after Osmin takes pity on Belmonte and pardons both him and Konstanze (and their devoted servants) from further punishment for their attempts at escape. This story was a popular farce in Vienna in the eighteenth century and was familiar to audiences.

Mozart’s travels as a boy and young man gave him a diverse stylistic toolbox from which to draw when he began composing. An essential feature of his compositional fingerprint was a highly varied musical language made up of many different moods, styles, and topics. Mozart was thus eager to set this story to music as it encompassed a myriad of emotions and dramatic twists, not to mention comical and exotic scenes. The overture evokes comedy before the events of the plot even begin, signaling that this will be a light-hearted opera. Mozart opens with rousing percussion in the Turkish style, incorporating the sounds of timpani, triangle, cymbals, and bass drum (this was a style that countless later composers would mimic). This short overture is fast-paced and exciting!

© Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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