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About this Piece

Composed: 1787
Length: c. 7 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 25, 1923, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting

The plot adapted by Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte was already centuries old in 1787; its elements – a ghostly statue and an unrepentant libertine – were even older. The opera is animated by the dramatic tension between comedy and tragedy: where they are opposed, where they overlap, and where it is impossible to distinguish between them. Mozart makes full use of this tension in the overture, which, in a departure from the standard practice of the day, plays a dramatic function. Opening D-minor chords immediately set the tone, and, indeed, will announce the appearance of the vengeful statue in the opera’s finale. Thus, even as the ominous beginning gives way to a more conventional sonata form, the listener’s consciousness has already been formed, and the subsequent vivacious themes acquire added depth and texture.

— Susan Key