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Composed: 1786

Length: c. 6 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

About this Piece

The plot of Don Giovanni adapted by Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte was already centuries old in 1786; 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