Overture to The Magic Flute K.620
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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Mozart struggled to earn enough money in his final years. In 1791 he decided to apply his skills as an opera composer to a more commercial venture; he invited his friend and fellow Freemason Emanuel Schikaneder to create a singspiel, a popular format that blended singing and spoken dialogue in native German (akin to today’s Broadway musicals). Schikaneder would provide his theatrical troupe, then in residence in Vienna, and write a libretto borrowing elements from popular fairy tales. This new comic opera, The Magic Flute, took shape during the spring and summer of 1791 and debuted on September 30. Sadly, Mozart never fully capitalized on the popular success of his fanciful creation because he died a little more than two months after its premiere.
The Magic Flute tells the story of an adventurer, Tamino, who is sent by the Queen of the Night to rescue the queen’s daughter, Pamina. Tamino finds Pamina and (of course) falls in love; in the mean time he learns that the queen is the true villain. Before he can claim his beloved he must undergo three ordeals, which he survives with his strange sidekick, the half-man-half-bird Papageno (played by Schikaneder in the original production). The mystical plot resounds with Masonic imagery and lore, yet it also functions as a quintessential Romantic comedy, with both men finding partners and the villain getting her comeuppance.
Mozart had written most of The Magic Flute by July, and then wrote another opera, La Clemenza di Tito, which would be his last. He added the final numbers for The Magic Flute, including the overture, dated September 28, just before the premiere. The slow introduction begins with three solemn chords outlining the home key, before winding through various harmonies to prepare the Allegro return to the home key. The scurrying theme that begins the fast section undergoes a series of contrapuntal hand-offs, eventually reaching another set of three slow chords. The Allegro tempo returns with a mysterious minor-key episode, revealing another dimension of the catchy theme, before building to a rousing conclusion.