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Franz Schubert - Overtures

Music > Orchestral Music


Overture in D major (D. 556)


Schubert wrote his Overture in D major D. 556 in May 1817. It is scored for woodwind, horns, timpani and strings, but, unusually, without trumpets, the usual companions of drums. It opens with an Allegro maestoso leading to an Andante sostenuto, which returns after the Allegro vivace which provides the substance of the work that has the necessary theatrical quality to serve as the introduction to a play.

Overture in D major in the Italian style (D. 590)


The Overture in D major in the Italian style, D. 590 was written in November 1817, with its companion Overture in C major in the Italian style, D. 591. The first of the two new overtures starts with an Adagio that leads, after the opening chords, to an Italianate theme. The strings introduce the principal theme of the Allegro giusto, which, in its course, seems to make direct reference to Rossini.Schubert wrote 9 Overtures during his life:

Overture in C major in the Italian style (D. 591)

This second of the overtures in italian style takes on an increasingly Italian air, particularly with the Allegro and its contrasting themes. Schubert arranged both overtures for piano duet, and the Overture in C major for two pianos, eight hands, to be performed in this version in March 1818 in a private concert.


Overture to 'Rosamunde' (D. 644)


Schubert’s music for Georg von Hofmann’s play Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp) was written in the summer of 1820 and the spectacular melodrama was briefly staged at the Theater an der Wien in August, when it excited bad reviews and only mixed praise for Schubert’s contribution. The Overture, however, is much better known as the Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644, substituted by Schubert for his original borrowing from his music for Alfonso und Estrella. In modified sonata form, the overture has an Andante introduction, followed by a Vivace in apt popular style.

Overture 'Die Zwillingbrüder' (D. 647)

From the same year, Schubert's Overture D. 647 had its staging in June at the Kärntnertor-Theater, with music commissioned from Schubert in 1819. Based on the French Les deux Valentins, the piece seemed to offer a good role to Vogl, who played the parts of the brothers, but won no success, although the overture and other contributions by Schubert have great charm.

Overture in E minor (D. 648)


Schubert wrote his Overture in E minor, D. 648 in February 1819 and it had its first public performance at the Redoutensaal in November 1821. It disappeared from public view until the publication of Schubert's collected works in 1886. Some Schubertians regard it as a landmark work of unusual power, breaking ground that he would build on in his last two symphonies. The work is scored for the usual woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings, and marks an important stage in Schubert’s orchestral writing in its dramatic handling of these instrumental forces. The Overture is, in a sense, Schubert doing Beethoven: The short motifs building into longer sequences and the mounting tension and explosive climaxes all show Beethoven's influence on the 22-year-old Schubert. At the same time, the actual construction of those sequences, with the same motif repeated at progressively higher or lower pitches, harks back to Baroque music.

Overture 'Alfonso und Estrella' (D. 732)

With hopes for a production, Schubert worked on the opera 'Alfonso und Estrella', completing the music in February 1822. But it had to wait for many years before it had a performance, given in Weimar in 1854 by Liszt, who revered Schubert but was well aware of the defects of the work. The overture, however, served initially as an Overture to Rosamunde, D. 732, later to be replaced by the overture to Die Zauberharfe. Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus), staged at the Theater an der Wien in 1823, was the work of the blue-stocking Helmina von Chézy, who had provided the complex libretto of Euryanthe for Weber, with equal lack of success.

Overture 'Die Verschworenen' (D. 787)

The Singspiel Die Verschworenen (Der häusliche Krieg), D. 787 (The Conspirators / Domestic Warfare) was the work of Ignaz Franz Castelli, who had published it as a challenge to composers. Schubert wrote his music for the work in April 1823, but no performance proved possible and it was first heard in 1861. His setting had, in any case, been anticipated elsewhere. Based on the Lysistrata of Aristophanes transposed to a medieval Crusading context, the work elicited music that contains a military element, suited to its subject

Overture to 'Fierrabras' (D. 798)

The same year saw the setting by Schubert of Fierrabras by Josef Kupelwieser, brother of his friend, the painter Leopold Kupelwieser, and at the time secretary of the Kärntnertor-Theater. The three-act opera is set in the time of Charlemagne, a pseudo-historical romance in which the noble Moorish knight Fierrabras is eventually enlisted in the ranks of the Emperor’s Paladins, to his apparent satisfaction. Parts of the work were heard in Vienna after Schubert’s death and the Overture, scored for an orchestra with four horns and three trombones, provides an imposing and dramatic introduction to a work remembered, if at all, for its music rather than its text. One of the overtures, perhaps the first of the pair, had a public performance in March 1818 and was welcomed by critics, with praise for the work’s ‘youthful fire’. Both reflect the influence of Rossini, whose operas increasingly fascinated the Viennese public.

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