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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to "The Magic Flute"

July 20, 2015

Overture to The Magic Flute

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

In eighteenth-century Europe, noblemen enjoyed musical accompaniment to their meals, parties and other social events. The wind octet (or, as the Viennese termed it, Harmonie) consisting of pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons proved the ideal medium, and many aristocrats established their own private Harmonie—even public taverns and other gathering spots would engage the services of a professional wind band. At first, most Harmoniemusik consisted of transcriptions of the popular operas of the day; in fact such transcriptions became big business. In July 1782 Mozart wrote to his father:

 

“I am up to my eyes in work, but by next Sunday I have to arrange my opera [Abduction from the Seraglio] for wind instruments. If I don’t, someone will get to it before I do and reap the profits. You have no idea how difficult it is to arrange a work of this kind for wind instruments, so that it suits these instruments and yet loses none of its effect.”

 

Mozart seems never to have completed his transcription: his operas in Harmoniemusik form have reached us through the pens of contemporaneous oboists and clarinetists: Georg Triebensee, Johann Nepomuk Wendt, and Joseph Heidenreich. Heidenreich was a prolific arranger of operas, and the Wiener Zeitung of January 14, 1792, gives the following announcement:

 

“Since several music lovers have expressed the wish to own a Harmonie arrangement of the popular opera, The Magic Flute, the last work of the great Mozart, the undersigned flatters himself that he will not be giving unwelcome news when he says that the aforesaid opera set for 8 parts will be issued at a subscription price of 6 fl. 40 kr., which lasts until the end of January...should some music lover prefer, however, to have this opera in 6 parts, the undersigned will be no less willing to serve a sufficient number of subscribers.”

 

On the whole, Heidenreich’s arrangement of the overture was well done, but his solution to the development section (where Mozart’s modulations introduced keys beyond the capabilities of the instruments of his time) was simply to cut it out. We are performing a modern adaptation by Bastiaan Blomhert that restores the missing development section (there is such a thing as progress), adds a flute (restoring the leading instrumental character —“the magic oboe” just wouldn’t be right...), and that reinforces the low voices with a double bass (following the practice recommended by Mozart’s friend and leader of the Imperial Harmonie, Anton Stadler).

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