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What is an overture?

Overture (from French ouverture, introduction) in music is an instrumental (usually an orchestral) play performed before the start of any performance – a theater performance, opera, ballet, motion picture, etc., or a one-part orchestra piece, often owned to program music.

Overture prepares the listener for the upcoming action.

The tradition of announcing the beginning of the performance with a short musical signal existed long before the term “overture” was entrenched in the works of first French and then other European composers of the 17th century. Until the middle of the 18th century Overtures were composed according to strictly defined rules: their lofty, generalized music usually had no connection with the subsequent action. However, the requirements for the overture gradually changed: it was increasingly subordinated to the general artistic design of the work.

What is an Overture (Overture)

Having retained the function of the solemn “invitation to the spectacle” as an overture, composers, beginning with K. V. Gluck and V. A. Mozart, significantly expanded its content. By means of music alone, even before the theater curtain rises, it was possible to tune the viewer in a certain way, to tell about upcoming events. It is no accident that the sonata became a traditional form of overture: capacious and effective, it made it possible to present various active forces in their confrontation. Such, for example, is the overture to the opera by K. M, Weber’s “Free Shooter” – one of the first to include an “introductory review of the contents” of the entire work. All diverse themes – pastoral and gloomy-sinister, hesitant and full of glee – are associated either with the characterization of one of the characters, or with a specific stage situation and subsequently repeatedly appear throughout the opera. The overture to “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by M. I. Glinka was also resolved: in a whirlwind, rapid movement, as if, as the composer himself put it, “full sail”, a dazzlingly cheerful main theme sweeps here (in opera, it will become the theme of the choir, praising the liberation of Lyudmila), and the chanting melody of love between Ruslan and Lyudmila (it will sound in the heroic aria of Ruslan), and the bizarre theme of the evil wizard Chernomor.

The fuller and more perfect the plot-philosophical conflict of the composition is embodied in the overture, the faster it gains the right to a separate existence on the concert stage. Therefore, L. Beethoven’s overture is already developing as an independent genre of symphonic program music. Beethoven’s overtures, especially the overture to I.V. Goethe’s drama “Egmont”, are complete musical dramas that are extremely saturated with development, and their thoughts are not inferior to its large symphonic canvases. In the XIX century. the genre of concert overture firmly enters into the practice of Western European (overture “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by F. Mendelssohn on the comedy of the same name by W. Shakespeare) and Russian composers (“Spanish Overtures” by Glinka, “Overture on three Russian songs” by M. A. Balakirev, fantasy overture “Romeo and Juliet” by P. I. Tchaikovsky). At the same time, in the opera of the 2nd half of the XIX century. The overture is increasingly being transformed into a short orchestral intro, directly putting into action.

The meaning of such an introduction (also called introduction or prelude) may lie in the proclamation of the most significant idea – a symbol (the motive for the inevitability of the tragedy in Rigoletto by J. Verdi) or in the characterization of the main character and at the same time in creating a special atmosphere that largely determines the figurative structure of the work ( introduction to “Eugene Onegin” by Tchaikovsky, “Lohengrin” R. Wagner). Sometimes the introduction is both symbolic and pictorial. Such is the opening opera of M. P. Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina” symphonic painting “Dawn on the Moscow River”.

In the XX century. composers successfully use various types of intros, including the traditional overture (overture to the opera “Cola Bruyon” by D. B. Kabalevsky). In the genre of concert overture on folk themes are written The Russian Overture by S. S. Prokofiev, Overture on Russian and Kyrgyz Folk Themes by D. D. Shostakovich, Overture O. V. Takt a-kishvili; for the orchestra of Russian folk instruments – “Russian Overture” by N.P. Budashkin and others.

Overture of Tchaikovsky

The 1812 overture is an orchestral piece by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in memory of the Patriotic War of 1812.

The overture begins with the gloomy sounds of the Russian church choir, recalling the declaration of war, which was carried out in Russia at church services. Then, right away, festive singing about the victory of Russian weapons in the war sounds. The declaration of war and the reaction of the people to it was described in Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace.

Then comes the melody representing the marching armies, performed with the help of trumpets. The French hymn “Marseillaise” reflects the victories of France and the capture of Moscow in September 1812. The sounds of Russian folk dance symbolize the battle of Borodino.

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