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W. A. Mozart (1756 - 1791) – Overture: The Magic Flute

Mozart could write so much in such a short career because classical structures furnished “ready-made”, formulaic frameworks, right? Maybe, except that Mozart was one of the authors of the “rulebook”. What’s more, although sticking rigidly to the rules is a fast track to high production, it’s also the low road to mediocrity. Bending the rules generates freshness and originality - and takes time. Mozart took the high road, just one measure of his genius. 

The Magic Flute overture is a case in point. Mozart plays havoc with the standard styles for overtures: the combination of sombre opening, vivacious allegro, and return to brassier brooding suggests “French”, but then he launches a full-scale symphonic development and varied reprise of his single main theme! As if that wasn’t enough, the theme itself, otherwise all cute and bubbly, is both fugal and riddled with nervy, syncopated stresses - a perfectly-poised piece of scene-setting that is anything but “bog-standard”. 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 30 October 2004

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