The Birth of the “Dramatic” Overture in the Eighteenth Century

Last December, I had an article published in the National Opera Association of America’s Opera JournalThe article looks at the birth of the dramatic overture in the eighteenth century. I have included the pre-print version of the article below and you can download a PDF of the article from

Suggested Citation: Kieran Fenby-Hulse, ‘The Birth of the “Dramatic” Overture in the Eighteenth Century’, The Opera Journal, Vol. XLVI, No. 4 (2013), p. 3-24.

The Birth of the “Dramatic” Overture in the Eighteenth Century

The dedicatory preface to Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Alceste (1767) has been much discussed, especially in relation to Gluck’s so-called reform operas.[1] An aspect of the preface that is frequently overlooked, though, is a comment concerning the overture. The preface states that ‘the [introductory] sinfonia should inform the spectators of the subject that is to be enacted, and constitute, as it were, the argument’.[2] Gluck’s statement has potential implications not only for the study of opera and opera overtures, but also for the study of eighteenth-century instrumental music, as the preface confronts us with the notion that music has the potential to communicate literary ideas. This article locates Gluck’s comments within a broader eighteenth-century theoretical and aesthetic context and examines what Gluck may have meant by the word ‘argument’.[3]

Although the preface seems to demarcate a caesura in the history of the overture, this is not actually the case; the preface is only one of a number of theoretical writings written during the eighteenth century that suggested the overture should take on a more dramatic function. Johann Adolph Scheibe is perhaps the first to put forward the idea of a “dramatic” overture. In an article published some thirty years earlier for his weekly journal, The Critical Musician (Der Critische Musikus, 1737-1740), Scheibe states that:[4]

All symphonies that are composed for a play should concern themselves primarily with its content and nature. Necessarily therefore, different types of symphony are appropriate for tragedies than as for light-hearted or comedic pieces. The music which is appropriate for tragedy must be different to that appropriate for comedy as the two genres are from each other. In particular, one must ensure that each section of the music fits each individual section of the play. The opening symphony must complement the first scene of the play, therefore, but by the same token, the symphonies which occur in between the various scenes must complement both the end of the preceding scene and the beginning of the following.<[5]

Although Scheibe uses the term ‘symphony’ to refer to any instrumental music used within a play, he does note there is a difference between symphonies that open a drama and those that occur between the acts. On the opening symphony, in particular, he states that it should prepare the spectator for the drama of the opening scene.

Scheibe’s most intriguing remark, though, concerns a composer’s understanding of the literary drama for which the accompanying music is intended:

Concerning the dramas, a composer must fundamentally understand not only how they are constructed but also how each drama differs from another. He must also know exactly the individual and innate character of each type of play, so that he can differentiate between them, each by its own characteristics, by its own content, by its sections and all the other contributory factors.[6]

He argues that composers should have an understanding of the literary work and that the nature and design of that work should inform, and perhaps even determine, the character and structure of the overture and entr’acte. In short, Scheibe draws a direct connection between the narrative of the literary drama and the structure and content of the musical work.

Scheibe’s comments on the overture were echoed throughout the eighteenth century by a variety of different theorists from all over Europe. (The preface to Alceste is, in a way, an extension of Scheibe’s original theory). Johann Joachim Quantz’s Essay on a Method for Playing the Traverse Flute (Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, 1752) is one such example, in which Quantz claims that ‘a sinfonia should have some connection with the content of the opera, or at least with its first scene, and should not always conclude with a gay minuet, as it usually does’.[7] Although adding the caveat that drama is too various to provide a definitive model for the dramatic overture, Quantz then goes on to explore how a composer might achieve this effect. Questioning whether an opening sinfonia necessarily requires three movements, he considers whether, in some cases, it would be more suitable for the sinfonia to end with the first or second movement. He writes:

For example, if the first scene were to contain heroic or other fiery passions, the sinfonia could conclude after the first movement. If melancholy or amorous sentiments occur in the scene, the composer could stop with the second movement. And if the first scene contains no marked sentiments, or if these appear only in the course of the opera or at its end, he could conclude with the third movement of the sinfonia. In this fashion the composer could adjust each movement to the situation, and the sinfonia would still retain its usefulness for other purposes.[8] For Quantz, the traditional three-part structure of the opening sinfonia should be adapted to suit the nature of the drama it introduces and, in particular, the dramatic action of the opening scene.

Francesco Algarotti’s comments on the overture take the ideas of Scheibe and Quantz a step further, and his theory can be said to directly anticipate Gluck’s statement about the overture in the preface to Alceste. In his Essay on Opera (Saggio sopra l’opera in musica, 1755), Algarotti states that ‘the main drift of an overture should be to announce in a certain manner the action of the drama, and consequently prepare the audience to receive those affecting impressions that are to result from the whole of the performance’.[9] Algarotti, while stating that the overture should focus upon the drama’s affecting impressions, also suggests that it should prepare the listener for the action of the drama, implying that, like the preface, it is possible for the overture to host a kind of dramatic argument. Unlike Quantz, though, Algarotti does not go into any detail as to how a composer might achieve this effect.

Perhaps the most informative commentator on the dramatic potential of the overture is Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, as his writings address how an overture can prepare spectators for the ensuing drama. In his review of Voltaire’s Semiramis, which followed a performance of the play at the Hamburg Theatre in 1767, Lessing discusses the incidental music that was provided by Johann Friedrich Agricola. Lessing states that an ‘overture must only indicate the general tendency of the play and not more strongly or decidedly than the title does. We may show the spectator the goal which he is to attain, but the various paths by which he is to attain it, must be entirely hidden from him’.[10] Lessing was familiar with Scheibe’s writings and, in fact, quotes several extensive passages from Scheibe’s essay in his review. While agreeing with Scheibe that the overture should hint at the nature of the drama, he stresses that the overture should avoid revealing to the spectator how the drama is to unravel. Lessing argues that the overture should be limited to providing an outline of the general mood of the play or opera, so as not to weaken the effect of the drama to follow. What is significant about this review is that Lessing then goes on to provide a description of Agricola’s overture and highlight what he thought the overture sought to express. He writes:

The opening symphony consists of three movements. The first movement is a largo with oboes and flutes beside violins; the bass part is strengthened by bassoons. The expression is serious, sometimes wild and agitated; the listener is to expect a drama of this nature. But not of this nature only; tenderness, remorse, conscience, humility play their parts also, and the second movement an andante with muted violins and bassoons, is occupied with mysterious and plaintive tones. In the third movement the emotional and the stately tones are mingled, for the scene opens with unusual splendour; Semiramis is approaching the term of her glory and as this glory strikes the eye, so the ear must also perceive it.[11] 

For Lessing, Agricola’s multi-movement overture conveys an array of moods and sentiments, each of which he claims corresponds to a different emotional aspect of Voltaire’s play. Interestingly, his reading of Agricola’s overture seems to overstep his own theoretical assessment of what an overture should and should not do. According to Lessing, the overture not only outlines the general tendency of the play, but also provides a musical exploration of the different and contrasting moods that are to appear later in Voltaire’s play. As Agricola’s incidental music is lost we cannot probe Lessing’s comments any further and assess whether the overture’s series of musical images can be said to constitute an argument that parallels that of the play it introduces. His review, though, remains important as it provides an insight into how overtures were perceived to function in the latter half of the eighteenth century and their relationship to the dramas they introduced.

The musicologist Reinhard Strohm has suggested that the term ‘argomento’ employed in Gluck’s preface carried a particular connotation during the eighteenth century and referred to a type of printed introduction that was commonly handed out before the performance of a play or opera. As he states:

The term ‘argument’ was, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, familiar to theatregoers as a printed introduction to the subject matter of a drama or opera libretto. It was not a preface, nor necessarily a synopsis of the plot; more often the author concentrated on the prehistory of the action in order to prepare the spectator for basic conflicts and constellations between characters. Rarely did and argomento give away the turning points of the dramatic intrigue.[12]

Strohm’s reading of this term, and of Gluck’s preface, suggests that he understands the overture (and in particular the overture to Alceste) to familiarise the listener with the prehistory of the drama and with the basic ‘conflicts and constellations’ that exist between the main characters. Strohm’s theory is backed up to some extent by Bernard Germain Lacépède near contemporary treatise, The Poetics of Music (La Poétique de la musique, 1785).[13] In his discussion of the overture, Lacépède claims that the best type of overture is one that reveals to the spectator the prehistory of the plot.[14] While Strohm’s definition of ‘argument’ is certainly convincing from a linguistic perspective, his reading of the preface seems to jar with the aforementioned theoretical writings, which all refer to the overture preparing the listener for what is to follow and not what has happened. In fact, the preface is the only theoretical writing to use the term argomento. And while Lacépède does state that there are overtures that present the listener with a prehistory of the opera, he also discusses several other types of overture: those that present a condensed portrait of the entire piece (although these detract from the impact of the opera); those which prepare the listener for the main sentiments of the opera (although not necessarily in all their detail); and those that anticipate the drama’s overall mood.[15]

Despite the differences in their approach and terminology, the writings of Algarotti, Lacépède, Lessing and Quantz all agree one point: that the overture has the capacity to prepare listeners for the drama of the opera, implying, therefore, that music has the potential to communicate a literary idea. To propose that an eighteenth-century overture takes on a dramatic function that, in a way, parallels literary poetic modes may seem like a large claim – especially in view of the fact that instrumental music is thought to have only taken on overtly dramatic features in the nineteenth century. This assertion, however, is not actually that far-fetched when evaluated against a broader backdrop of eighteenth-century aesthetics.

Throughout the eighteenth century, debates raged on the expressive capacity of music. Two questions lay at the heart of these debates: the first was whether words were necessary for music to be understood, and the second was whether music could be used effectively to heighten the effect of a literary drama or text.[16] The debates arose out of, and were a reaction to, the severe criticism that opera and instrumental music had suffered at the hands of neoclassical critics during the first few decades of the eighteenth century (criticism that persisted throughout the century).

Johann Jakob Bodmer, Johann Jakob Breitinger, Johann Christoph Gottsched, and Noel Antoine Pluche were some of music’s main opponents.[17] In his Attempt at the Criticism of Poetry (Versuch Einer Critischen Dichtkunst, 1730), Gottsched, for instance, stated that ‘the opera is merely a production for the senses: the understanding and the heart get nothing out of it. Only the eyes are blinded; only the ear is tickled and stunned: reason however must be left at home, when one goes to the opera’.[18] In Gottsched’s opinion, music clouded the clarity of the text and was a superfluous element that simply hindered the effect of the dramatic action, a view of music still held at the end of the century by Immanuel Kant, who understood music to be an art form that occupied the senses, but lacked any serious moral message.[19] Thought to be unable to communicate an intelligible and moral message to the listener, music was rendered nothing more than a frivolous form of entertainment.

The aforementioned music theorists challenged directly this way of thinking, thereby forming part of a much wider theoretical and philosophical circle that sought to explain and rationalise the expressive capacity of music. Perhaps the earliest and most important text to address this was the second edition of Jean-Baptiste Dubos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music (Réflexions critques sur la poésie, la peinture et la musique, 1733).[20] According to Dubos, music was able to portray sentiments and passions by imitating ‘the tones, accents, sighs, inflections of the voice – in short, all those sounds with which nature itself expresses its sentiments and passions’.[21] For Dubos, therefore, music functioned expressively, through the imitation of the sounds of Man in the throes of passion.

Although more restrained in his understanding of music’s communicative abilities, Herder wrote a number of essays that explored music’s expressive potential. In his imaginative and poetic essay Does Painting or Music Have a Greater Effect? (Ob Malerei oder Tonkunst eine grössere Wirkung gewähre?, 1778-1779), the three muses – Poetry, Painting, and Music – battle it out for the title of the most powerful and expressive art. [22] Quite intentionally, the debate does not reach a conclusion. The exchange, though, raises a whole host of aesthetic issues concerning the expressive abilities and limitations of each art form. While music is praised for its depth and ability to move its listener, it is criticised by Painting because of its ‘confused tongue of half-sensations’.[23] This leads Poetry to assert that ‘without my words, song, dance, and other actions, the sensations you awaken in man will always be obscure’.[24] For Herder, music’s power lay in its ability to affect the passions of the listener; its weakness, though, was that it lacked clarity and required poetry in order for it to be fully understood. As he concludes, ‘you [Music] stir the feelings and the passions, though in an obscure manner, and require a guide, an elucidator, who will at least enable you [Music] to have a more determinate effect on man’s understanding and delight not only his physical but also his moral sense’.[25] While Herder understood music to be expressive medium, he clearly felt that the exact nature of what was being expressed was not always apparent to the listener.

Instrumental music proved particularly problematic in this respect. As Noel Antoine Pluche states:

The most beautiful melody, when only instrumental, almost inevitably becomes cold, and then boring, because it expresses nothing. It is a fine suit of clothes separated from the body and hung on a peg; or if it has an air of life about it, it is at most like a marionette or mechanical doll.[26]

For Pluche, music was too artificial an artistic medium to imitate nature effectively, the unintelligible series of sounds failing to provide the listener with a moral or philosophical message. For Daniel Chua, the difficulty eighteenth-century listeners had in understanding eighteenth-century instrumental compositions was not the result of music having no meaning, but the result of the music having too much meaning. Chua claims that ‘the problem was not so much the lack of signification, but the uncontrollable polysemy of the new Italian music that seemingly fluttered from one mood to another without rhyme or reason; it made sense to the body as a kind of ear-tickling sensation but left the rational soul morally vacant’.[27]

These debates on music’s communicative ability inspired a fervent period of experimental composition that sought to tackle these issues head on. Dramatists, philosophers and musicians all began to engage in projects that probed the expressive nature of both music and words in an attempt to reconcile the expressive power of music with the clarity of the written text. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s development of the melodrama is indicative of this trend. By presenting music and spoken work in sequence (music sounding after the text has been spoken), Rousseau sought to bring together the expressive capacity of music with the clarity of the written word by giving each its own expressive space.[28] Rousseau’s experiments were subsequently taken up and developed by Georg Benda; his Ariadne auf Naxos (1775) and Medea (1775) had music underpin the spoken word as well provide a comment upon it.[29] His works were well received and are thought to have had a particularly profound impact upon the young Mozart.[30]

A notable increase in the writing of incidental music for plays to heighten to dramatic the narrative is also evident during the latter half of the eighteenth century.[31] Prolific playwrights such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller both employed music in their works to intensify the narratives of their dramas.[32] Goethe’s decision to incorporate music in his play Egmont is particularly interesting, as for the best part of the play the drama is intensely realistic. In the final scene, though, Goethe chooses to use music to depict a higher, spiritual realm. Music is used to expand the dramatic moment and to present Egmont’s idealised view of the world. Goethe’s understanding of music has often been devalued, which has resulted in the musical aspects of his works being sidelined or ignored by scholars. Goethe, though, perceived music to be a powerful artistic medium and, alongside Herder and Schiller, chose to write several opera libretti.[33]

Literary works such as the novel also began to employ musical episodes (or tableaux) in their narratives. Tili Boon Cuillé has observed, for example, that in the French novel musical performances are frequently described to help intensify the emotional and often sexual aspects of the narrative (a literary device also seen in E.T.A. Hoffman’s Don Juan of 1813).[34] As she states:

A musical tableau – or musical performance staged for a beholder inscribed within the text – is structured in accordance with the aesthetics of sight and sound and brings an extra dimension into play by foregrounding the catalytic role of music in the narrative and the emotional dynamic that the performance sets in motions between performer and beholder.[35] 

The development of what the author of the present article would like to call the “dramatic” overture offers up another example of this trend and is particularly interesting in this respect as it is not a combination of words and music, but of instrumental music and literary idea. Indeed, the literary narrative of the opera is only implicitly inscribed in the overture.[36] In the author’s view, the birth of the “dramatic” overture signals a particularly interesting moment in music history, as it provided composers with a fertile ground in which they could explore the relationship between music and drama, and perhaps also the opportunity to reassess and reformulate their approaches to instrumental music in general.

The two histories are, indeed, entwined, there being many instances where a symphony or symphonic movement was employed as an overture, and where an overture was performed as if a symphonic, concert work. The overture to Mozart’s opera La finta semplice, for instance, is a reworking of his Symphony in D, K. 45 (No.7); and his Symphony in D, K.161, K.163 (No. 50) is thought to have been first used as the introduction to his opera Il sogno di Scipione.[37] We also know that Mozart revised his Don Giovanni overture so that it could be performed in the concert hall, and that Beethoven struggled with the writing of his overture to Fidelio because he wanted it to function as an opera overture and as an independent concert piece.[38] Perhaps more pertinent is the recent suggestion that a number of Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang symphonies were originally conceived of as theatrical overtures.[39] This observation challenges our perception not just of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies, but also of our understanding of how the symphony evolved and developed and how approaches to operatic and symphonic composition may have informed one another.

This is not to say, though, that the overture and the symphony are one and the same. Indeed, towards the end of the century theorists began to more clearly delineate between the two types of composition. As Johann Georg Sulzer states in his General Theory of the Fine Arts (Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künst, 1771-1774):

The symphony is excellently suited to expressions of grandeur, passion, and the sublime. Its purpose is to prepare the listener for profound music, or in a chamber concert, to offer a splendid display of instrumental music. If it is to be successful in the former goal, and an integral part of the opera or church music it precedes, it must express more than grandeur or passion; it must have a character that puts the listener into the mood of the following piece, and differentiate itself by the style that is appropriate for either the church or the theatre.

The chamber symphony, which constitutes a self-sufficient whole and is not dependent upon any subsequent music, achieves its aim with a sonorous, polished and brilliant style.[40]

Although the symphony and the overture are discussed under the same heading Symphonie, Sulzer clearly differentiates between the two, stating that an introductory symphony should be an integral part of the opera or church music it precedes, whereas the symphony can function as a self-sufficient whole. The suggestion that towards the close of the eighteenth century the two genres were moving in different directions is something that Neal Zaslaw touches on in his book on Mozart’s symphonies. Zaslaw states that there is a notable change in Mozart’s treatment of the overture from Idomeneo (1781) onwards, the overture being ‘the first of Mozart’s overtures that he did not (and perhaps could not) recycle as a concert symphony’.[41] For Zaslaw, this was no doubt because it was with the Idomeneo overture that Mozart first attempted to apply some of the then current theories that claimed that the overture should try to align itself more closely with the drama of the opera.

The complex relationship between the overture and the symphony could make for an interesting point of study, especially given the birth of the “dramatic” overture towards the middle of the eighteenth century. Although a number of studies have already considered the relationship between the music of the overture and the music of the opera in the eighteenth century, none have considered the nature of the relationship between the music of the overture and the literary narrative of the drama.[42] If the birth of “dramatic” overture represents a developing interest in bringing literary ideas and instrumental music into closer alignment, a study of the dramatic overture could potentially alter and inform our understanding not only of eighteenth-century opera, but also concert overtures, symphonic poems, and perhaps even symphonic music. Indeed, it should be remembered that a large number of what we understand to be concert overtures were actually conceived of as introductions to plays or much larger works. Beethoven’s Prometheus overture was intended to introduce a ballet and Die Ruinen von Athen; König Stephan and Die Weihe des Hauses were all introductions to stage works with accompanying incidental music; Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas and Liszt’s Hamlet overtures were intended to introduce spoken plays; and even Liszt’s symphonic poem Les Préludes was written as an introduction to his large-scale choral work Les Quatre Elémens. By looking back to the writings of theorists such as Quantz, Lessing, and Scheibe and through an examination of the dramatic nature of overtures by composers such as Gluck, there is the potential for us to reassess the way in which we perceive overtures to function and reconsider the way in which musical and literary ideas might interrelate.


[1] The most important study in the English language of the ‘reform operas’ is Patricia Howard, Gluck and the Birth of Modern Opera (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1963). Other significant contributions include: Bruce Alan Brown, Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), Daniel Heartz, “From Garrick to Gluck: The Reform of Theatre and Opera in the Mid-Eighteenth Century”, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 94 (1976-1968), 111-127, Klaus Hortschansky, Christoph Willibald Gluck und die Opernreform (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1989) and Karl Geiringer, “Concepts of the Enlightenment as Reflected in Gluck’s Italian Reform Operas”, Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 88 (1972), 567-576. Some have suggested that these operas do not, in fact, mark a significant change in the writing of opera, but are indicative of a general trend in the way composers and librettists were approaching operatic composition. See H. C. Robbins Landon, Essays on the Viennese Classical style: Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (New York: Macmillan Co., 1970), 22-38, and Ernst Bücken, “Gluck”, in Die Musik des Rokokos und der Klassik (Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1929).

[2] Patricia Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 85. Although it is Gluck’s name that is attached to the preface, it was most probably written by, or alongside, his librettist Ranieri de Calzabigi.

[3] The research underpinning this article was supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Study Grant (The “Dramatic” Overture and the Idea of Tragic Narrative, 2004)

[4] Johann Adolph Scheibe, Critischer Musikus (Hildesheim: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1970), 611-618.

[5] Ibid., 614 (by the author).

[6] Ibid., 614-615 (by the author).

[7] Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, a complete translation with an introduction and notes by Edward R. Reilly (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), 316.

[8] Ibid., 316.

[9] Francesco Algarotti, An Essay on Opera/Saggio sopra L’opera in Musica, anonymous English translation 1768; edited with notes and introduction by Robin Burgess (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005), 20.

[10] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburg Dramaturgy, translated and with an introduction by Victor Lange (New York: Dover Publications, 1962), 74.

[11] Ibid., 73-74.

[12] Reinhard Strohm, Dramma per Musica: Italian Opera Seria of the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 239.

[13] See Comte de Lacépède, La Poétique de la musique (Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1970), Tome II, 1-38.

[14] See Basil Deane, “The French Operatic Overture from Grétry to Berlioz”, Proceedings of the Royal Music Association, Vol. 99, No.1 (1972), 68-69.

[15] One other alternative suggested by Lacépède is that the overture can be dispensed with altogether. Interestingly, Gluck in Iphigénie en Tauride chooses not to begin with an overture in the traditional manner, but with a musical storm that flows directly into the troubled events of the opening scene. On Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride overture see Howard, Gluck and the Birth of Modern Opera and Julian Rushton, “Iphigénie en Tauride: the operas of Gluck and Piccinni”, Music & Letters, Vol. 53, No. 4 (1972), 411-430.

[16] For an overview of eighteenth-century musical criticism and the perceived relationship between music and words see: Daniel K. L. Chua, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Carl Dahlhaus, The Idea of Absolute Music, translated by Roger Lustig (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), Gloria Flaherty, Opera in the Development of German Critical Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), Bellamy Hosler, Changing Aesthetic views on instrumental music in 18th Century Germany (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981), John Neubauer, The Emancipation of Music from Language: Departure from Mimesis in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), Cynthia Verba, Music and the French Enlightenment: Reconstructions of a Dialogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) and John Warrack, German opera: From the Beginnings to Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). For an English translation of some of the more important writings accompanied by a brief discussion see: Enrico Fubini, ed., Music & Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[17] See, in particular, Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger, Die Discourse der Mahlern (Zurich, 1721-1723) in Johann Jakob Bodmer and Johann Jakob Breitinger, Die Discourse der Mahlern, facsimile reprint (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1969), Johann Christoph Gottsched, Versuch Einer Critischen Dichtkunst (Leipzig, 1730) in Johann Christoph Gottsched, Ausgewählte Werke: Versuch Einer Critischen Dichtkunst, Anderer Besonderer Theil, edited by Joachim Birke and Brigette Birke (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973), Vol. 6, and Noel Antoine Pluche, Spectacle de la nature (Paris, 1732-1750), translated in Noel Antoine Pluche, Spectacle de la nature: or, Nature display’d, being Discourses on such Particulars of Natural History (London, 1739-48).

[18] Cited and translated in Bellamy Hosler, Changing Aesthetic views on instrumental music in 18th Century Germany (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981), 52.

[19] See “The division of the Fine Arts” in Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, translated by James Creed Meredith, revised, edited and introduced by Nicholas Walker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 149-154.

[20] Enrico Fubini, ed., Music & Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 324-333.

[21] Ibid., 326.

[22] Johann Gottfried Herder, Selected Writings on Aesthetics, translated and edited by Gregory Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 347-356.

[23] Ibid., 348.

[24] Ibid., 351-352.

[25] Ibid., 355.

[26] Enrico Fubini, ed., Music & Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 83.

[27] Daniel K. L. Chua, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 85.

[28] On melodrama see Kirsten Gram Holmström, Monodrama, Attitudes, Tableaux Vivants: Studies on Some Trends of Theatrical Fashion, 1770-1815 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1967), James L. Smith, Melodrama (London: Methuen, 1973), and Jacqueline Waeber, En Musique dans la Texte: Le Mélodrame de Rousseau à Schoenberg (Paris: Van Dieren éditeur, 2005).

[29] On Benda’s melodramas see Arthur Simeon Winsor, The Melodramas and Singspiels of Georg Benda (PhD Thesis, University of Michigan, 1967).

[30] In a letter to his father dated November 12, 1778, Mozart wrote, ‘What I saw was Benda’s Medea. He also wrote another one, Ariadne auf Naxos, and both are truly admirable’. See Emily Anderson, ed., The letters of Mozart and his family (London: Macmillan, 1938), Vol. 2, 631.

[31] See Roger Fiske, English Theatre Music in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), Kirsten Gram Holmström, Monodrama, Attitudes, Tableaux Vivants: Studies on Some Trends of Theatrical Fashion, 1770-1815 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1967), Bellamy Hosler, Changing Aesthetic views on instrumental music in 18th Century Germany (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981), and Robert Lamar and Norma Wright Weaver, A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theatre, 1751-1800: Operas, Prologues, Farces, Intermezzos, Concerts, and Plays with Incidental Music (Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 1993). The German Singspiel can also be said to probe the relationship between words and music. See John Warrack, German opera: From the Beginnings to Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 124-143.

[32] See A. C. Keys, “Schiller and Italian Opera”, Music & Letters, Vol. 41, No. 3 (1960), 223-227, Rey M. Longyear, “Schiller and Opera”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 2 (1966), 171-182, Bayard Quincy Morgan, “Goethe’s Dramatic Use of Music”, PMLA, Vol. 72, No. 1 (1957), 104-112, and Romain Rolland, Goethe and Beethoven, translated G. A. Pfister and E. S. Kemp (New York: Benjamine Blom, 1931).

[33] See n.31 and F. E. Kirby, “Herder and Opera”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 15, No. 3 (1962), 316-329.

[34] Tili Boon Cuillé, Narrative Interludes: Musical Tableaux in Eighteenth-Century Texts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

[35] Ibid., 5-6.

[36] It should be pointed out that eighteenth-century operas were based upon stories, legends, and histories that would most likely have been familiar to an eighteenth-century listener. In short, the title of the opera would have provided the listener with a narrative framework by which to understand the overture

[37] Neal Zaslaw, Mozart Symphonies: Context, Performance Practice, Reception (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 250-251.

[38] On Beethoven’s Leonora overtures see Alan Tyson, “The Problem of Beethoven’s ‘First’ Leonore Overture”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1975), 292-334, Alan Tyson, “Yet Another ‘Leonore’ Overture”, Music and Letters, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1977), 192-203, and Basil Deane, “The French Operatic Overture from Grétry to Berlioz”, Proceedings of the Royal Music Association, Vol. 99, No.1 (1972), 77.

<[39] Stephen C. Fischer, Haydn’s Overtures and their Adaptations as Concert Orchestral Works (Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Pennsylvania, 1985), and Elaine R. Sisman, “Haydn’s Theatre Symphonies”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 43, No. 2 (1990), 292-352. See also Barry S. Brook, “Sturm und Drang and the Romantic Period in Music”, Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 9, No. 4 (1970), 269-288, W. Dean Sutcliffe, ed., Haydn Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 120-245, and R. Larry Todd, “Joseph Haydn and the Sturm und Drang: A Reevaluation”, Music Review, Vol. 41 (1980), 172-196.

<[40] Nancy Kovaleff Baker and Thomas Christensen, ed., Aesthetics and the Art of Musical Composition in the German Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 106.

[41] Neal Zaslaw, Mozart Symphonies: Context, Performance Practice, Reception (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 514.

[42] Basil Deane, “The French Operatic Overture from Grétry to Berlioz”, Proceedings of the Royal Music Association, Vol. 99, No.1 (1972), 67-80, Constantin Floros, “Das ‘Program’ in Mozarts Meisterouvertüren”, Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, Vol. 26 (1964), 140-186, Daniel Heartz, “Mozart’s Overture to Titus as Dramatic Argument”, Musical Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1978), 29-49, Patricia Howard, Gluck and the Birth of Modern Opera (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1963), 89-99, and Reinhard Strohm, Dramma per Musica: Italian Opera Seria of the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 237-251.



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