Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791)

Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria.
Died December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria.

Overture to Così fan tutte, K. 588

Composed 1790.
First Performance: January 26, 1790 at the Burgtheater in Vienna conducted by Mozart.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Duration : approximately 5 minutes.

Così fan tutte (1790) is the third of the three great operas composed by Mozart with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (1749 – 1838). The others are The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787). An approximate translation of the title is “Thus do all women”  (The final e in tutte is feminine plural), or even “Women are like that.” Perhaps the title was suggested by an aria from The Marriage of Figaro (Act 1, No. 7) where Don Basilio sings “Così fan tutte le belle, non c’e alcuna novita.” (“All women are like that, there’s nothing new about it.”)

In Così fan tutte two young men, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are engaged to sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. The boast to the old philosopher Don Alfonso of their virtue. Don Alfonso enrages them by saying that faithful women do not exist. Alfonso wagers that the sisters would not be able to remain faithful for even a day’s absence. He hatches a plot where the men go off to military duty. The men return so heavily disguised that the women do no recognize them. At first the women are standoffish but soon find no sin in a little flirtation. Hilarity ensues.

The overture (play) is in C major and is in two parts:  Andante (comfortably flowing) then Presto (fast and lively) which is the main part of the overture. The overture hints at the plot. The andante begins with a lyrical oboe solo that is punctuated by interjections (the women objecting to the advances of the disguised men?). After the second oboe phrase we hear the “Così fan tutte” phrase from Don Alfonso’s Act II aria “Tutti accusan le donne” (play) in which Alfonso advises the men to go ahead with their marriage plans since they still love the sisters. He tells them to not blame the women for their “essential” nature. They repeat after him “Così fan tutte” to this melody.

The long presto section begins with the first of four distinct phrases which features soft scurrying eighth notes that build in intensity to a syncopated motif played by the full orchestra. This is followed by quiet phrases that are tossed between the winds suggesting whispers exchanged between the women. Then after a brief return of the first two phrases is the fourth and final phrase played by the strings which bears a strong resemblance to the opening of The Marriage of Figaro over the syncopated rhythm of the second phrase. Mozart then treats us to an artful development of these phrases before the “Così” phrase returns (m. 228) with the durations doubled – indicating the presto should be linked directly in tempo to the beginning andante – to conclude the overture.

The first performance was at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790, the day before Mozart’s 34th birthday. It was well received, and ten performances were given that year.


NMA (Neue Mozart Ausgabe)

Public domain score at IMSLP