Monday, August 10, 2015

What is this 'Overture' in music?

The ‘Overture’ in Opera, and in mainstream movies. An old article published on
Hear this, the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila (R&L), and have your hearts filled with joy. It made better this Sunday morning, muddled by the nonchalance of the rains, and the cruel indifference of the weather to the humidity. Do as I have, read something whilst listening to it, then leave aside the reading material, and sway to its energy, defined so fluidly by the violins and the flute, alternatively taking over the task to make you meditative. Leave aside the rains.

R&L is an Opera (theatrical performance set to music) in five acts, based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin. It is composed by Mikhail Glinka, often hailed as the father of Russian classical music. Behold, the Opera didn’t do wonders and Mikhail was
wounded by the indifference. So much for people wearing corsets and coats and carefully folded handkerchiefs and being deaf. The Overture to this opera - Overture defined as the introduction to an opera - is very popular. Here’s what R&L is about:
The poem tells of the abduction of Ludmilla by an evil sorcerer, Chernomor, from a party given for Ludmilla's three suitors, one of whom is Ruslan. Each suitor rides off to save the girl, encountering a fantastic assortment of witches, hermits, magic castles, enchanted gardens, magic swords, and so forth, rather in the style of the tales of the Arabian Nights. The sorcerer is vanquished in the end by Ruslan, who revives Ludmilla from a trance and wins her hand in marriage. [Source]
Six years after it was released, the Opera was withdrawn. This was a considerably short time in that era. It was said that Mikhail’s composition for his first Opera, ‘A Life for the Tsar’ was musically better. Consequently, R&L (his second work) was regarded as superior work.

(Mikhail Glinka while composing R&L. Courtsey)

Yes, operas have singers singing out their heart, or those of the characters and the conditions they are embroiled in. But the introduction - the Overture - is often instrumental. Over the years, it has meant different things. It would introduce the pieces that were to be sung or fleshed out later. It would set the mood of the opera. It would play in brief the main popular pieces that were to follow. You may not have seen an Opera, but to get a feel of the Overture, let’s see how it is done in the movies.

The Overture in movies plays before the opening credits start rolling. We are not counting the music that plays during the credits as an Overture. Overture in films would mean a special space given to the music, it’s importance as a separate entity, like in the Opera where it plays solo and not in conjunction with any action on the stage. Even if it is not against the black screen in the cinemas, it has to hold its importance during any ongoing activity. Like in this Overture from the film ‘Dancer in the Dark’.

Here’s another from ‘West Side Story’.


Comments on the Overture from YouTube
  • I still get chills when hearing this music. Especially at the end of the overture when the skyline of New York comes into view.
  • They don't make movies like this anymore. They should add an Overture to movies again. :(
  • Too bad none of the new films have overtures. And it seems like only 5 seconds of each song on a soundtrack is actually in a film nowadays.
A few popular overtures in classical music:
Here’s the Overture to ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:


Here’s the Overture to ‘The Barber of Seville’ by Gioachino Antonio Rossini:

You have seen a clear link between the movies and Western Classical Music - Whether you see a play, listen to a recording, or watch a movie, you can relate to this thing called ‘Overture’.

Share this story on facebook, twitter, and elsewhere and introduce others to 'classical music in simple language'.