Semiramis – overture

Semiramis, which is based on a drama by Voltaire, was the last opera Rossini wrote in Italy. It was premiered at La Fenice in Venice in 1823. Rossini then travelled to London before settling and working in Paris for over a decade. In 1836 he returned to Italy but composed no more operatic works during the remaining three decades of his life.

The overture of Semiramis resembles a symphonic first movement not only with its length but also the weight and formal construction of the thematic material. We first hear just a tympani tremolo, then the violas and cellos enter with a restlessly pulsing two note motif. The sweeping crescendo that introduces the overture is constructed on these two elements. However, it transpires that this is the “introduction to the introduction,” because after we hear three fortissimo chords from the full orchestra, the customary slow introduction begins. This is based on the alternation of two pieces of material: the first is a relaxed rocking 6/8 theme first heard on horns and bassoon; the second is a dramatic outcry from the orchestra which is then interrupted by the earlier idea. At the end of the slow introduction, we again hear the crescendo effect that opens the work – this time over a dominant pedal point. After the three orchestral chords, the fast central principal section of the overture finally begins. The main theme of this section – unlike what has been heard so far – strikes up a carefree, conversational tone. The violin theme, on second hearing, is then paired with a lively counterpoint played on woodwind. We then hear familiar music again: the transition section recalls the same musical material which from time to time, interrupted the 6/8 horn theme in the slow introduction – the only important difference being that its rhythm has been transposed from three beats in the bar to four. Rossini is here demonstrating his genius for musical forms because this transition section helps creates a much tighter unity between the slow and fast sections of the overture. After a few minutes of drama, the subsidiary theme against breathes a relaxed happy mood: the clarinet plays a sprightly melody over a plucked string accompaniment. Although the fast central section is composed in text book sonata form, there is virtually no development section: after the exposition is closed, the recapitulation ensues just twelve bars later. The Semiramis Overture concludes with a typically impressive Rossini orchestral crescendo.

100 évesek vagyunk