The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed his 2 act opera Don Giovanni in 1787. It was an immediate success with audiences and remains one of the most popular operas of all time. Mozart called Don Giovanni an opera buffa (comic opera) although it was billed as a “drama giocoso” to indicate that it contained elements of both drama and comedy. The opera features a character named Don Giovanni, a licentious Spanish nobleman with a reputation for seducing and abusing women. The opera chronicles Don Giovanni’s exploits of attempted rape, murder, and deceit, his relations with the characters Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina, and his eventual downfall.

In the first scene of the opera, Don Giovanni kills Donna Anna’s father, Don Pedro, the Commendatore and in the final scene of the opera, a marble statue of the Commendatore comes to life to punish Don Giovanni, ushering him into hell.

As was typical for the time, Don Giovanni opens with an instrumental overture. Mozart famously composed the overture the night before the opera’s premiere. The approximately 6-7 minute overture that you will hear is an arrangement of Mozart’s symphonic overture and is played by a wind octet of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns.

You can find out more about Mozart by viewing Haley Rempel’s comments on the MCO website: https://www.themco.ca/concert/manson-barnatan/

When you listen to this overture by Mozart, you will hear the original Don Giovanni symphonic overture arranged for wind octet.


Manitoba Music Curricular Connections

9-12 Making: The learner develops competencies for listening by listening critically with discrimination and purpose to:

  • situate and contextualize music (e.g., cultural/ ideological/historical/social contexts, music style, genre, tradition, or praxis, etc.)
  • support enjoyment and understanding of music
  • make and interpret music expressively and creatively
  • inform analysis, interpretation, judgement, appreciation, and evaluation

K-8 Understanding Music in Context: Demonstrate awareness of the intended meanings and/or purposes of music encountered in own performance and listening experiences

9-12 Connecting: The learner develops understandings about the significance of music by connecting music to diverse contexts.

The following ideas and questions can help you listen to this work:

1 Form in music refers to the musical architecture or the way the music is structured. The opera Don Giovanni is structured in 2 acts with an opening, introductory, instrumental overture. The overture played before the curtain opens sets the stage for the action and music to follow and helps the audience emotionally prepare for the opera. In Mozart’s time the overture did not always contain reference to melodic themes heard in the rest of the opera but in this overture, the Commendatore’s theme is heard in the opening introduction to the overture. Other musical elements in the overture are also heard again at different points of the opera.

The form of the Overture to Don Giovanni is the classic three section sonata form structure. The first section is called an exposition that typically presents 2 themes; however, in this particular overture you will hear 3 distinct themes in the exposition, none of which are borrowed from the opera. A middle development section follows where the themes are varied and developed, and a final recapitulation section re-states the main themes.

The sounds of the overture portray the contrasting moods of the drama giocoso. Can you hear the slow dramatic introduction that Mozart uses to preface the exposition of the overture? The ominous, foreboding opening chords of the introduction set the stage for the opera’s dark, tragic, dramatic elements which are in strong contrast with the following energetic giocoso allegro which some listeners believe are meant to portray the character of Don Giovanni. The contrast between the opening foreboding sounds and the following lively allegro underline the qualities of the drama giocoso and the opposition between drama and comedy.

The overture importantly foreshadows the dramatic action involving the Commendatore as it introduces different motifs associated with the Commendatore in Act Two. The opening fearsome D minor chord of the overture has been called the ‘Don Giovanni’ chord since it is heard later in the opera associated with the Don Giovanni character as his statue comes to life.

Listen for the long slow sounds of the opening chords, then a silence that some listeners call deathly, then sounds in the same rhythmic pattern but sounding four notes lower. Then can you hear repeated notes and a long short long short long rhythmic pattern? Following that you will hear a short ascending pattern alternating with two lower sounding notes. These imposing and sinister sounds are heard again when the Commendatore appears in the dining room at the end of the opera.

Then can you hear a series of sinister sounding up and down scale passages followed by music that changes character and becomes much more lively and impetuous? This lively music contains the first theme of the exposition. The second theme begins with contrasts between a loud long chord followed immediately with light quiet but playful fast descending staccato scales, again suggesting contrasts between the dramatic and comedic characters. You can identify the beginning of the third theme by a long note followed by four descending notes played loud and staccato (short, separated, detached notes) followed by a quick light, repeated note passage played more quietly.

After a short rest, the development section mainly features the third theme of the exposition, which makes it challenging to distinguish between the development section and the end of the exposition. However the recapitulation is much easier to identify. Can you hear all three themes repeated in the recapitulation section?

This kind of compositional development is characteristic of sonata form, which was typically used by Mozart for his later overtures.

2 What Instruments can you hear in this arrangement of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni? Mozart originally scored this overture for: strings; two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets; three trombones; and timpani. In this arrangement for wind octet can you hear two each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns?

Can you distinguish between the different instruments of the octet playing the different themes and rhythms of the overture? Can you hear the different instruments taking turns on various parts or calling back and forth to each other?

3 What tempos (the speed of the music) can you identify in this work? Can you hear a slow tempo at the beginning of the overture followed by an energetic Allegro (fast and lively)? How are dynamics (the volume of the music), and expression (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions) used to convey the contrasting nature of the drama giocoso? Can you hear the opening chords associated with the Commendatore played loudly and strongly and the quieter, more playful sections that suggest the playful and comedic aspects of the opera? Can you hear other contrasts of loud and quieter music?

When do the dynamics change and what effect does that create? When does the music get louder (crescendo) or get quieter (decrescendo)?

Do you hear musical sounds that are short sounding (staccato) or very smooth sounding (legato)? What effect do these sounds create? Can you hear suddenly loud sounds (accents)? What kinds of contrasting characters or moods do these dynamic and expressive effects suggest?

4 How is rhythm used in this overture? Do you hear sections that have a steady rhythm or beat that you could tap to? Did any particular rhythmic pattern stand out for you that you could listen for in the work? Was there a particular pattern that you could hear repeated anywhere in the work?

Do you hear silences (rest) between the opening chords of the overture? Do you hear the long short long short rhythmic pattern that follows? This pattern is repeated over and over again; a repeated note pattern is called an ostinato. Do you hear other repeated note rhythmic patterns in the overture? Can you hear different rhythmic patterns repeated in the overture?

5 How is melody or pitch used in this overture?

Do you hear high sounds or pitches? Do you hear low sounds or pitches? Can you pick out a particular melody played by certain woodwind instruments? Can you hum or sing that melody? Could you draw the shape of the melody in the air? When does it move up higher and when does it move lower?

Can you hear that after the first rest at the beginning of the overture, the melody of the next chords is four notes lower then the opening chords? Can you hear the repeated note melody in the next long short long short pattern? Can you hear that the choice of melodic notes used in the up and down scalic passages of the slow introduction create a menacing sound?

In the main theme of the exposition can you hear repeated melodic notes? In the second theme can you hear descending melodic passages that might sound like someone tip toeing down the stairs? In the third theme can you hear a short low descending scale fragment that might sound like very heavy feet stomping five times? Then can you hear a much higher melody contrasting melody with repeated notes?

Can you hear this third theme varied in the development? Can you hear the melodies in the three themes return again in the recapitulation?

6 Can you hear different kinds of texture in this work? Where do you hear all the instruments playing together so that the sound is thick? (Think of the opening chords of the overture). The slow opening chords of the overture are written in the key of D minor. Can you hear where the texture changes with a lighter treatment of instrumentation? Where the music becomes more playful the key also becomes brighter and changes from D minor to D major.

Where do you hear a thinner texture where just a few instruments are playing or taking turns? Can you tell which instruments are playing? Can you hear that the texture becomes thicker when all the instruments are playing together at the same time?

7 What kinds of instrumental timbre do you hear? Timbre is the different qualities of sound that can be heard. For example, the timbre of the oboe is different to the timbre of the clarinet, bassoon, or horn. Can you pick out each of those instruments when they are playing just by listening to their individual timbres?


Reflections and Responses
(K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)

Grades 9-12 Responding

The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:

  • the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
  • the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
  • the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
  • the learner constructs meanings about music experiences

Grades K-8 Valuing

Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:

  • students analyze their own and others’ musical excerpts, works, and performances
  • students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music

1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?

2 What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to this overture? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you? When did the mood change and why?

3 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? Did you enjoy the melodies that you heard? Did the rhythms, dynamics, or tempos used by Mozart help make this work energetic?

4 Were there parts of the overture that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?

5 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask other people who heard the same music about their response to Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni?

6 What feelings did it seem that Mozart was trying to communicate to his audience about this work? What music elements seemed to be important to him?

7 Is there other music by Mozart that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of the Overture to Don Giovanni? Try listening to the two other overtures on this concert program, the overture to The Magic Flute and the overture to The Marriage of Figaro and compare the sounds that you hear in these different overtures by Mozart. How are they the same? How are they different?