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 4 act opera The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) in 1786. The Marriage of Figaro is known as an opera buffa (comic opera) based on a stage comedy of the time.

The opera’s premiere was a notable success and The Marriage of Figaro remains one of the most performed operas of all time. You may have heard part of this overture used in different films, for example the movie Trading Places.

The Marriage of Figaro is set in Spain, in the castle of Count Almaviva. The Count’s valet and former barber, Figaro is to marry Susanna, the Countess’s maid. However, the Count is planning to seduce Susanna, while the Countess is pursued by Cherubino, a young Page. The opera features a tangled web of comedy, romance, misadventure, and mistaken identity as the relationships and action of the opera unfold.

As was typical for the time, The Marriage of Figaro opens with an instrumental overture. Mozart famously composed the overture just a few hours before the opera’s premiere. The approximately 4-5 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 The Marriage of Figaro is structured in 4 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 although Mozart’s late operas did often include themes heard in the opera. However, The Marriage of Figaro is a stand-alone work and does not contain any thematic references found in the rest of the opera, although the character of the music does suggest the frenetic action and qualities of the characters in the opera.

The form of the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro is an abridged sonata form structure. The three section sonata form that Mozart uses for the overture to The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni is shortened here to just two main sections. A smaller, shorter sonata is often called a sonatina.

The first section is called an exposition that typically presents 2 themes. In sonata form, a middle development section typically follows where the themes are varied and developed, but there is no development section in this overture. A final recapitulation section re-states the main themes, followed by an extended coda (conclusion) to balance the structure since there is no development section.

Unlike the overtures to The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni which both feature a slow introduction, the overture to The Marriage of Figaro launches immediately into the first theme of the overture, a whispered pianissimo (very quiet), very fast and agitated passage, suggesting perhaps, the conspiratorial whispers and intrigue to come. The hectic presto (very fast) tempo marking of the overture conveys the frenetic, breathless pace and buoyant mood of the opera as a whole.

The second part of the first theme begins with a long note followed by an arpeggio pattern (notes of a chord sounding a fast succession). Other thematic fragments are then introduced as part of this first multi-theme group, and about halfway through the exposition, you will hear a contrasting second multi-theme group that can be identified by a more static melody, the sound of sudden, loud accents, and quick ornaments (notes added to decorate or embellish the main melodic notes). Can you hear that all the themes or theme fragments are mostly introduced quietly which adds to the feeling of intrigue and secrecy? The effervescent themes then bubble up throughout the overture creating a feeling of wit, anticipation, and buoyant good humour.

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

Can you distinguish 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 is the overall tempo (the speed of the music) of this work? Can you hear how the Presto tempo always seems to be moving forward at a breathless pace to set up the frenetic mood of the opera action to follow?

How are dynamics (the volume of the music), and expression (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions) used to convey the sense of intrigue and the qualities of comic opera? Do you hear sudden accents, contrasts between loud and quiet, and long-drawn out crescendos that create an exciting sense of anticipation? Can you hear a very long, extended, controlled crescendo at the end of this overture? How does this crescendo add to the sense of building tension? This kind of crescendo is called a Mannheim crescendo.

Do you hear any unexpected dynamic changes? The dynamic surprises hint at surprises in the action of the opera. Can you hear the many contrasts between loud and quiet in this overture? How might the sudden changes in dynamics or the contrasts between loud and quiet, fast and slow, also suggest different characters in the opera?

Do you hear musical sounds that are short sounding (staccato) or very smooth sounding (legato)? What effect do these sounds create, especially when they are contrasted against each other?

4 How is rhythm used in this overture? Do you hear the steady pulsing, and persistent rhythms throughout this work? Do any particular rhythmic patterns stand out for you that you could listen for in the work? Is there a particular pattern that you could hear repeated anywhere in the work? Do you hear running patterns of notes throughout this overture?

5 How is melody or pitch used in this overture?

This overture abounds in various catchy melodies and melodic fragments. Can you pick out any particular melody or part of a melody? Can you hum or sing any? Could you draw the shape of any melody in the air? Can you hear the rising melodies that create a feeling of buoyancy and energy? Can you hear the quickly ascending and descending scalic melodies? Can you hear where Mozart uses high, middle, and low notes? How does Mozart use melody to create both a sense of mystery and a sense of playfulness?

Mozart is a brilliant master of writing melody and some consider Mozart to be one of the greatest melody writers ever. The overture to The Marriage of Figaro certainly highlights Mozart’s genius for writing melodies. There are no less than 9 distinct fast-paced melodic themes or theme fragments found in this overture. Some of the melodic ideas or themes are introduced only to be quickly abandoned or interrupted as Mozart introduces yet another, different melodic theme just a few beats or bars later. However, all 9 or more melodic themes and thematic fragments can be grouped into two main multi-part theme groups that are contrasting in style as described above in the section on form.

6 How would you describe the texture of this work? Do you hear the instruments all playing together at once to create thick sounding chords or do you hear the different voices of the instruments interacting together in more linear ways?

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 the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro?

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