Overture in D 'In the Italian Style'

Programme note

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Overture in the Italian Style in D major, D589 (1817)

Schubert’s pair of overtures 'in the Italian style' - the first in D major, the second in C - were among the outcomes of the Rossini frenzy that swept Vienna in 1816 when the touring Italian Opera Company arrived with the tragic Tancredi, the comic L’inganno felice, and other recent works by the swan of Pesaro. The success was sustained, even increased, in succeeding years and crowned by the arrival of Rossini himself during the 1822-23 season. Young Schubert, regularly in the audience, reputedly loved The Barber of Seville but reserved his deepest admiration for the last act of Otello. Meanwhile his own operatic career, which had begun as early as 1814, was proving more humdrum, with an emphasis on German singspiel rather than Italian fizz. Not even his Italian overtures - their titles opportunely supplied by someone else - seemed particularly Rossinian, though they certainly sounded  delectably Viennese and well worth hearing as the concert pieces Schubert intended them to be.

The premiere of the D major overture, given in the city’s Roman Emperor Hotel, was a hit, so much so that it was reviewed as far afield as Dresden, and Schubert later pilfered portions of it for use in other works. Thus a passage from the slow introduction, filled with magically Schubertian modulations, was destined to reappear in the more famous Rosamunde overture, which today introduces many a popular Viennese night, and the bouncing coda found a more distinguished place in the Great C major symphony where, in a grander version, it swings the first movement towards its sensational close.

Between the introduction and coda, the central allegro section brims with the vitality of a quick Viennese march, with foretastes perhaps of the future Strauss family. Yet Rossinian effervescence, and the sparkle of Rossinian woodwind, are not wholly absent, and even a touch of Tancredi may be spotted by listeners with acute ears.

© Conrad Wilson