Length: c. 5 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 7, 1984, Rachael Worby conducting
Among the works Mozart produced within the 35th and final year of his life were three operas, each from a different category of the genre: Così fan tutte, an opera buffa (comic opera); The Magic Flute, a Singspiel, or German opera; and La clemenza di Tito, an opera seria — a form in which the characters are usually drawn from ancient history. The latter work was composed on commission for the festivities attendant upon the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia on September 6, 1791. Mozart had barely a month in which to complete the opera, but, accustomed as he was to rush jobs, the first performance took place at the appointed time.
Clemenza was not a success, either with the Imperial Highnesses or with the public. In fact, the Empress assumed the role of music critic and gave her judgment in an extremely brief review, to wit, “German rubbish.” Later performances did indeed win public approval, and Mozart was to enter in his catalog: “La clemenza di Tito, made into a real opera by Signore Mazzola (after a libretto by Metastasio)...” However, in present-day opera houses, where Figaro, Giovanni, Così, and Magic Flute are standard fare, Clemenza is still an infrequent visitor.
Even the Overture to Clemenza has not found a conspicuous place in the concert hall but has remained on the fringes of the repertoire — a fate it does not deserve. Its music is fresh and vital, having both sinew and elegance and that flair which seemed as natural to Mozart as breathing.