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Composed: 1782

Length: c. 6 minutes

Orchestration: flute (= piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, triangle), and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: December 1, 1932, Artur Rodzinski conducting

About this Piece

The Abduction from the Seraglio is a rescue opera in which the heroics of the rescuers are thwarted by the magnanimity of the chief villain. If the edge was thus taken off the dénouement of one of 18th-century Europe’s favorite play and opera subjects — the deliverance of Christians, particularly Christian women, from Turkish captivity, especially in Turkish harems — audiences still took Seraglio to their collective heart when the work was first performed in Vienna in 1782.

Mozart badly needed the success, for he had turned his hand to the task of writing the opera at a crucial time in his life. In the years 1781 and 1782 he was severing two important relationships — one with his repressive employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, whom he loathed, the other with his dominating father Leopold, whom he loved unequivocally — and instituting another with his marriage to Constanze (coincidentally the name of Seraglio’s heroine) Weber.

Mozart’s imperturbable creativity barely faltered in the midst of these emotional involvements. He produced a work that, though not without faults, has some delicious and splendid music, and further, proved to be an important springboard for the operas yet to come.

With its quasi-exotic orchestration (piccolo, triangle, big drum, and cymbals are added to the standard combination), the Overture is in the old Italian style, notwithstanding that Mozart wrote Seraglio for the anti-Italian, German form of musical theater, the Singspiel. There is a busy main section that, after a decided close, is followed by a slow episode in minor. A return to the initial material rounds off this eminently pleasant, jolly but unremarkable bit of Mozart fluff.

— Orrin Howard