‘Don Giovanni’: Musical Affinities and Dramatic Structure

  • Frits Noske


As the curtain rises we see a sulking servant who envies the freedom of his libertine master. — Noise is heard, the master appears, harangued by a young lady who seems to accuse him of assault. She leaves the stage at the moment her father arrives. The latter challenges the assailant; a duel follows during which the old man is severely wounded. He dies. The servant protests but his words are stifled by his master’s threats. Exeunt both. The lady returns with her fiancé; she discovers her father’s body and faints. When brought round she first mistakes her lover for the ravisher and then forces him to vow vengeance. The curtain falls and for the first time in the opera we hear a closing cadence in the orchestra. The opening scenes have lasted only twelve minutes, little more than the duration of a sonata movement.


Musical Symbol Musical Phrase Opening Scene Dramatic Situation Strong Beat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For instance, the beating undergone by Masetto in the second act produces sensation for its own sake. This scene as well as the next (Zerlina’s ‘medicine’) are merely fillers supplied by Da Ponte who could no longer paraphrase Bertati’s libretto. In the latter’s opera, set by Gazzaniga, the episode corresponding with Don Giovanni’s courtship of Zerlina and Elvira’s rebuke (nrs. 7 and 8) is immediately followed by the cemetery scene.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Relationship between an aria and its preceding accompagnato (for instance Donna Anna’s scene, no. 23) does not constitute a specific Mozartian feature. It is quite common in eighteenth-century Italian opera.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    According to Dent’s convincingly argumented hypothesis the opera was originally conceived in four acts, the first closing with Donna Anna’s aria (no. 10), the third with the sextet (no. 19). See E. J. Dent, Mozart’s Operas, 2nd ed., London 1962, p. 138.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    It is not true, of course, that syncopation is eo ipso a. means of obliterating metrical beats. No one listening to the second movement of Beethoven’s cello sonata op. 69 (a syncopated scherzo) will receive the impression of a particularly fluent melody. On the contrary, the piece in question strikes us rather as a ‘revolt’ against established metre, by which, paradoxally, this very metre is consolidated. Another type of syncopation is encountered in Hugo Wolf’s setting of Peregrina I (text by Mörike). Here, the result is a relatively metrical independence of voice and piano part.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The pathetic diminished sevenths produced by Leporello right after having been caught (no. 19, b. 107–113: “viver lasciate mi per carità”) are nothing but a clumsy imitation of upper-class language. They certainly do not belong to his own idiom.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    H. Abert, W. A. Mozart, vol. II, Leipzig 1921, p. 479, footnote 4Google Scholar
  7. 6a.
    J. Chantavoine, Mozart dans Mozart, Paris 1948, pp. 75–76.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    H. Abert, op. cit., p. 528.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    As for the subtle differences between the finale fragment (ex. 21b) and its repeat (b. 514–518; not reproduced here), the reader is referred to the score. It concerns a number of details, all of which are explained by the reversal of the situation (D. G. who first played the part of the accuser, now becomes the accused). Special notice should be taken of the reversal of the alternating instrumentation (winds-strings) and the dynamics (p-f); besides, there is a slight but very characteristic change in the secondary dominant chords: when D. G. is the accuser, the supporting chords are in root position; as the accused his dominant seventh chords are presented in first inversion.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Cf. Masetto’s text in the second strophe: “the rollicking fun doesn’t last long but for me it hasn’t yet begun.”Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    H. Abert, op. cit., p. 520.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    J. Chantavoine, op. cit., Mozart dans Mozart, Paris 1948 p. 94–95.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Fliegende Blätter für Musik, vol. III (1857), p. uff. The author was probably Johann Christian Lobe.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    O. Jahn, W. A. Mozart, Leipzig 1859, p. 408–409 (footnote 109).Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    A. Schurig, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, vol. II, Leipzig 1913, p. 147.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    If it is true that “Mozart originally conceived the sextet as the finale of the third act (see above, footnote 3), then Leporello’s apology must have been composed after this idea was rejected. It is obvious that, in spite of the intervening secco (sc. 9), he wanted to establish a link between the sextet and the aria in order to promote the continuity.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    As has been pointed out before, the concept of betrayal is not limited to the relation between individuals, but also refers to man in his relation to society.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    The fact that Don Ottavio has the same words as Donna Anna (“This whispering, this changing of colour are clear indications that convince me”) is one of the small inconsistencies in the libretto. (Don Ottavio will be only convinced in act II, sc. 10, preceding his aria, no. 20). This is another instance where Mozart’s music proves dramatically more trustworthy than Da Ponte’s text.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Cf. the first secco recitative of the second act (sc. 1).Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    Toward the end of the balcony trio (no. 15) Leporello already expresses his concern: “May God protect her against her credulity.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frits Noske

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations