Overture “In the Italian Style” in D Major, D. 590

by Max Derrickson

Franz Schubert
(Born in Vienna in 1797; died in Vienna in 1828)

Overture “In the Italian Style” in D Major, D. 590

Even as a young lad, Schubert was working on writing an opera.  At the beginning of the 19th Century, opera was usually what made a composer famous, and Schubert very much wished for that fame.  Although he eventually wrote eight operas, none of them has endured as his best works, but in the meantime Schubert found that his greatest successes were to be found in other musical genres, with chamber music, art songs, symphonies and in several of his operatic Overtures.

Schubert, however, never abandoned his desire to write an opera and became even more charmed with it in 1816 after the Italian composer, Rossini, premiered several of his operas in Vienna, in particular, Tancredi.  These Austrian premieres only stoked the heated debate that was raging then in Vienna about whether to write operas in the Germanic style, epitomized by Carl Maria von Weber, or in the Italian style, as mastered by Rossini. 

In the midst of this “opera war,” Schubert’s leanings were towards Rossini, perhaps because he had studied privately with another Italian master years earlier, Antonio Salieri.  Hoping to gain an operatic commission from the Viennese theaters, he wrote two operatic Overtures “in the Italian style” in 1817.   The first one he borrowed from an overture he had written for an earlier failed opera, Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp).  Even though both of his 1817 Overtures were well received as concert pieces, they never led to any further operatic success – a recurring frustration throughout Schubert’s short and brilliant career.

The first of the two “Italian” Overtures is the one in D Major performed tonight (the second, D. 591, is in C Major).  Although not exactly like a Rossini Overture, Schubert’s marvelous piece captures the effervescence that Rossini became so cherished for, and it even ends, like […].   But even more so, this piece shows Schubert’s special genius for […] underneath them, as he does in the slow and rich introductory bars.  Though this Overture never led to an opera, material from its introduction was used again in […].  And its blazing finale also reappeared […] (1826).