Our music for today comes from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo.
(This link is just the Overture, but feel free to explore the rest of the opera through the adjoining links)
Despite it’s grand proportions, the opera is written in the surprisingly simple “sonata form.” If you’ve been receiving these emails for a while now, you may remember that we’ve come across this format several times before. The format is very straightforward: “Exposition – Development – Recapitulation.” Mozart utilizes sonata form not only with the melodies in the opera but also the tonal centers. For instance, you will recognize melodies from the opening scenes of the opera when you listen to the finale few scenes of the opera, but what you may not immediately realize is that Mozart also brings back the exact same tonal framework as well. The opening is in D Major; the development goes through A Major (the dominant key) and several other modulations and then returns to D Major. Listen for recurring themes, but be ready for Mozart to surprise you with an unexpected transition and make you wait a bit longer for the final recapitulation.
The story of Idomeneo comes from a Greek myth by the same name. It takes place on the Island of Crete, where Ilia, the daughter of Troy’s defeated King Priam, now lives. She is in love with Idamante, the son of the Cretan king Idomeneo, and is fiercely jealous of another of his lovers named Electra. Idomeneo goes to war and is heard to have been lost at sea; unbeknownst to the Cretans, he has been rescued by Neptune, the god of the sea, and has been washed up on a Cretan beach on the other side of the island. In a moment of overwhelmed thankfulness to Neptune, Idomeneo promises to sacrifice the first living creature he sees. Tragically, his son Idamante approaches him first. However, before Idomeneo can fulfill his vow and sacrifice his son, Ilia offers herself in Idamante’s place. The god Neptune is touched by this act of sacrificial love and bestows the kingdom of Crete upon Idamante and Ilia as king and queen.