Mozarts Don Giovanni How Music Contributes English Literature Essay

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Scena one and the opening recitative of scena two of Mozart's Don Giovanni, are used to introduce the characters of Don Giovanni himself, his servant Leporello, the Commendatore and his daughter Donna Anna. The main dramatic events of these scenas are Don Giovanni's unsuccessful seduction of Donna Anna, and the Commendatore's death at the hands of Don Giovanni.

Mozart uses music and phrasing to great effect in these opening scenas, to establish and differentiate the personalities of each character and to move the action along. Mozart does not limit himself to one specific genre, but instead follows the class conventions of comic opera, or opera buffa, whilst challenging them in service to the story.


Leporello is sitting in a walled garden shaking his head while reading a book, which we later discover to be his master Don Giovanni's book of amorous conquests. Leporello is unhappily keeping guard in the cold and damp while Don Giovanni indulges himself in an attempt to seduce the lady of the house.

The musical introduction to this scene reflects Leporello's mood very well, with low, short, undulating staccato beats followed by high surging riffs, echoing Leporello's dissatisfaction and anger in a fairly light hearted and comical manner. Leporello expresses his frustration with the marked contrast between his lowly position and that of his Master, 'Toiling away night and day, for one whom nothing can please' (AV Notes, p. 133). The circumstances of his rant are ambiguous at this point, and Leporello appears to be a typical opera buffa character bemoaning his lot as servants do. Leporello tells us of his wish to throw off the yolk of servitude and become a gentleman himself, repeating his desire to serve no more, 'E non voglio più servir' (AV Notes, p. 133). This is played out with strident aspirational strings and French horn triplets, accompanying Leporello's longing to be more than he currently is. The melody is fairly simple and pleasant, in keeping with a lower-class character, however the time signature is in simple time (a meter with 4 beats in a bar, more commonly sung by higher class characters), and not in compound time (a meter where the beats are divisible by 3, creating a skipping effect), which would more normally be used to represent a servant. This could be to reinforce Leporello's aspiration to be more, and also because he is preoccupied with Don Giovanni's current activity. Leporello is very much in the moment, disillusioned with his sentry duty while his master is warm inside with his 'bella'. This is illustrated by a lull in the music while Leporello sullenly repeats the word 'sentinella', the repetition suggesting the fixated lingering of this thought. Leporello then loses himself in his reverie again, before being disturbed by the noise of someone approaching.

This opening movement is useful in introducing Leporello as the main narrator of the events set to unfold, as he addresses the audience from the opening words. The aria presents the first hints at Don Giovanni's unchivalrous character and gives a real sense of Leporello's slightly cowardly, but ultimately harmless resentments. It is an 'enclosed' musical movement, in that it starts and finishes in the same key.

Don Giovanni, Donna Anna and Leporello

The person Leporello hears approaching is his master Don Giovanni, who is looking a little dishevelled and disappointed. Donna Anna follows immediately after in a state of distress, and it is soon apparent that the attempted seduction was far from consensual. Anna refuses to unhand Giovanni until he reveals his identity.

The orchestra builds up slightly on the arrival of Don Giovanni with high strings approaching a crescendo, but then returns quickly to the comic phrasing of Leporello's cowardice as Giovanni comes into plain sight. This is consistent in conveying the duality of Don Giovanni's character throughout, and also in service to our impending moral disapproval of him. In effect, here is a gentleman, but not one to be respected.

The orchestra builds again with a transitional phrase to a crescendo and key change, which is mirrored in the transition of the onstage action as Donna Anna appears. The three characters then perform what is technically a trio, as all three sing together, though Leporello is apart from the action. Anna and Giovanni scuffle physically and spar vocally together, with complex, leaping phrases in simple time separated by flourishes of strings, signifying the high emotion of this scene and the status of the two characters involved. Anna is refusing to unhand Don Giovanni until he reveals his identity, while Giovanni accuses Anna of being delusional. There is a great moment after the initial vocal bout, where the two parties' feelings are voiced in unison for the first time: 'Scellerato' (Anna), and 'Sconsigliata' (Giovanni). Respectively 'vile monster' and 'she's raving', (AV Notes, p. 134). The high powerful strings accompanying Anna's entrance are appropriate for the musical announcement of a high-class character. Anna's opening phrases are very forceful and complex, interspersed with grand orchestral flourishes. The effect is almost that of a national anthem, informing the audience that Donna Anna's virtue is an as yet unconquered country. Don Giovanni's responses are a cruel mocking echo of Donna Anna's outrage as he turns away to avoid identification, again informing us that here is a gentleman, but only in name.

While this altercation is proceeding, Leporello is addressing the audience in a long-suffering manner. He tells us that his master is in trouble again, 'Il padron nuovi guai' (AV Notes, p. 134), implying that this is far from the first time that Don Giovanni's obsessive desire has dragged his servant into the mire with him. In a nimble counterpoint quaver melody and a contrastingly upbeat tone, Leporello laments the seemingly familiar anticipated fallout, repeating over and over, 'You'll see the scoundrel will land me in trouble' (AV Notes, p. 134). This comic, almost jolly repetition of Leporello's angst is fairly incongruous alongside the attempted molestation of a high-born woman on Don Giovanni's part. But just when this contrast of sin and levity could become uncomfortable, high, piercing tremulous strings create a moment of suspended tension announcing the arrival of Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore.

Death of the Commendatore

The Commendatore appears and demands that Don Giovanni defend himself. A fight ensues in which Giovanni fatally wounds the Commendatore.

The Commendatore enters amid angry, pulsing string beats and ominous, discordant flutes as he takes in the scene. Don Giovanni meets the Commendatore's challenge with cool contempt and a disdainful hand gesture, insisting, 'it would not be proper for me to fight you' (AV Notes, p. 134). Giovanni is firm but relatively restrained here, attempting to bluff his way out of things with the gall of false righteousness. This angers the Commendatore further, eliciting portentous, fanfare-like challenges amidst similar musical accompaniment, 'You think to escape me thus' (AV Notes, p. 134), while Leporello can only mournfully express his wish to be anywhere else but here. There is a pregnant silence as Don Giovanni realises that his only means of escape is to accept the challenge of the Commendatore and fight his way out of his misdeeds. Don Giovanni then returns the Commendatore's challenge with equal fanfare and bluster, once again resorting to the mocking mimicry of his peers.

The challenges and counter challenge between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni almost fall into accompanied recitative here, or recitative accompagnato, due to the more fractured, back and fourth nature of the phrasing with the dialogue dictating the limited vocal melody. This is still technically a sung trio however, with full orchestral backing and Leporello's fearful echoing of his master's phrasing underpinning the two main protagonists. The Moment that Don Giovanni finally shows his teeth, 'stay then, if you really wish to die' (AV Notes, p. 135), is emphasised by the menacing resolve of the orchestral accompaniment, and we are left in little doubt of the imminent outcome and the consequences that must surely follow.

Giovanni's challenge leads into a very choppy, dramatic section of music, with many fast paced key changes accompanying the duel. The climax of this is a diminished seventh chord as Giovanni administers the fatal blow. The use of the diminished 7th here for the fatal strike is very effective, as it has a penetrative, discordant quality, and is sustained for an uncomfortably long time in order to allow us to take in the full gravity of what has just occurred.

It is clear immediately after, that Don Giovanni had no intention or expectation that things would go this far. The orchestra plays subdued, descending, funereal phrases as the Commendatore breathes his last. Don Giovanni seems shocked by his actions for the first time, and joins the Commendatore in narrating his demise, 'I feel my (I see his) life ebbing away' (AV Notes, p. 135), while Leporello is now in genuine terror, 'I don't know what to do or say' (AV Notes, p. 135). It is significant that Leporello sings in compound time here in his accompanying role within the simple time signature, as he is now concentrating completely on self for the first time. Not describing his master's exploits or aspiring to be a higher class, as in the introduction, but conveying the very real and personal anguish that he feels as a servant who has just witnessed his master murdering another noble. The accompanying music here ebbs and flows in a very evocative manner.

Following the death of the Commendatore, Giovanni and Leporello enter into a simple or semplice recitative accompanied by harpsichord. Leporello is so appalled that he uncharacteristically rebukes Giovanni, before being slapped down again with a curt threat that he will be next. The harpsichord is barely audible while they argue in soft voices. This recitative blurs the social lines still further, with Leporello taking the role of Giovanni's absent conscience before falling back in line and both exit stage left.