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Entfuhrung aus dem Serail - Wie will ich triumphieren

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Published on Sep 25, 2007

Video Cues:
00:38 - "denn nun" theme
00:44 - repeat with sustained A2 note
2:07-2:26 - coloratura section
2:16-2:26 - from E2 up to A3 and down to A2
2:28 - "denn nun" theme again
2:35 - repeat with sustained D2!

The Abduction from the Seraglio is the first of Mozart's five operatic masterpieces. It was written on a level of complexity and breadth unfathomable for German songspiels of the time.

This particular aria is notable for its difficulty. In particular, the performer must hit low D (two D's below middle C) twice in the course of the aria. This low D is, in fact, the lowest sung note in the standard concert repertoire. It happens on the two times that the bass sings "denn nun hab ich vor euch Ruh" as explained below.

Mozart assigns a 7-note "theme" to the syllables "denn nun hab ich vor euch Ruh" (00:38). It is a simple theme, merely 5 notes descending in whole steps from A3 followed by 2 notes re-ascending, also in whole steps.

After a brief pause, the theme is repeated (00:44), only the first note is an entire octave lower than before - at A2. As before, the theme descends 5 notes to D2. This famous note D2 is the lowest sung note in the classical repertoire, and is outside the normal range of basses. Reaching it is no easy feat. Perhaps showing uncharacteristic mercy, Mozart allows his theme to jump to a more comfortable A2 before having the bass sustain the long note. Despite having to reach D2, this was the easy part.

The theme pops up again at the end of the aria. This time, it follows a difficult coloratura section (2:07-2:26) in which the bass must sing an elaborate tune full of runs up and down on the musical scale. Right before beginning the "denn nun..." theme, the bass is required to go from E2 up to A3 and then back down to A2 in one step (2:16-2:26). That bit is tiresome, but Mozart affords the bass only the tiniest rest before beginning the "denn nun" theme.

The familiar 5-note cascade begins again (2:28) - this time on D3. Uh-oh. If on the first go-around, we descended an entire octave for the repeat, does this mean that this time, the repeat will begin at D2? That's what the rules tell us, but Mozart is making up the rules and he does something way more ingenius.

The repeat (2:35) begins not an octave lower, but at the same spot. Barring a couple of minor semi-tone changes, the repeat is exactly the same as the first run. This means that, according to the rules, this theme will end relatively easily for the bass. On the ascent in the second repeat, he'll jump up to a very comfortable D3 before having to sustain the long note.

But no! Instead, Mozart makes him go DOWN - down FOUR steps to D2. The bass is now faced with the sickening challenge of holding a D2 note for 8 bars. What could have possessed Mozart to write that sustained D2? Trying to set a record? Well, he succeeded. But no. Mozart was likely doing what he always tried to - imbue his characters with emotion and life through his music. Remember, this entire aria is about his joy at being able to decapitate his two prisoners. That D2 represents the unbridled and giddy evil that permeates Osmin's character. The D2 is a brilliant choice by Mozart and a surprising one. But in retrospect, it fits perfectly with the evil Osmin we know and love.

I've heard many basses try to perform this D2 note. Only one I've heard has done it convincingly. He's not the one in this video.

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