1. Piece of instr. mus. which precedes opera, oratorio, or play. Lully est. the French overture in a 3-movt. style of slow–fast(fugal)–slow (concluding section). The Italian overture, introduced by A. Scarlatti, also had 3 movts., quick–slower–quick (see symphony). Gluck was the first to give ovs. a thematic connection with what followed. Weber's ovs. were orchestral synopses of the opera. But in It. opera, ovs. were still used as a way of stopping the audience talking and giving latecomers a chance to reach their seats. Thus one of Rossini's ovs. did duty for 3 of his operas (incl. Il barbiere di Siviglia). Wagner preferred the term Vorspiel (Prelude). In the 20th cent., operatic ovs. have become rare, composers often bringing up the curtain immediately. Strauss's orch. introduction to Der Rosenkavalier is almost an ov., as is the sextet which opens Capriccio. For his comic opera Die schweigsame Frau he wrote a potpourri, a medley of tunes from the opera in the style of the composers of light operas, e.g. Sullivan.
2. Term sometimes used as equivalent of suite (by Handel and Bach) or symphony ( Haydn's London programmes 1791).
3. See concert overture.
o·ver·ture / ˈōvərchər; -ˌchoŏr/ • n. 1. an introduction to something more substantial: the talks were no more than an overture to a long debate. ∎ (usu. overtures) an approach or proposal made to someone with the aim of opening negotiations or establishing a relationship: Coleen listened to his overtures of love.2. Mus. an orchestral piece at the beginning of an opera, suite, play, oratorio, or other extended composition. ∎ an independent orchestral composition in one movement.