Candide (operetta)

Work Title: Candide
Composer: Leonard Berstein
Form/Instrumentation: Operetta
Year(s) premiered: 1956, new libretto in 1973, operetta final revised version in 1989
Period: 20th century


Origins: Candide was originally conceived by Lillian Hellman as a play with incidental music in the style of her previous work, The Lark. Bernstein, however, was so excited about this idea that he convinced Hellman to do it as a “comic operetta”; she then wrote the original libretto for the operetta. Many lyricists worked on the show: first James Agee (whose work was ultimately not used), then Dorothy Parker, John Latouche and Richard Wilbur. In addition, the lyrics to “I Am Easily Assimilated” were done by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein, and Hellman wrote the words to “Eldorado”. Hershy Kay orchestrated all but the overture, which Bernstein did himself.

The Overture: The Overture to Candide soon earned a place in the orchestral repertoire. After a successful first concert performance on January 26, 1957, by the New York Philharmonic under the composer’s baton, it quickly became popular and was performed by nearly 100 other orchestras within the next two years. Since that time, it has become one of the most frequently performed orchestral compositions by a 20th centuryAmerican composer; in 1987, it was the most often performed piece of concert music by Bernstein.

The overture incorporates tunes from the songs “The Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Battle Music”, “Oh, Happy We”, and “Glitter and Be Gay” and melodies composed specifically for the overture. Much of the music is written in time signatures such as 6/4 and 3/2, which are often combined with 4/4 and 2/2 to make effective 5/2s and 7/2s in places by rapid, regular switching between them and 3/2.

While many orchestrations of the overture exist, in its current incarnation for full symphony orchestra, which incorporates changes made by Bernstein during performances in December 1989, the piece requires a standard-sized contemporary orchestra of piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, an E-flat and two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, a large but standard percussion contingent, harp, and a standard string section. It is approximately four and a half minutes long. The theatre-sized orchestration, as in the published full score of the operetta, includes one flute doubling on piccolo, one oboe, two clarinets rotating between an E-flat, B-flat, and bass, one bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, two trombones, one tuba, standard orchestral percussion, harp, and strings. Main differences between the two are doublings and increased use of percussion effects (especially the addition of a drum roll during the opening fanfares) in the symphony orchestral arrangement. Differences between the first publication and later printings (of both orchestrations) include a slowed opening tempo (half note equal 132 instead of 152). An arrangement for standard wind ensemble also exists, composed by Clare Grundman in 1991, published under Boosey and Hawkes. Peter Richard Conte has also transcribed it for the Wanamaker Organ.

Dick Cavett used the “Glitter and Be Gay” portion of the overture at the midpoint of his ABC late-night TV show The Dick Cavett Show. The song also served as his signature introduction during the years the Cavett show aired on PBS.

At a memorial concert for Bernstein in 1990, the New York Philharmonic paid tribute to their Laureate Conductor by performing the overture without a conductor. This practice has become a performance tradition still maintained by the Philharmonic.[19]

The New York Philharmonic performed the Overture to Candide as part of its historic concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26, 2008.

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Musical Numbers

Act One

Act Two


  1. 1989 Concert Final revised version with Bernstein conducting
  2. School Stage Production Act I
  3. School Stage Production Act II
  4. Soundtrack

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