Works Full Orchestra Overture to Candide (1956)

Synopsis and Program Notes

Candide (1956) is operetta in the vein of Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan. Its music has all the wit, élan, and sophistication that is associated with that genre. This is immediately apparent in the Overture (who ever wrote a special overture—in sonata form, no less—for a musical comedy?). It begins with a fanfare built on the interval of a minor seventh, followed by a major second—typically Bernstein, which serves as a motto and as a basis for development, throughout the entire operetta. This seventh sets up an expectation of B-flat major; but, instead, there is a stumbling, like a pratfall, into E-flat. This, in the body of the show, becomes "battle scene" music. Next, a lyrical contrast from the duet "Oh Happy We" is stated. This entire section is then repeated with lighter orchestration (note the devilish glee of the solo violin) and is succeeded by a brilliant codetta derived from the end of the aria "glitter and Be Gay." The Overture concludes with a shower of musical sparks utilizing fragments of everything already heard.

© by Jack Gottlieb, 1964


Throughout the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, Overture to Candide continued to be one of the most oft performed works. According to’s 2018 statistical performance survey, Leonard Bernstein was the third-most played composer for the year, alongside Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Brahms, taking a top spot among the perpetual greats. Bachtrack also reported, that four of the five most-played concert works in 2018 were Bernstein Compositions, with Overture to Candide holding the number 2 spot, just behind Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

Related Works


(1956) 4 min
World Premiere:
January 26, 1957. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY, United States | New York Philharmonic / Leonard Bernstein, conductor


Overture to Candide for string orchestra (arr. Garth Sunderland)
(arr. 2020) 4 min
Scoring: Harp (opt)., timp. (opt.) traps, strings

Purchasing Licensing Information

To perform Overture to Candide, please contact Boosey & Hawkes. For general licensing inquiries, click here.

To purchase sheet music for Overture to Candide, please visit our store.


First page of the Bernstein's Overture to Candide

Leonard Bernstein: "Candide" Overture
Berliner Philharmoniker Berliner Philharmoniker

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