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A Quick Guide to Mozart’s Early Opera “Bastien und Bastienne”

Bastien und Bastienne by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Bastien und Bastienne – A Pastoral Comedy

At the tender age of 12, the prodigious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the miniature opera “Bastien und Bastienne” in 1768.

The opera centers on Bastienne, a shepherdess pining over her seemingly distant lover, Bastien.

Desperate to win him back, Bastienne seeks help from the magician Colas. He devises a cunning plan: Bastienne should feign indifference to spark Bastien’s jealousy.

However, Colas’s scheme backfires with unforeseen consequences.

This compact opera showcases the young Mozart’s remarkable talent. He masterfully explores the complexities of love and the unpredictable nature of human emotions. 

The creation of “Bastien und Bastienne” at such a young age stands as a testament to Mozart’s extraordinary musical genius, a genius that would blossom into the iconic works that define his celebrated career.

Bastien und Bastienne

“Bastien und Bastienne” stands as one of the earliest operas by the prodigious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who composed it at the tender age of 12 in 1768.

Allegedly commissioned by Viennese physician Franz Mesmer, the opera satirized the popular “pastoral” genre, particularly targeting Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Le devin du village.”

The German libretto is a collaboration inspired by “Les Amours de Bastien et Bastienne” by Justine Favart and Harny de Guerville.

The premiere of this notable opera remains unverified. However, while rumors suggest Mesmer’s Garden Theater, the opera’s confirmed debut occurred on October 2, 1890, at Berlin’s Architektenhaus.

Musically, the work blends French and German influences. Many melodies possess a French feel, while Bastienne’s opening aria is firmly rooted in the German lied tradition.

This theme even resurfaces in Mozart’s later Trio in G for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello (K. 564, composed in 1788).

Another example of a German lied is Bastienne’s aria. “I feel certain of his heart.”

Despite a generally sparse orchestration (except for the reconciliation scene), Mozart’s masterful handling of the ensemble and vocal lines showcases the young prodigy’s exceptional talent, hinting at the iconic works that would define his career.

The opening theme of Mozart’s overture to “Bastien und Bastienne” bears a surprising resemblance to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” albeit in different keys.

However, this is likely a coincidence, as Beethoven probably wasn’t familiar with Mozart’s youthful opera. 

During the classical period, starting a movement with an arpeggio of the tonic chord was extremely common.

Despite his young age when composing “Bastien und Bastienne,” Mozart already displayed exceptional skills in vocal writing.

He also possessed a talent for parody and whimsical elements, which would later flourish in his mature works.

In fact, “Bastien und Bastienne” remains one of Mozart’s most accessible and performable juvenile compositions.


The libretto for Mozart’s “Bastien und Bastienne” was primarily authored by the Viennese dramatist Friedrich Wilhelm Weiskern.

Johann Heinrich Müller and the family friend of the Mozarts, Johann Andreas Schachtner, also made additional contributions to the libretto.

This text was largely based on a translation of the popular parody “Les amours de Bastien et Bastienne” by Marie Justine Benoîte Favart.

Favart’s work, in turn, satirized Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s one-act pastoral opera “Le devin du village,” which enjoyed widespread success across European opera houses well into the 19th century, including in Vienna.

Favart’s parody transposed Rousseau’s sentimental tone into the more popular genre of opera parody, a style commonly found in fairground theaters.

Through her skillful selection of melodies, Favart enhanced the expressive content of the original.

She also incorporated a realistic, rural text laced with regional stage dialect, such as Bastienne mocking the fortune teller’s advice to shun her repentant suitor.

In Mozart’s German adaptation, however, this comedic edge is less pronounced.

The gentle, heartwarming narrative of his setting aligned more closely with the Rococo spirit’s preference for simplicity and naturalism.

So, while drawing from the same wellspring of pastoral parody, Mozart’s “Bastien und Bastienne” exhibits a more innocent, unassuming tone compared to Favart’s more pointed satirical treatment.

This shift reflects the composer’s intention to craft a work befitting the prevailing Rococo aesthetic rather than the more overtly humorous quality of the French source material.

Role and Voice Types

In Mozart’s one-act opera “Bastien und Bastienne,” the principal characters embody simple country folk. Bastienne, portrayed by a soprano, is a shepherdess.

Her lover, Bastien, sung by a tenor, complements her role. Colas, a quack musician, stands out with his bass voice.

The setting for this pastoral tale is a rustic village, where the drama unfolds amidst the tranquil, rural surroundings.

RoleVoice Type
Bastienne (a sherpherdess)Soprano
Bastien (Bastienne’s lover)Tenor
Colas (a quack musician)Bass

Story Line of the Bastien und Bastienne

In a peaceful village setting, shepherdess Bastienne fears her beloved Bastien has abandoned her for a noblewoman.

Distraught, she seeks advice from the local fortune teller, Colas. The cunning Colas suggests Bastienne act nonchalant and cheerful, mimicking the aloofness of city ladies.

Meanwhile, Bastien, impressed by Colas’s “wise teachings,” confides his intention to marry Bastienne.

However, Colas deceives him, claiming Bastienne has found someone else. Disbelieving, a desperate Bastien begs for help to win her back.

Colas puts on a show with a dramatic aria filled with nonsensical syllables, convincing Bastien of his magical powers.

Tension builds as the opera unfolds. Changes in tempo (Adagio maestoso, Allegro, Graziosi un poco allegretto) mirror the emotional shifts.

Bastien confronts Bastienne, who feigns indifference, sending him into a jealous frenzy.

He even contemplates drowning himself, humorously deterred by his own poor swimming skills.

The confusion eventually leads to reconciliation. Through dramatic dialogue, music, and spoken word, the misunderstanding unravels.

In a heartfelt recitativo accompagnato, Bastien pleads with Bastienne.

Their love rekindled, and they embraced, thanking Colas for his “magical” intervention.

The opera concludes with a joyous trio, with the three protagonists singing together.

Musical of the Opera Bastien und Bastienne

In the dialogue-driven opera, you will encounter a series of expressive arias and duets that convey the emotional turmoil and resolution of the characters.

Bastienne pours out her heart in “Mein liebster Freund hat mich verlassen,” lamenting her lover’s departure. She then resolves to find solace in nature with “Ich geh itzt auf die Weide.”

Colas offers his wisdom in “Befraget mich ein zartes Kind,” advising the young lovers.

Bastienne’s playful side emerges in “Wenn mein Bastien im Scherze,” and she contemplates the behavior of other women in “Würd ich auch wie manche Buhlerinnen.”

The duet “Auf den Rat, den ich gegeben” between Bastienne and Colas emphasizes the guidance offered.

Bastien expresses gratitude in “Großen Dank dir abzustatten” but soon doubts with “Geh! Du sagst mir eine Fabel.”

Colas responds with the whimsical “Tätzel, Brätzel, Schober, Kober bzw. Diggi, daggi, schurry, murry.”

Bastien admires his beloved in “Meiner Liebsten schöne Wangen,” while Bastienne reflects on past loyalty in “Er war mir sonst treu und ergeben.”

A heated exchange unfolds in “Geh hin! / Ich will,” followed by the recitative “Dein Trotz vermehrt sich durch mein Leiden?” where they confront their mutual suffering.

The passionate duet “Geh! geh! geh, Herz von Flandern!” marks a turning point, leading to the final terzetto “Kinder! Kinder! seht, nach Sturm und Regen,” where Colas, Bastienne, and Bastien find harmony after the storm.

“Bastien und Bastienne” leaves a rather minimal impression overall. Many of the musical numbers are quite brief, lasting less than 90 seconds.

The more noteworthy selections include Colas’s magical song, the quarrelsome duet “Geh hin!” and the reconciliation duet “Geh, geh.”

However, these stand-out moments are still fairly modest in scope.

Final Note

A young shepherdess named Bastienne seeks help from the eccentric Colas, believing his mystical powers can mend her troubled relationship with her beloved Bastien.

Through a series of songs and duets, the characters navigate the emotional turmoil of their love triangle. 

Mozart uses a simple, folk-inspired musical style that perfectly reflects their rural setting.

Unlike the grand operas of the time, “Bastien und Bastienne” feels more akin to Viennese comedic plays with its small cast, intimate setting, and lighthearted tone. 

It offers a charming glimpse into the simple pleasures and pastoral world of 18th-century village life.

While “Bastien und Bastienne” lacks the depth and complexity of Mozart’s later opera “Apollo et Hyacinthus,” its uncomplicated, folk-like music wasn’t simply a result of his youth.

This deliberate artistic choice aligns more with Viennese popular comedies than the operatic mainstream.

“Bastien und Bastienne” is a charming work with some memorable moments, but its modest scale keeps it from reaching the heights of Mozart’s more renowned operas.

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