Tragic Overture/Dramatic Overture, B16a

Opus number

Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

completed 19 October 1870 (revision 1881)

Premiere - date and place

4 January 1905, Prague

Premiere performer(s)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Oskar Nedbal

First edition

Simrock, 1912, Berlin

Main key

B flat minor


1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp, violins, violas, cellos, double basses


approx. 13 min.

The Tragic Overture (or Dramatic Overture) was not written as an independent work; it was originally the overture for Dvořák’s first opera Alfred. This opera was never presented during the composer’s lifetime, however, and its first performance was held in Olomouc as late as 1938. Dvořák had planned to offer the overture as an independent item on the programme for a concert organised by the Association of Czech Journalists on 15 May 1881. For this occasion he revised the work, giving it the title “Tragic Overture”. In the end he abandoned the idea and the third Slavonic Rhapsody was included on the programme instead. The overture was finally performed only after the composer’s death, on 4 January 1905, when the Czech Philharmonic was conducted by Oskar Nedbal. The work did not come out in print until 1912, published by Berlin-based firm Simrock. For its second edition, it received the name “Dramatic Overture” and was also occasionally performed under this title. It is no longer performed today as a concert item. The work centres on the thematic material from the opera and, like the opera itself, manifests all the signs of Dvořák’s early fascination with Wagner: it has an explicitly heroic expression and is typical for its complex structure, nonperiodic melody and striking symphonic sound.