I've seen both terms "Overture" and "Ouverture" being used to designate the intro or first part of a multi-part composition. For instance, we have:

Which is the correct term to use to designate the first part of a multi-part piece?

  • 1
    Actually I don't agree with the claim, that Bach omitted the "u", the copy of Anna Magdalena does not support this. From my point of view, as can be seen here English is the minority of not providing an u. So for an international touch and stay at the original I would also keep it. Note, that scores are typically quite international and it is not easy, to establish a national context here. The German word of today would be Ouvertüre.
    – guidot
    Feb 12, 2018 at 14:53

4 Answers 4


Not surprising Lully spelled it 'ouverture', a although he was born in Florence, he spent his working life in France, where opening is spelled 'ouverture'.

By far the more common spelling is 'overture', but as already stated, either is good and correct. Maybe if it's anything but French, overture is slightly more apposite.

  • <tangent>I appreciate that words like "apposite" exist to express an idea so concisely. I especially enjoy when I encounter someone who chooses to use them.</tangent> Feb 7, 2018 at 19:08
  • 1
    @maxathousand - it did appear to me that apposite was the most apposite word to use...
    – Tim
    Feb 7, 2018 at 19:10
  • I almost commented that exact thing, hahha. Feb 7, 2018 at 19:10

In addition to the other answers, you could also just pick a term that you think fits.

This is exactly what Wagner did: occasionally he wrote an overture, other times a Vorspiel ("prelude"; see Das Rheingold), and other times an Einleitung ("introduction"; see Tristan und Isolde).

The point is, you shouldn't feel forced into using the term "overture" if you think something else is more fitting.

  • 1
    If it's short and builds on the main motif of the piece, even Intonation.
    – yo'
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:13
  • It's the same thing though, right? Just different terms and languages for the same idea?
    – Mast
    Feb 7, 2018 at 19:12
  • I think Wagner intended there to be vague philosophical differences, especially in terms of "setting the stage." But yes, they're all just different terms for "the opening part."
    – Richard
    Feb 7, 2018 at 19:15
  • @Mast There can be specific meanings for specific words. For instance in church music, you differentiate "Prelude(a)" (usually separate piece intended for the very beginning of the event), "Prelude(b)" (introduction into a song which builds on the melody of the song; unfortunately many languages use the same word for these two) and "Intonation" (a short introduction into a song). However, these three forms can overlap, you can play a prelude(b) in place of prelude(a), but you'd rarely play a prelude(a) as prelude(b). At the same time, the boundary between prelude(b) and intonation is vague.
    – yo'
    Feb 8, 2018 at 10:56
  • In liturgical music, surely the intonation is what the priest sings before the choir takes over, which is something completely different? Feb 8, 2018 at 18:52

Well, they are basically different spellings of the same word, one French and one non-French. So I would use whatever language seems better suitable to you.

  • Then there is no consensus?
    – Klangen
    Feb 7, 2018 at 13:11
  • 3
    Pickle - yes there is. They are both correct.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Feb 7, 2018 at 13:16
  • @Pickle I believe so. From what I saw, it depends on which langauge the author uses for other stuff, and it's up to the author's taste.
    – yo'
    Feb 7, 2018 at 13:16
  • Actually (see comment to question) there are lots of other variants, French having the unique advantage of providing the original. There is no really convincing reason to use English spelling for any non-English speaker.
    – guidot
    Feb 12, 2018 at 15:02
  • @guidot I would argue with this. First, you use what you like. It's your piece and if you decide to name it in Swahili, that's your choice :-) As for "traditions", the tradition is that you commonly use the current "world" language for a lot of things. So even in my Czech sheet music, I use a mixture of Czech, English and Italian for various annotations.
    – yo'
    Feb 12, 2018 at 15:12

This seems like asking, "Some people refer to the thing that fell on Newton's head as 'an apple' and others as 'une pomme'. Which is correct?"

Well, if you're speaking English, it's an apple; if you're speaking French, it's une pomme. Similarly, if you're writing in English, it's an overture and, if you're writing in French, it's une ouverture. Sometimes, though, people who are writing in English might quote the title of a work in French and sometimes they might translate it. So, sticking with Lully, one might refer to the ouverture (italicized because it's a foreign word) of Achille et Polyxène, versus the overture of Achilles and Polyxena.

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