Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Classical Era > "Fidelio" Overtures (Beethoven)
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Fidelio Overtures
Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio," was first produced in Vienna, November 20, 1805, under the title of "Leonora," with the overture now known as "Leonora No. 2." Subsequently the opera was shortened and produced with a new overture, the "Leonora No. 3." After a few performances it was withdrawn, but in 1806, anticipating its production the name of "Fidelio," he wrote a third overture, usually called "Leonora No. 1." The performance did not take place however, but in 1814 a revision of the opera was given in its present form as "Fidelio," with an entirely new overture. The chronological sequence of these overtures is as follows: Leonora No. 2 in C, op. 72, 1805; Leonora No. 3 in C, op. 72, 1806; Leonora No. 1 in C, op. 138, 1807; Fidelio in E, op. 72, 1814. To avoid confusion, the overtures will be considered in this order.
Leonora Overture No. 2. Op. 72
The overture played at the first performance of "Fidelio" was the "Leonora No. 2," as already stated. Its principal numbers are an Adagio introduction, in which Florestan's aria ("In the Spring Days of Youth") from the second act appears; an Allegro containing the principal themes of the "Leonora No. 3," with the two trumpet calls; an Adagio episode reproducing the Florestan aria, which eventually gives way to a new theme developed in the violins leading up to a stirring, vigorous Coda and Finale. It is stated by some authorities that the overture was withdrawn because the wind instrument parts were found to be too difficult. Others, however, are of opinion that after the first performance of the opera Beethoven was dissatisfied because the overture did not clearly express his ideas. However this may be, it is certain that he recast it, condensed the leading subjects, added fresh themes and made a new overture, known as "Leonora No. 3."
Leonora Overture No. 3. Op. 72
The title-page of this majestic overture, which is a model for all dramatic preludes, bears the inscription, "Overture à grand orchestre de l'opéra 'Leonore,' par L. Van Beethoven." It opens with an Adagio in C major, fortissimo, in full orhestra, followed by a scale passage which some critics conjecture describes the descent into the gloomy depths of Florestan's dungeon. Following this passage, the clarinet and bassoon sing Florestan's dungeon aria, "In The Spingtime of Youth,"with string accompaniment. Immediately mysterious preludings are heard in the strings, accompanied by lighter work in the flutes and first violins and bits from the Florestan theme given out by the basses. A short climax is followed by an outburst of the full orchestra, leading to the Allegro. It opens pianissimo, with the first theme announced by the first violins and cellos in octaves. Its development leads to a fortissimo in which the theme is elaborated at considerable length. The second theme is introduced in the horns, thence passing to the first violins and flute. As the development draws to a close a climax is reached, after which ensues a dramatic episode of great power, in which the trumpet calls each time announce the approaching deliverance, followed by a fervid and impressive song of thanksgiving. The third section of the overture opens piano, with a flute solo. A crescendo follows, after which the theme is repeated fortissimo and developed most elaborately. The second theme now reappears, followed by development from the first theme, leading to the Coda, and closing the overture with an overwhelming outburst of gladness and triumph.
Leonora Overtutre No. 1. Op. 138
The Leonora Overture No. 1, is a posthumous work. As it is entirely unknown in the modern concert-room its analysis becomes unnecessary. After its completion Beethoven had doubts of its effectiveness, and accordingly tested it with a small orchestra. It was much too light for the opera, and in consequence it was laid aside and was not played in public during the composer's lifetime, its first performance having taken place in Vienna in 1828, and Beethoven died in 1827. The composer gave it the title of "Characteristic Overture in C." In its general construction it resembles the Fidelio Overture in E, op. 72.
Fidelio Overture. Op. 72
The libretto of "Fidelio" was revised and the score remodeled in 1814. It was Beethoven's original intention to revise the Overture No. 1 for it, but he ultimately changed his purpose and wrote the overture known as the "Fidelio." It was played for the first time at the Kärtnerthor Theater, Vienna, May 23, 1814. The overture opens with a short unison Allegro in the string and wind instruments, followed by an Adagio in the horns and clarinet. The opening measures are then repeated and the Adagio reappears, the horn theme being taken in the wind instruments. After development the theme returns in the woodwinds, and again appears for the horn, leading to the main Allegro of the overture. The wind instruments sound a crescendo chord and the first theme is outlined by the second horn, answered by clarinet, and then developd by full orchestra. The strings give out the second theme, which is brieftly treated. In the closing section of the overture the first theme is heared in the horns, accompanied by violin passages. At the conclusion of the Allegro development the Adagio episode returns, leading to the Presto Coda, in which a familiar phrase from the first theme is worked up to a climax of exultation closing an overture which has ben called "an example of perfect beauty." Of the four overtures, howevr, the No. 3 will always remain an example of supreme beauty and symmetry as well as of dramatic power.