Leonore Overture No. 3
Ludwig van Beethoven
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings
In his oeuvre, Beethoven only composed one opera, Fidelio, a love story of both happiness and tragedy. Composed in 1805, the libretto tells of two lovers, Leonore and Florestan, who are faced with grueling separation because Florestan is fallaciously imprisoned for political disagreements and rebellion. Leonore seeks to reunite with her beloved and, disguised as Fidelio, enlists to serve as an assistant to the jailer, Pizzaro. While on duty, Leonore (Fidelio) reunites with Florestan and exposes her plans to escape the prison. Suspicious of Fidelio, Pizzaro attempts to stab Florestan. However, Leonore steps in and stops the dagger from reaching him, saving her beloved. Turning toward Leonore, the assailant Pizzaro tries to kill her but is interrupted by the arrival of the minister, Don Fernando—signified by the trumpets. Pizzaro’s plan to kill Florestan is thwarted, and the minister orders Pizzaro to be imprisoned, releasing Florestan in exchange. The two lovers are reunited and celebrate their triumph over tragedy.
Beethoven composed four overtures for Fidelio, spending endless time revising each one. Interestingly, the amount of time it took Beethoven to compose these overtures was the same amount it took Gioachino Rossini to compose all of his operas. Overture No. 3 matches the synopsis of Fidelio the best. Overture No. 3 highlights the spectrum of happiness and tragedy that Leonore and Florestan experience. The Overture begins with a slow introduction in octave G’s that slowly sink to an unexpected F# major chord, foreshadowing the tragedy of separation. From there, pastoral themes are inserted to remind the listener of Leonore’s and Florestan’s inescapable love. These are supplemented with periodic statements of sharp dynamic contrasts in minor keys to resemble the tragedy that ensues. After these alternating sequences, an enlivening “presto” in C major harkens to the heartwarming reunion of Leonore and Florestan, defeating tragedy. Although the Overture is designed as an entry point for Fidelio, its remarkable expression and emotional appeal lends itself as a superb concert piece.
More Pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven
- Triple Concerto
- Coriolan Overture
- Fidelio Overture
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major “Emperor”, op. 73
- Symphony No. 1 in C major, op. 21
- Symphony No. 3 Eroica, op. 55
- Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67
- Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92
- Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93
- Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61