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Home>Beethoven Music>The Overtures

The Overtures

Beethoven wrote only one opera - Fidelio - and, while it may have its share of dramatic flaws relative to works by those who specialized in the genre, it is true music drama full of heroic themes and equally heroic music. He wrote four overtures for the work (the three Leonore overtures as well as the Fidelio overture). Each in its way can be said to represent dramatic themes in the opera, and no one by itself captures the full essence of the work. (Interestingly, various conductors - including Gustav Mahler when he had been the music director of the Vienna Court Opera - have utilized all four overtures in the course of a single performance of Fidelio, to good effect one could imagine.)
      Equally well-known as dramatic masterpieces are the overtures to Coriolanus, Egmont and The Consecration of the House. Taken with the four Fidelio overtures, they serve notice that Beethoven lacked little, if anything, as music dramatist in genres beyond his symphonies. If proof be needed of this fact, one need only consider the effect these "mini-music-dramas" had on composers yet to come such as Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner and Mahler. Each in his way paid tribute to Beethoven's earlier works here.(Bob Zeidler)

  1. Prometheus op 43
  2. Leonora no. 2 op. 72 a
  3. Coriolanus op.62
  4. Egmont op. 84
  5. King Stephen op.117
  6. Leonora no. 1 op.138
  7. Leonora no. 3 op. 72 b
  8. Fidelio (Leonora no. 4) op. 72 c
  9. The Ruins of Athens op. 113
  10. Onomastica op. 115

Leonora no. 1 op. 138 is the first overture for Fidelio composed by Beethoven in 1805, but it was not performed at the first representation of the opera because it did not receive a good review at the audition given for prince Lichnowsky. The overture will be published only in 1832.

Leonora no. 2 op. 72 a is the overture written by Beethoven for the performances of the Fidelio opera in 1805. This new opera is extremely complex with regard to its concept and musical structure, completely different from the traditional symphonic forms specific to that period. That is why the overture was misunderstood and the public as well as some contemporary musicians did not like it.

Leonora no. 3 op. 72 a on the other hand, is of great musical-dramatic expressivity, sometimes being performed under as an interval in the middle of act II, between the dungeon scene and the public square one. Also, due to its value, but also because it is more in accordance with the time’s tradition, the overture became extremely popular, often performed in symphonic concerts and being considered a genuine symphonic poem. Out of Beethoven’s overtures, this one is one of the greatest.

Nevertheless, this overture was also received with skepticism. The chronicler for Der Freimuthige wrote: “No one has yet written such incoherent music, ostentatious, chaotic and disturbing for the ear. The most abrupt modulations succeed themselves in a truly repulsive sequence, and some minor ideas, far from any sublime touch, complete the incredibly unpleasant impression.”

Cherubini, who had assisted the performance, confessed that he could not establish its tonality due to the multitude of modulations, and went even further in his maliciousness by sending him from Paris a textbook on vocal art, advising him to study it.

    Continue to Part II of the analisys.

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  Best 5 Beethoven Books on Amazon

1. Beethoven: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris;

2. Beethoven by Maynard Solomon;

3. Beetoven: The Music and the Life by Lewis Lockwood;

4. Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination by Maynard Solomon;

5. Beethoven as I Knew Him by Anton Felix Schindler;

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