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Leonore Overture No. 3, Opus 72a
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven wrote four overtures to his only complete opera Fidelio, or Leonore as it was titled for the first performance on November 20, 1805. The overture used was the so-called second Leonore. After three performances, this first version of the opera was withdrawn.

The next year, Beethoven was persuaded by friends to revise the score for a revival on March 29. For this second version of the opera, he wrote the third Leonore Overture. The so-called first Leonore Overture was written either as a working draft for the second or as the introduction to a planned performance in Prague that never happened. Alan Tyson, for one, believes it was composed after the second and third Leonore Overtures. For the 1814 revival of the opera, Beethoven still created a fourth overture, what we now call the Fidelio Overture.

The Third Leonore Overture was called “abominable cacophony” at the time of its first performance. Subsequent listeners would find the Overture almost too good for the opera. “Far from giving us a mere musical introduction to the drama,” wrote Richard Wagner, “it sets that drama more completely and more lovingly before us than ever happens in the stage action which ensues. This work is no longer an overture, but the mightiest of dramas in itself.”

~ Program notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2023